Conference Report - Understanding and Tackling the Migration Challenge: The Role of Research

European Commission
European Commission
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The Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission organised and hosted a two-day international conference, ‘Understanding and Tackling the Migration Challenge: The Role of Research’, on 4-5 February 2016. The objective of the conference was to explore and demonstrate how European research can support policy makers in designing effective and sustainable migration policies and legislation. While the conference took place against the backdrop of what is deemed the largest flow of migration to Europe since the Second World War, it is important to underline that the research results, facts and figures and the lessons learned presented at the conference and discussed in this report are not based on the current refugee crisis, but on a long-term perspective.

The conference saw the presentation of past and current research on migration, which was evaluated from a policy perspective. Research from the socio-economic sciences featured centrally, with thematic foci on the correlation between policies and migration flows, integration, and the migration-development nexus. The conferences also considered how to improve the transfer of research results into policy-making and how to enhance the evidence base of policies on migration. Alongside the social sciences, health care needs of migrants and the link between climate change and current and future migratory processes were also discussed. Apart from substantive research, the European Commission presented the Science4Refugees initiative, designed to identify and provide opportunities for refugees with scientific qualifications within the European Research Area. The conference brought together leading researchers and policy-makers from national, EU and international bodies to explore how European research can support effective and sustainable migration policies.

Among the key findings of European research presented at the conference are discernible changes in migration patterns towards ‘new geographies’ and ‘new temporalities’. The former refers to significant alterations in spatial trajectories of migration movements, with regard to sending, receiving and transit countries. The latter signifies an increase of temporary, circular, seasonal or short-term movement. These shifts in patterns obscure classic dichotomies such as regular v irregular, voluntary migration v forced displacement, temporary movement v permanent settlement. Another key finding is that restrictive immigration policies are not effective in preventing migration but rather increase the costs and risks of movement. Restrictive policies also reduce return migration, as immigrants feel ‘trapped’ in their country of immigration by virtue of their irregular status.

Integration of migrants remains both a crucial challenge and an imperative. Hence, the conference dedicated a separate session to this issue. There is a multitude of approaches to, and definitions of, integration. According to a concise one integration is ‘the process of becoming an accepted member of society’. This process has three dimensions, i.e. a legal/ political, a socio-economic and a cultural/religious one.

Addressing the role of research in helping design migration policies, participants identified a number of ways to improve the science-policy dialogue. These include better dissemination of research targeting a broader audience beyond the scientific community, and more effective communication between researchers and policy-makers regarding research needs. A central cross-cutting objective throughout the conference was the identification of future research needs, both immediate and longer-term. It was found that systematic crossnational comparative research including data collection and analysis is urgently needed. 

Furthermore, it is important to conduct more interdisciplinary research on migration, drawing inter alia on disciplines like philosophy and history to better contextualise the current migration crisis. A detailed list of all the research needs identified at the conference is set out at the end of this report.