Tuesday, May 19, 2015
While clear distinctions between “migrant” and “refugee” have been drawn in current humanitarian and immigration policy interpretation and practice, in reality the line between these two categories is far from obvious—and people can fall within both categories at once or shift from one to the other.
Faced with long-term displacement, many refugees turn to migration as a key livelihood strategy. This has blurred the sharp line policymakers seek to draw between those moving to seek protection from persecution and those moving for better economic opportunities. The resulting mixed flows, now being seen in the Mediterranean, at the U.S.-Mexico border, and elsewhere, challenge the ability of governments and others to separate “refugees” from “migrants.”
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, From
Refugee to Migrant? Labor Mobility’s Protection Potential, argues that current humanitarian and immigration policies need to be recalibrated to acknowledge the important role that mobility plays in refugees’ response to displacement. Particularly since many of these movements currently occur
through irregular channels, opening new legal pathways—and improving access to existing migration channels—is essential to the effective functioning of the international refugee protection regime and can also be a boost to labor markets in countries that host refugees as well as those that are preferred destinations.
The report explores the rationale behind developing protection policies that are more open to migration. First, such strategies seek to address, in some part, the irregular movement of refugees by offering them legal routes to economic opportunities elsewhere. Second, such policies may bolster the implementation of durable solutions to displacement and increase opportunities in countries of first asylum. The author recommends addressing refugee-specific barriers, for example lack of access to travel documents, to permit access to existing migration channels, as well as providing other permanent and temporary migration opportunities for refugees.