"COVID-19 has further accentuated the precarious situations of many migrants"

According to the UN, there are some 270 million migrants worldwide. Their situations are often difficult, but they make an important contribution to sustainable development in their countries of origin and destination. This is what International Migrants Day on 18 December is all about. Migration policy issues are important for the projects of the FDFA's Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and are also reinforced in Switzerland's new International Cooperation Strategy, says Simone Giger, Head of the SDC's Global Programme Migration and Development.

 A young woman in a factory smiles at the camera.

The SDC-funded "Diaspora for Development" programme, implemented by UNDP, opens up training opportunities for young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and paves the way for them to enter the world of work. © Sulejman Omerbasic

 Simone Giger
Simone Giger has been head of the SDC's Global Programme Migration and Development since August 2018. For a long time, she herself was a migrant, as she spent the majority of her sixteen-year career in international cooperation and development working abroad. She lived and worked in various countries that are strongly affected by migration – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Moldova. © S. Giger

Simone Giger, the UN declared 18 December International Migrants Day back in 2000. Why was that?

International Migrants Day was established by the UN to raise awareness of the plight and the difficult living conditions of migrants, and also to celebrate their important contribution to sustainable development in their countries of origin and destination. On 18 December 1990, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families – the first binding legal basis for the treatment and protection of migrant workers. But it was another ten years before the UN proclaimed the first International Migrants Day in December 2000.

Who is International Migrants Day specifically meant for?

It is true that there is no universally recognised definition of the term 'migrant'. But today is about remembering all types of migrants, from those who leave their countries to look for work or to study, to those who are forced to flee their homelands due to the political and security situation. The COVID-19 crisis has further accentuated the precarious living conditions in which many migrants find themselves. Border closures and lockdowns mean that thousands of migrants are stranded in transit and destination countries, without access to social protection and with little money for food or accommodation. Today is therefore even more significant, underscoring that safe, orderly and regular migration is in everyone's interest.

The COVID-19 crisis has further accentuated the precarious living conditions in which many migrants find themselves.

For Switzerland, tackling the causes of forced and irregular migration is an important goal of its international cooperation activities, and 'migration' is one of four thematic priorities set out in Switzerland's International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24. What does this change in terms of the SDC's work?

Setting migration as a strategic priority will not fundamentally change the work of the SDC. The SDC already incorporates migration policy issues into various projects, in full compliance with its mandate to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development. We will be engaging more heavily in future with the way in which our work in different sectors and migration interact, and how we can systematically include migrants and refugees in our projects. This is not only in the interest of Switzerland's migration foreign policy, it also makes sense from the perspective of the pledge to 'leave no one behind' because migrants and refugees are often among the most vulnerable population groups.

We will be engaging more heavily in future with the way in which our work in different sectors and migration interact.

How does the new International Cooperation Strategy support the handling of migration policy issues?

Between 2021 and 2024, in addition to our ongoing migration-related projects, CHF 60 million has been earmarked for projects that can respond flexibly to migration policy opportunities. These flexible funds will be deployed in countries that may not be priority countries for Switzerland's development cooperation, but are located in the four priority regions for international cooperation, i.e. in North Africa and the Middle East; in sub-Saharan Africa; in Central, South and South-East Asia; and in Eastern Europe.

Will a proviso be attached to the deployment of these funds – in other words that they will only be used if the governments in the relevant countries cooperate with Switzerland in the area of migration?

No. The new International Cooperation Strategy also states that there should be no 'negative conditionality' between international cooperation and cooperation in the area of migration. The Federal Council has spoken out clearly against making international cooperation conditional upon the willingness of foreign governments to accept the return of irregular migrants. Such conditionality is not expedient and in many cases would even be counterproductive.

The Federal Council has spoken out clearly against linking international cooperation to the willingness of foreign governments to accept the return of illegal migrants.

Why is that?

Threatening to suspend or reduce international cooperation activities when governments fail to cooperate in accepting the return of illegal migrants could be seen as interfering in national sovereignty and inhibit dialogue. This would unnecessarily restrict Switzerland's political leeway as international cooperation could no longer be used as a way to open doors and build trust. In addition, the mandate of international cooperation is to help people affected by poverty and crises. Ultimately, countries are obliged to readmit their own citizens under international law. If countries are financially compensated for complying with this obligation, this creates a disincentive. The experience of other actors and even major donors like the European Union has shown that strict conditionality does not achieve the desired effects.

How does the SDC strategically link international cooperation and migration policy in practice?

This strategic linking is implemented on three different levels.

At a political level, migration is now systematically addressed in political consultations with countries of origin. And conversely, international cooperation topics are regularly discussed during migration dialogues.

At a geographical level, Switzerland systematically incorporates migration in its regional and country-specific cooperation programmes and context analyses within the framework of international cooperation.

Thematic implementation takes place at project level and comprises short-term, medium-term and long-term measures:

Short term

In the short term, refugees and displaced people are supported in countries of first refuge through protection and relief measures, such as combating violence against women and girls, and ensuring access to legal representation. Switzerland also assists communities affected by conflict by improving access to adequate housing, water, sanitation and hygiene. These measures are predominantly implemented by Swiss Humanitarian Aid.

Medium term

In the medium term, Swiss international cooperation supports the social and economic integration of refugees and displaced people in countries of first refuge. In this way it promotes sustainable solutions for refugees and reduces the risk of irregular onward migration. The SDC generally takes an inclusive approach that incorporates both refugees and the respective host communities. The SDC's humanitarian aid and its longer-term development cooperation work together closely to achieve this.

Long term

In the longer term, Swiss international cooperation creates economic, social and political prospects and addresses the root causes of irregular migration and displacement, e.g. by supporting participation in political processes, providing better basic education, and ensuring access to health services, vocational education and training, and job opportunities.

Can you give us an example to illustrate how Switzerland promotes the prevention, protection and integration of migrants in countries of origin, and how it is improving economic and social prospects at the local level?

Through its protection and relief measures, an SDC (Swiss Humanitarian Aid) project in the Middle East is helping to ensure that births and marriages of Syrian refugees living in Jordan are registered. This provides refugees with access to education and health services, and better protects them from the risks of family separation, statelessness and exploitation.

In terms of integration at the local level, in the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, for example, young refugees and young Kenyans are taught technical, financial and literacy skills. This increases their chances of earning their own livelihood and potentially reduces their dependence on humanitarian aid.

In terms of longer-term prospects, the SDC is working hard in the Western Balkans with a focus on vocational education and training, employment services and the creation of jobs. This interplay is key to ensuring that young people find decent, permanent jobs. Over 200,000 young people have gained access to vocational education and training since 2017, and found employment as a result.

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