On the move

Interview with Arno Tomowski, Coordinator Displacement and Migration Issues at GIZ

Mr Tomowski, when we talk about displacement and migration, it feels like we’re entering a very broad area. We talk of refugees, migrants, displaced persons – what are the differences?

It’s true that in general usage the terms are often ambiguous. But clear definitions do exist. The term displaced person, for example, is a generic term for anyone who has been forced to leave their home on account of external factors – in other words refugees and internally displaced persons, but also those seeking refuge from natural disasters or other such events and those applying for or seeking asylum. According to figures released by the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR in late 2015, displaced persons numbered over 65 million – including 21.3 million refugees. These are people seeking refuge outside their homeland on account of war, human rights abuses or individual persecution. The majority of the 40.8 million people classed as displaced in late 2015 are what are known as internally displaced persons or IDPs. Their migration takes place within their country of origin to another part of the country without crossing any international borders.

Arno Tomowski © GIZ

A further, smaller group of displaced persons includes those seeking or applying for asylum. These numbered around 3.2 million at the end of 2015. In total, however, the number of people on the move is much larger. According to estimates provided by the International Organisation for Migration, around 250 million people currently live outside their country of origin. The academic term given to this group of people is migrants, and they include all those who have left their homeland for work or education or to be reunited with their families.

What kind of support is required by people thinking about leaving their home or already on the move?

People who are already fleeing their homes first and foremost need protection and basic provisions – protection from traffickers and criminals attempting to profit from the fates of migrants through false information or the use of violence. Often the countries to which people flee or migrate are also poor and already overburdened to a degree we can barely imagine. GIZ therefore provides support not only to refugees but also to host communities. This helps to prevent conflict over, say, the use of resources. A good example of this is the cash-for-work projects implemented by GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) as part of the Middle East employment initiative.

Cash for Work © GIZ/Fabian Schwan-Brandt

People seeking to leave their home country as migrants generally do so for a variety of reasons. Most hope for better living conditions and prospects – younger generations in particular. In the first instance, this means work and income, a secure supply of water, food, health care, housing and everything we associate with a normal life. The responsibility for providing all this lies primarily with the government of the country in question. In our work, we provide structural support and implement effective measures to improve services for the population. In arid countries such as Jordan and Mali, for example, high priority is given to efficient use of water. At a fundamental level, a basic energy supply is hugely important for economic development, as is agricultural productivity for food. Education and vocational training offer young people in particular an opportunity to harness their individual potential and improve their future prospects.

What do you see as the positive aspects of migration?

Regulated, legal migration worldwide is really beneficial on three levels, provided that rules are observed and there’s no exploitation. Let’s consider an example from our cooperation with the German Federal Employment Agency. Germany urgently needs nursing staff to look after our ageing population. We help to bring these nurses to Germany from states that have a surplus of well-trained carers. This measure relieves the burden on labour markets in the countries of origin, provides new career prospects for people from these countries and helps to meet the growing need for trained nursing staff in Germany.

This form of regulated migration should essentially be seen as positive because it doesn’t lead to a brain-drain in countries of origin. Given the surplus of trained staff, there’s no negative impact on the national economy. It’s an example of how there’s also a need for differentiation in the debate about migration. What’s more, the current lack of trained staff is the biggest risk facing the German economy.