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An opportunity missed: EU project asked potential migrants what they need at home so they don’t become migrants abroad


BRUSSELS – In 2017, the European Union will spend billions of euros on the migration and refugee crisis. This vast sum funded refugee resettlement, enhanced border protection, counter terrorism, migrant integration, and critical infrastructure protection. Yet however worthy its purpose, this money will not the incentives that propel migrants to embark on a perilous journey to Europe, across thousands of kilometres of often lawless territory at the mercy of odious smugglers.

Thus, would it not be wiser — and possibly cheaper — to fund projects that allow migrants to stay where they are? After all, what use is border protection if migrants keep finding ways around it?

That was a central question posed by the EU-funded project known as CAERUS, whose goal was to formulate evidence-based policies for post-crisis stability. Launched in March 2014 and named after the Greek god of opportunity and favourable moments, CAERUS had a total budget of EUR 4.08 million (EU contribution: 80 percent) and has just completed its work.

It aimed to identify humanitarian relief actions that can dissuade people in post-crisis societies from becoming refugees and migrants by asking them what they need, and helping them get it.

The EU funds extensive humanitarian efforts. The OECD estimates that in 2013 EU institutions gave nearly EUR 6 billion to African countries in the form of official development assistance (ODA). Bilaterally, member states gave much more. Yet the migrants have not stopped coming: in Italy, for example, their numbers grow every year.

SECURITY EUROPE spoke in late March with Dr Debarati Guha Sapir, professor at the University Of Louvain’s School Of Public Health and CAERUS coordinator, to tell us more.

Sapir believes strongly that border security alone will never stabilise migrant flows. “While we laugh at Trump and his Mexican wall, actually we’re not so different,” she said. “Border security might have some value in the very, very, very short run, and it has a value for political publicity in Europe, with drones and so on. But in fact it will not, and does not, solve anything in the medium run.”

Fortunately, funding from the United States helped make up some of the project’s shortfall.”

Instead, she urges more consideration of what she calls a “grassroots” approach. At CAERUS, she said, “we invest a little bit of money… to find out what kind of policies make the victims feel a little stable where they are by providing key education and health inputs that helps maintain a semblance of normalcy and hope for the future.”

And what are priorities of the migrants themselves?

“We found that the provision of community level services in health and education were of very high value to them, and would bring about two goals. First, health and education services reinforce incentives to stay where they are, closer to their homes and speaking the language of their region. For example, monitoring the vaccinations of children born during war and in camps is central to controlling outbreaks of diseases, such as polio. Second, most people out there want education for their children…they realise that education is the way out of poverty,” she said. “We wanted to find the most effective ways of providing some basic level of education for youngsters who have missed two or three years of schooling. The challenge that we wanted to explore was finding innovative ways to deliver such services to transient and uprooted children.”

Other research efforts covered by CAERUS included a Chatham House study on the substantial health care provided by non-state armed groups, and research by Norway’s Institute for International Studies on education in unstable settings.

CAERUS initially received its EUR 3.25 million grant in 2014 under the umbrella of the EU’s Horizon 2020’s ‘Secure Societies’ funding scheme. As such, it was one of the few — perhaps the only — research project whose objectives were to map out social incentives that would encourage refugees and migrants to stay close to home.

But in 2015 the EU unexpectedly withdrew its support and left CAERUS scrambling for donors. “That’s the way it is,” Dr Sapir said, noting that her group continues to manage large research projects with EU support. Fortunately, funding from the United States helped make up some of the project’s shortfall.

CAERUS was obliged, however, to partially shift the focus of its research. Much of their effort to improve education had to be scaled down, or left to other partners. And whereas the project once intended to focus on interventions where people depart for EU destinations, it now concentrates on conflict zones such as Syria.

“We’re looking at mortality,” she said. “Why people die, how they die, and who dies where.” CAERUS researchers have found, for example, that multiple target weapons such as shelling and barrel bombs had a much higher likelihood of killing children than adults. This research was published in the British Medical Journal and widely covered by international press. “Now we’re doing a paper on how child combatants are used, and how they die, in Syria,” she said.

     THE UPSHOT: The EU throws billions of dollars a year at border security, and billions more a year at its humanitarian efforts. But something clearly isn’t working, because the migrants keep coming. It may be that much development aid is not going where it’s most needed. For example, the OECD estimates that in 2015, Eritrea – the origin of a large share of migrants to Italy in recent years – received the equivalent of only US 14 million from the EU. The EU has since upped the ante, but not by much. From 2016 to 2020, the EU expects to send a total of EUR 200 million to that country, or just EUR 40 million a year.
     The more basic problem: politically, it’s always easier to spend on home-based defense equipment programmes than on finding out what would-be migrants might want in terms of assistance – until, of course, they end up on Europe’s shores.
     It’s all the more of a pity that CAERUS no longer enjoys Horizon 2020 funding. There’s little doubt that if the EU – and the West in general – provided more concrete health and education assistance on the ground, then some migrants would never leave their homes. Here’s hoping that sooner or later, we will take a more long-term view.


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