Migration as Regulatory Issue and Security Threat
Moscow, Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall

On June 21, 2016, the Valdai Discussion Club held a meeting with António Guterres, the candidate for UN Secretary-General, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (2005 - 2015), Prime Minister of the Republic of Portugal (1995 - 2002). Guterres gave his vision of the solution to the worldwide migrant crisis, and answered questions regarding modern migration issues.

In Guterres’ view, migration is a natural activity and part of human history, which countries should seek to accommodate and regulate, rather than ban it and have the situation resign to chaos. He brought up the example of the EU, which in 2015 was unprepared to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees, and ended up building barriers, which led to a chaotic situation.

Guterres also noted that in the issue of accepting individual asylum requests, rather than flows of refugees, Russia is first in the world. Valdai Club Chairman Andrey Bystritskiy also brought up the impact of economic migrants on the development of Moscow.

During the discussion, Guterres noted that the prevention and management of conflicts remains crucial for the reduction of refugee flows, and that migration must be a conscious decision for people, rather than one driven by the need to escape war zones or economic want.

He also spoke of the need to promote development aid in countries, which are net sources of economic migrants, as international inequality has led to people leaving their countries out of a need to avoid poverty, rather than economic opportunity. One extreme example of this was the Syrian refugees, who were unable to stay in Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian refugee camps, and left because they were unable to find employment or education opportunities.

Guterres mentioned the lack of refugee distribution in Europe as one issue when it came to last year’s migrant crisis, as Germany was forced to bear the majority of the burden, while other countries refused to accept refugees and toughened rules for foreigners seeking asylum. Guterres also called for a global plan for resettling refugees from wartorn countries into peaceful ones.

On the issue of migration as a security threat, Guterres noted that he faced the problem while being a head of the UNHCR, as an Islamist terrorist organization from Uzbekistan was able to infiltrate a refugee resettlement effort. While that terrorist cell was exposed, there will always be security vulnerabilities in migration, as well as people who fall through the cracks, Guterres noted, although organized security checks help reduce the threat.

Infographics: Report of the UN Refugee Agency

Guterres also brought attention to the issue of homegrown terrorism, which he said is a considerably greater threat than infilitration. According to Guterres, homegrown terrorism in Western countries is the legacy of previous waves of migrants not being integrated into their new society and feeling abandoned, which made them ripe targets for terrorist recruiting and propaganda.

Answering a question on migration being used as a business, Guterres noted that while there is little real benefit for companies building refugee camps, the issue of smuggling is much more dangerous, as it puts many people in danger, while also raising funds for the criminal economy. He noted that while migrants may pay as much as $5000 for an illegal boat ride over a $100 plane ticket that requires a legal status, they also face such problems as personal safety, while money raised by smugglers has been known to be used to finance terrorist organizations, for example, in Africa.

Andrey Bystritskiy concluded the discussion by bringing up the issue of statelessness, which migrants often fall into, as they are forced to cross borders illegally and lose their documents, and with that, a loss of their identity as individuals. Guterres noted that statelessness is a major issue. This is why regulated migration with documents affirming an individual’s birth and nationality is essential, and preferable to the alternative nations hosting stateless people, who hide from the law and lack an identity.