December 11, 2017
The Aurora Dialogues, “Millions on the Move: Need for Development and Integration,” was held this week on December 4th and 5th in Berlin – chosen due to the significance of the theme to both Germany and the European Union. The event, attended by key humanitarian and human rights figures including Mary Robinson, Leymah Gbowee and Norbert Lammert, sought to catalyze conversation and propose ideas on how Germany and the EU could identify solutions to the most pressing global migration and refugee challenges.
People underestimate the scale of the global migration issue
A key focus of the conference was global migration and the vast scale of the issue. There are 65 million people who have fled their home countries, and another 700 million people worldwide who would consider migrating if they had the chance. These numbers don’t include the populations typically excluded from the public debate on migration, such as internally displaced people (IDPs) or the more than 200 million people living with the threat of displacement due to climate change and its effects by 2050.
Misconceptions and Disconnection with Reality Characterize the Current Debate
Keynote speaker Norbert Lammert, former President of the German Bundestag, said, “To talk about migration often means to talk about misconceptions.” Participants agree that public debate is based on misconceptions – a notion clearly supported by the results of the 2017 Aurora Humanitarian Index, an international survey examining public response to pressing humanitarian challenges and the ways they’ve been confronted. The Index, which surveyed 6,500 people from 12 countries, found that a majority think that their country has done more for refugees than it actually has, and that people around the world are increasingly skeptical of the individual or collective ability to make a real difference. Only nine percent of those surveyed think that their actions can make a difference in finding a solution to the global refugee crisis.
The disconnection demonstrated in the Index, and arguments of misconceptions, have led to increased calls for civil discussion on migration and integration, as experts argued the existing debate is unbalanced and detached from reality.
Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Ireland, said at the Dialogues, “Stories are important, but unfortunately we hear too little about the people involved. What actually happens to the people whilst on the move as refugees, is important.” She also argued the image the media often portrays is too one-sided and negative, and that framing the issue politically could influence the debate and ultimately frame conversation’s scope and impact successful integration.
“We have to overcome the gap between perceived emotions and real facts,” said Rita Süssmuth, former president of the German Bundestag. Dr. Ingrid Hamm, founder of the Global Perspectives Initiative also commented, “We need to adjust our way of thinking to be far more global. When it comes to topics of migration and reasons for flight, there remains a huge lack of information, as well as an increasing need for a stronger dialogue between Africa and Europe.”
Calling for a clear and collective European approach
Dialogues participants agreed that clear governance is a basic prerequisite for success in migration and integration. Rita Süssmuth noted, “Clearer governance regarding migration is the key to fighting xenophobia. Germany is missing an official immigration law – this would increase clarity, ensuring an easier, more coordinated process.”
Speakers also criticized the EU for the lack of cooperation on the regional level in tackling the refugee crisis and insufficient action to establish coordinated processes for handling the issue, arguing that several key European states are not recognizing the reality and scale of the situation.
Norbert Lammert argued that the criticism is less about the “absorption capacity” and more about the fact that there isn’t a sense of shared responsibility and commitment to solving the problem. “If there is one country in which there is wide awareness that migration cannot be hindered by walls, then it’s Germany. Migration is not a sudden state of emergency but, with respect to historical context, a normal aspect of our history – presenting both problems and opportunities,” said Lammert.
Increased public and private cooperation
Experts highlighted the need for improved coordination between public and private initiatives, with the private sector working as an accelerator and catalyst for growth, and the public sector overseeing projects on a larger scale.
Anja Langenbucher, director of the European office at the Gates Foundation, underlined the importance of private initiatives in the development sector, saying, “Private initiatives act as catalysts. At the same time we decrease risks for investors and have clear, quantitative goals. This is an advantage in contrast to public investments.” John Prendergast, founding director of the Enough Project, criticized the lack of monitoring on flows of public money in this issue, saying, “Public money is not tracked strictly enough on its journey to the receiving countries. Many public investments are affected by money laundering or are lost on their way to the recipient countries.”
Dialogues participants concluded the conversations noting that immediate action and additional conversations are of the utmost importance in addressing the longstanding migration crisis.
In accordance with the spirit of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the Aurora Dialogues offer a platform to experts and engaged personalities striving to find solutions to the most pressing global challenges. Now in its third year, the Dialogues foster an intellectual and interdisciplinary exchange to encourage learning from the past to better inform the decisions of the present, thereby giving way to a better future.
The Aurora Dialogues Berlin welcomed key figures such as the former Chair of the Council of the German Protestant Church, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Huber; former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson; UNICEF’s regional director for Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere; the German Chancellor's Personal Representative for Africa, Günter Nooke; the Head of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Christof Bosch; and Nobel Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, among several others.
The conference, held in the Robert Bosch Stiftung Auditorium in Berlin, and was organized in partnership by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Global Perspectives Initiative and Robert Bosch Stiftung, with the help of Stiftung Mercator.
More information on the program, the speakers and the organizers of this year’s Aurora Dialogues can be found here.