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Enlightening the Migration Debate: the Importance of Sustainable Energy Access

Enlightening the Migration Debate: the Importance of Sustainable Energy Access




31 January, 2017






In 2013, 232 million people worldwide were living outside their country of origin and, according to estimates by experts on internal migration, one billion people permanently moved to another place of residence within their country of birth. According to UNHCR, 65.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced in 2015 with an average resettlement waiting period for a refugee of 17 years.

The increasing international migration flows place a growing demand on host countries’ resources including energy services while, conversely, the international donor community is pushing for efficient use of funds earmarked for humanitarian aid and development, migration and energy programmes.

The EUEI PDF discussion forum "Enlightening the Migration Debate: the Importance of Sustainable Energy Access" aimed to explore how sustainable energy can help tackle structural causes of migration, and what are the opportunities and challenges for providing sustainable energy to displaced populations and host communities. 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.

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 (DG DEVCO, European Commission) 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 (DG ECHO, European Commission) 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.

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. The input gained throughout the day has been incorporated into the final version of the paper (available on the right of this page).

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