On 16 May 2016 EASO held its Asylum-Related Migration Research Conference. This conference presented the efforts of the European Asylum Support Office itself as well as efforts by various other agencies in conducting research aimed at ensuring constructive and evidence-based policies related to migration. The result is a comprehensive overview of research and research-based modelling related to migration, and in particular asylum-related migration, presented below.
The conference was introduced by a presentation of the EASO’s work and the context of asylum in the EU. The framework set by the Common European Asylum System is an imperative consideration in this regard.
EASO’s function is to ensure coherent implementation of the CEAS as well as to provide evidence-based policy input to the EU in order to safeguard the common practices of all Member States in relation to asylum policy.
EASO have set out three research aims to strive for in the immediate future, namely to conduct better research into the functioning of current migration law in Europe; to provide better support to policy developers on the basis of this; and to be able to give better advice in relation to asylum law in practice. This conference is the beginning of EASO’s ambitious objectives of strengthening its role as a support provider under the CEAS.
The research conducted by EASO has been concentrated into four clusters. These focus firstly on review of what is currently known in the area of migration and asylum. Secondly, the carrying out of empirical work by collecting data in order to analyse this field. Thirdly, the creation of models and tools in order to better streamline their work of improving the functioning of migration and asylum policies in Europe. Fourthly, to develop supervisory tools allowing the tracking of information sources.
The EU’s research:
The EU has arranged a number of conferences as well as policy review sessions, and has issued several publications addressing its priorities regarding migration research under its Horizon 2020 research programme. This focus on giving research a key role in the creation of new programmes has led to the emergence of a number of initiatives. One such key initiative is the Science4Refugees programme, which ‘matches talented refugees and asylum seekers who have a scientific background with positions in universities and research institutions’. Further, the EU’s Work Programme for 2016-2017, developed under the Horizon 2020 scheme, has set out several goals concerning the EU’s policies regarding migration. One area of policy development, entitled ‘A Stronger Global Actor’, aims, as the name suggests, to strengthen the EU’s position in a global context through ‘international cooperation calls and targeted initiatives relating to societal challenges’. Another area has been entitled ‘Towards a New Policy on Migration’. This policy area encourages the carrying out of research related to the origins of migration, and will, through evidence-based research, provide recommendations relating to ‘insights on migration, humanitarian assistance and development cooperation policies.’
The Societal Challenge 6 was also borne from the Horizon 2020 scheme. This programme, bearing the subheading ‘Europe in a changing world – inclusive, innovative and reflective societies’, aims to ‘to foster greater understanding of a culturally and socially rich and diverse Europe’ and ‘to enhance understanding of societal conditions, to ensure transformative and structural changes take account of these in promoting future prosperity, well-being and cohesion’ through its research-based recommendations provided to the European Commission. An Expert Advisory Group on Societal Challenge 6 met in February 2016 in order to further these aims, discussing, among other things, its research agenda as well as its role and objectives.
Some useful links to explore these issues further:
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides assistance in four different areas of migration management, namely migration and development; facilitating migration; regulating migration; and forced migration. The IOM opened their Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in Berlin in 2015. This centre aims to provide data on global migration issues in order to aid the development of effective migration policies. Through the provision of analysis of such issues, the GMDAC aims to enhance the IOM’s efforts in building the data capacities of the EU, as well as promote a better understanding of migration data and its usage. Further, the IOM was commission by EASO to conduct a literature review regarding the push and pull factors of asylum-related migration. The conclusion was that there is a relative consensus that socio-economic as well as political factors play a large role in determining the draw of certain groups of migrants to certain states. However, there is a divergence on issues such as demographic variables; historical, cultural and geographic factors; and environmental factors.
The UNHCR’s New Issues in Refugee Research has published 278 papers since 1949, providing a comprehensive overview of research concerning refugees. The UNHCR has highlighted the importance of allowing refugees themselves to formulate the research agenda, in order for the research to best reflect the issues faced by refugees themselves. Further, the interpretation and presentation of data by journalists has been called into question by the UNHCR, as this has often been done without the scientific insight required in order to adequately present the findings of this research. Collecting data and capturing how to apply it operationally demands a particular understanding of the data and its relevance. Because of this, the journalistic presentation of data relating to asylum seekers and migrants is often somewhat distorted.
Current migration modelling focuses on both net migration and individual flows on migrants. Consideration must be made to measurement of these flows, theories regarding them, and forecasts of future migratory flows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no single model has been deemed conclusively superior. However, migration models are useful in predicting migratory flows through certain forecasting measures, and, consequently, to develop policies on the basis of this, e.g. through impact assessment, etc.
The Task Force on Migration was set up in 2016 in order to strengthen support to the European Commission in managing migration. This is also adjoined to the Horizon 2020 scheme, and is a part of the European Agenda on Migration.
In order to facilitate the further advancement of these objectives, the Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography will be opened in Brussels on 20 June 2016. Internal stakeholders in this launch are the Directorate-General (DG) for Migration and Home Affairs, DG Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, DG Research and Innovation, and the European Political Strategy Centre. External stakeholders are the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and the IOM, mentioned above. This centre will function as an information hub providing ‘continuous situational awareness on migration’, and will focus on socio-economic modelling, as well as qualitative and quantitative analysis, in order to improve our understanding of different factors in the integration of migrants, and the impact of migration on the EU. This will in turn provide foresight into the development of migration.
The RHOMOLO model is another important point of consideration. RHOMOLO is the ‘dynamic spatial general equilibrium model’ employed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. This model analyses policies relating to, among others, migration. Issues such as labour market participation, unemployment, educational, and wages are considered in order to determine integration levels. The preliminary results of the RHOMOLO model is that high levels of expenditure on integration leads to the furthering of economic growth. In order for the EU to fully exploit the benefits of migration, it must develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of how to facilitate integration. Evidence-based research, of all the types presented above, leads to the enhancement of the EU’s capability in implementing better policies concerning migration and integration, which in turn facilitates economic growth and a better functioning of the labour market.
The Fundamental Rights Agency:
The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency’s (FRA) mandate is to provide assistance and expertise on issues related to fundamental rights in the EU. In an effort to improve their capability of doing this effectively, FRA has conducted several surveys of migrants and ethnic minorities in order to collect reliable and comprehensive data on these matters. This include their minorities and discrimination survey, in order to facilitate the creation of evidence-based policies addressing discriminatory practices and accordingly to improve support for victims of such discrimination. In also includes their Roma survey, which addresses issues faced specifically by the Roma community in several EU Member States, and their survey on discrimination and hate crime against Jewish people.
Additionally, FRA has published several works relating specifically to migration and asylum in the EU, such as their Opinion concerning an EU common list of safe countries of origin, their Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration, their report regarding fundamental rights at the EU’s external borders, and their ‘toolbox’ regarding legal entry channels to the EU for persons in need of international protection.
The Migration Policy Institute:
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI), part of the European University Institute, has conducted comprehensive surveying of forced migration. Particular focus has been directed at Syria, with a website set up presenting all facts gathered and reports and policy briefs produced in one place, so as to provide an efficient overview.
The REFMISMES Project has been another point of focus. This project seeks to identify policies and practices which facilitate the integration of refugees into the labour market in a selection of EU Member States. Analyses have been conducted, as well as specific country case studies. The countries of focus have been Austria, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The result is a comprehensive overview of issues as well as literature concerning labour market integration in these states.
The issue of smuggling has also been addressed by the MPI, with a literature feed having been set up, as well as a comprehensive report also having been produced and published.
EASO managed to compile and present an impressive overview of asylum-related research through this conference. The stated commitment to conduct research and review literature in this field will undoubtedly strengthen their ability to fulfil their mandate. Further, the UNHCR’s commitment to allowing refugees themselves to shape the research being conducted in this field is especially promising.
However, the approach may be criticised for being too institutionalised. There is a clear absence of NGO-led research as well as research conducted in the academic sector, rendering this overview incomplete.
Allowing for a greater role for NGOs may better facilitate the inclusion of refugees in both the shaping and execution of research concerning asylum, and its use as a tool for advocacy may be strengthened. The wealth of information and data gathered, analysed and presented by NGOs is simply staggering and cannot be ignored, also because it presents perspectives that could be missing from the institutional approach to research. We appreciate the difficulty in mapping the extent of this research, yet encourage EASO to further liaise with the members of its Consultative Forum to see how best to tap into this valuable resource.
Additionally, whether this research is being used as a tool for constructing more evidence-based law or policies, or being used to formulate other strategies to better manage the current flow of refugees, is not made explicit. The exact effect and utilisation of the research presented is therefore still unclear. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to welcome this new approach as it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.