Let’s Talk About Migration - A Preview of What’s to Come




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Dec 01, 2015
by Heather Jaber and Lauren AbuAli
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Let’s Talk About Migration - A Preview of What’s to Come

Panelists at NPR Studio One agree that a shift in thinking about migration is needed to deal with new global challenges Clare Shine (left) moderates the panel at NPR  

The number of people who have been forced to leave their homes worldwide has reached an all-time high since displacement has been recorded. It’s small wonder that some of the most pressing issues facing the world today are then linked to migration and cross-border conflict. 

Discussing these challenges is not new for Salzburg Global Seminar, which has been bringing together experts and practitioners to address origins and solutions to these problems for decades. As a prelude to a full session on migration in 2016, Salzburg Global Seminar, NPR and leading DC experts sat down on November 17 at NPR’s Studio One, for a conversation titled: The Immigration Crisis: A Preview of Things to Come?

Clare Shine, Vice President of Salzburg Global Seminar, opened the panel by contextualizing the topic of migration. Part of the solution, agreed the panelists, must be dealing with the root causes in the countries of origin.

Kathleen Newland, Senior Fellow and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute suggested that countries continue to view migration in a post-World War lens, seeing it as temporary and therefore failing to address the root causes.

“This is the new normal — the future is here.” she said. “It highlights the void that there is… in strategy among world leaders to deal either with the root causes of the massive levels of displacement … or to deal with the displacement itself.”

The need to rethink the way we talk about security and safety was a common strand across both panels. It was agreed that the linkage between European security and migration is misleading and the discussion at times “fact-free”. While the fear of terrorist attacks or violence often enters conversations about migration, the speakers emphasized that most migrants are in fact seeking to escape the violence that has erupted in their home countries.

“They are fed up with it and they are desperate and want to have a new life,” said Philipp Ackermann, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Washington. “It would be an absolute unfairness to make them responsible for a situation they tried to escape from.”

The panelists agreed that it is time to re-frame the situation in terms of its potential- for the people, for receiving countries and for home states. 

Michael Clemens, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Development, pointed out that 60% of a person’s lifetime earning potential is predicted by their country of birth and over 90% of people stay in that country. If people moved countries, he said, they have the potential to be much more productive and could have drastic positive impact on the global economy. 

Shine was reminded of the distinction between policy-based evidence-making and evidence-based policy-making, pointing to a need to structure policies around applicable data.  Likewise, there are strong historical examples of large migrations, including the Vietnamese and Hungarian, which offer lessons not only about the need for international coordination but also about the high potential rewards to all involved. 

For further insights from all of our panelists, which also included Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace, James Hollifield, Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and Didrik Schanche, Senior Supervising Editor of the International Desk at NPR, listen to the audio below: