Enlightening the Migration Debate - the Importance of Sustainable Energy Access

What role does energy play in a person’s decision to leave home and migrate to a foreign place? And how can the lack of energy be tackled in host communities and refugee camps, where on average only 10 percent of inhabitants have electricity?

On 31 January, more than 80 experts from the field of humanitarian aid, development cooperation, politics and business gathered in Brussels to discuss these challenges at an event organised by the EU Energy Initiative Partnership Dialogue Facility (EUEI PDF). The multi-stakeholder platform, which was founded in 2004 by the European Commission and several EU member states and is hosted by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, seeks to explore the link between major current topics and sustainable energy.

Energy as ‘enabler’

During the morning session, a high-level panel discussed the role of energy as a development factor that affects migratory flows. In his keynote speech, Felice Zaccheo (European Commission, DG DEVCO) stated that energy was one of several factors that affects the rate of migration and a key driver in job creation and climate change. He was supported by Tosca Barucco (Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), who called energy an ‘enabler’ for education, training and income generation, as well as Shukri Ahmed (FAO), who pointed out that renewable energy access can help prevent environmental degradation which often acts as a main cause for out-migration. Stefano Signore (European Commission, DG ECHO) highlighted that while international conventions for energy exist, the framework for better coordination of migration can be improved and the development community can contribute significantly to that; the EU supports planned migration and the positive impacts it makes. The morning session closed with an agreement that energy is a direct and indirect key factor for migration, but that the link should be nuanced to include other sectors that impact on migration flows. The EUEI PDF will conduct further research on the topic together with identified partners.

How to bring energy access to refugee camps and host communities

In the afternoon, the discussion evolved around the question of how to bring energy access to refugee camps and host communities. A recurring topic proved to be the coordination and transition from humanitarian aid to development cooperation. Wesly Urena Vargas (KfW) presented a best-practice case from Jordan where the linkage of humanitarian aid in refugee camps to energy access for development in host communities helped to bring the government on board and create co-benefits for both parties. A structured transition from aid to development was deemed important to help build local energy markets and enable people to create livelihoods rather than keeping them reliant on humanitarian aid. Participants agreed that the private sector should play a bigger role in providing energy access, but that more data on demand in camps is needed as well as better cooperation with the public sector. Paul Quigley (UNHCR) pointed out that refugees need work permits and job opportunities in their new homes in order to pay for energy access and thereby create local energy markets.

Throughout the day, artists from Housatonic recorded the discussion results in graphic summaries (see image gallery below) and Young Journalists interviewed participants. The event was based on EUEI PDF’s working paper on the role of sustainable energy access in the migration debate, which will be revised with the results from the different workshops. The project team invites and encourages you to get in touch if you would like to contribute to the paper. More information on the EUEI PDF´s website and on twitter (@Energy4Dev).

Graphic summary of the first panel by Housatonic. Photo: EUEI PDF/Housatonic
Felice Zaccheo (European Commission) delivered the keynote speech. Photo: EUEI PDF
The morning session focused on energy as a factor for out-migration. Photo: EUEI PDF/Raphael Zingen
Participants contributed to a successful event. Photo: EUEI PDF/Raphael Zingen
Young journalist interviewing a panellist. Photo: EUEI PDF/Raphael Zingen
Effective approaches to energy access in refugee camps and hosting communities dominated the afternoon agenda. Photo:EUEI PDF/Raphael Zingen