‘It’s about offering people new prospects’

26.10.2015 - Around 60 million people worldwide are fleeing their homes. In this interview, Arno Tomowski, GIZ, speaks about the causes and possible responses.

Mr. Tomowksi, worldwide, there are around 60 million displaced persons and refugees – the highest number since the Second World War. Why are people leaving home?

They’re doing so because they see no prospects for themselves and especially for their children. Leaving home, with all the substantial risks that this entails, is an extremely difficult decision; that’s something we should never forget. There are many underlying causes: some people are affected by war and violence, and their human rights are abused. Others have no work, and food is scarce. Water crises are on the increase. Environmental conditions are worsening as well, partly as a consequence of climate change and the loss of natural resources. One of these factors on its own – except for armed conflict and widespread violence – does not usually cause people to flee. They do so, if there are no restrictions on their mobility, because they have no prospects and have given up hope that their situation will change for the better.

What is being done to address these causes of migration?


A great deal is being done, but it’s still not enough. GIZ is actively engaged in this area on behalf of the German Government and is working to improve living conditions in the countries of origin. For example, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is assisting Ethiopia, Kenya, India and other countries to increase agricultural productivity and thus improve food security.

On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we have helped to improve flood protection in Viet Nam, benefiting 40,000 people. Salt-tolerant rice varieties have been introduced and the livelihoods of 8,500 poor households that depend on agriculture have been restored. All this helps people to remain in their homes. Employment and incomes are key factors in offering people prospects for the future in their own countries. This applies in Europe too. Many people from the Western Balkans lack income-generating opportunities, among other things, in their countries of origin. Therefore, GIZ is working on behalf of the BMZ to establish a dual system of vocational education in Serbia, for example. These are structural reforms aimed at improving the labour market situation for the long term. The first cohort of 380 students has now commenced its studies and it seems very likely that they will later find employment in Serbia. As I said, it is still not nearly enough, but it is a contribution that we can build on.

Kosovo has a very large number of young people chasing a very small number of jobs, which means that they have little prospect of earning an adequate income.So again on behalf of the BMZ, GIZ runs an information office in Pristina to help people identify opportunities in Kosovo as well as legal routes for migration to Germany. We work closely with the Ministry of Labour, have promoted small and medium enterprise in rural areas, and are improving the quality of training. The aim is to revitalise the economy and create jobs. If people see that the situation in their own country is changing for the better and offering prospects for the future, they are much less likely to leave.

This is just a small cross-section of the countless initiatives that are having an impact. But when it comes to tackling the causes of migration, let’s not delude ourselves: if there is open warfare or if corrupt and illegitimate governments are in power, our opportunities are very limited.

What do people living in refugee camps need? And what about the countries and regions that are hosting large numbers of refugees – what do they need? Can refugees help to overcome the skills shortage in Germany?


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Arno Tomowski coordinates GIZ’s activities in the area of flight and migration.