British government proposals for asylum processing centres outside European Union borders are unlikely to work unless they are part of a comprehensive new system for managing migration, according to a new Demos/openDemocracy.net report called People Flow.
The international transit centres (ITCs) described in the report would act as a voluntary ‘catchment mechanism’ for forced and unregistered migrants heading towards Europe. ITCs are part of a system designed to assist overall international mobility, but with key conditions attached.
Forced and unregistered migrants would be attracted to ITCs by the offer of support in making choices about their future, including access to credit facilities. However ITCs would not automatically assist in travel into Europe, but also encourage them to consider a return to their country of origin.
These transit centres would be similar to the ones proposed in an unpublished UK Home Office report which has been circulated to European justice ministers. It sets out a migration model based on, ‘protected zones in third countries, to which those arriving in EU Member States, and claiming asylum could be transferred to have their claims processed’.
But the migration management system described in People Flow offers a more far-reaching approach which acknowledges that attempts to control migration are likely to fail unless they include positive incentives for migrants to opt into the system.
The project was initiated by Theo Veenkamp, head of strategy at the Dutch ministry of justice and a former director-general of the Netherlands asylum seeker reception service. In this ‘flow’ model for managing migration, increased freedom to travel by voluntary and temporary migrants is given in return for the relatively straightforward task of registration.
In addition to international transit centres, the flow model also involves the creation of ‘mobility service points’, which would issue all kinds of registered traveller with a visa. Visa-holders would be entitled to travel freely through Europe, while unsuccessful applicants would be transported to the nearest ITC.
‘A system which encourages self-registration will produce accurate information about migrants at a time when our ability to control Europe’s borders using passports and border checks is being eroded,’ says Veenkamp.
Unregistered migrants and asylum seekers arriving at ITCs would be eligible for loans, which could be partially paid for by enabling migrants and their families to invest in micro-credit schemes located in receiving or sending countries. This would under-cut the multi-billion dollar trade in illegal people trafficking.
Under this proposed scheme, all registered ITC users would be entitled to the same support, whatever their migrant status. However beyond the very basic care package offered to all temporary residents, services would have to be paid for through loans or payment-in-kind. This would send a powerful message to potential migrants which lowered expectations of universal welfare support before they left home.
‘Governments are under increasing pressure to control immigration, which has become a lightning conductor for fears about security and terrorism threats,’ says Veenkamp. ‘But increasing global mobility and the pressure on Europe’s borders makes control impossible to achieve.
‘We need a new model which replaces the idea of control with flow management, and acknowledge the complex reasons for migration. We particularly need to help people make realistic decisions about their prospects in a different country before they leave.’
The equal treatment of all ITC residents, whatever their status, would reduce the incentives for migrants to make false asylum claims, since asylum seekers would have no special privileges. This is an important part of the flow management system which is designed to reduce differences in treatment of different categories of migrant.
The flow management system is proposed as an alternative to unsustainable attempts to control migration using passports and border checkpoints, which will come under increasing pressure as global mobility grows. ITCs and mobility service points would encourage voluntary registration by migrants in order to help European nations manage these increased flows of people.
Other features of the flow management model of migration include:
- New global agreements on the movement of people, similar to international agreements on trade in goods and services;
- The founding of a ‘democratic observatory’, possibly based in Athens, which would act as a Europe-wide centre for experiments in new forms of democratic participation;
- Funding streams for schools based on their ability to manage and develop local diversity and coexistence;
- The development of a New European Commonwealth in an expanded Europe which would provide a loose framework new forms of international co-operation.
Notes to editors
- Theo Veenkamp is head of strategy at the Dutch Ministry of Justice, and a former director-general of the Netherlands asylum seeker reception service. The ideas in this report were developed during a six month sabbatical at Demos during 2001/2. He writes in a personal capacity.
- The co-authors of the report are: Tom Bentley, director of Demos and former special advisor to David Blunkett, the current UK Home Secretary; and Alessandra Buonfino, a doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge.
- People Flow: Managing migration in a New European Commonwealth is published by Demos and openDemocracy on Thursday 24 April 2003.
- Demos is an independent London-based think tank with research interests in democratic renewal and global change. People Flow is part of a continuing programme on migration.
- openDemocracy.net is a not-for-profit, web-based network, dedicated to opening up a democratic space for clear and open global discussion. It is hosting a major online debate on the issues raised in People Flow.