02/2010: Theodoros Skylakakis


(February-June 2010)

Building on Eurasylum’s existing monthly policy interviews, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Eurasylum have launched a special series on ”The Future of Migration: Building Capacities for Change”. This monthly interview series will run from February to June 2010 and will aim to feed into the World Migration Report 2010, which will be dedicated fully to this policy theme. This special monthly interview series is designed to collect the views of senior public officials, social partners and reputable academics worldwide about the needs for new capacity building measures in five major policy areas:

– Climate change (February 2010);
– Integration and Rights (March 2010);
– Labour Migration (April 2010);
– Migration and Development (May 2010); and
– Migration Governance (June 2010).

These interviews will be published in full on Eurasylum’s website and excerpts will appear, as text boxes, in the next World Migration Report (September 2010)



Theodoros Skylakakis
Member of the European Parliament;
former Special Representative for Climate Change of Greece


”Climate change and migration: impacts and policy responses”


Ü IOM/Eurasylum: What are your predictions for the impact of climate change on migration during the 21st century, and given the immense challenges which seem to lie ahead, what are the most immediate policy priorities in terms of disaster preparedness and policy coherence respectively?

Ü Theodoros Skylakakis: We must approach this question with some fundamental truths in mind. The most important of these is the anticipated increase in world population. The current predictions amount to more than 2 billion people in the next four decades. Most of them in Asia. Are all these people going to stay at home? The answer depends on many different factors. Economic development, climate change and both traditional and human security are the most important of these factors. One way or another, those that will move are going to pass through the existing migration routes. From east to west and from south to north, and both their transit and destination countries will belong mostly to the wider Eurasian area.

Having in mind the recent global crisis, the combination of climate change and slower economic growth could urge an even larger number of people to leave their countries and seek a safer or more promising environment, than previously estimated. Climate change induced droughts, floods, wildfires, extreme weather events and natural disasters are likely to further intensify pre-existing stresses in vulnerable regions, such as food insecurity, water scarcity, reduced agricultural production, unequal access to resources and breakout of epidemics and spreading of diseases. These sorts of challenges may gradually lead to degradation of infrastructure, weakening of institutions and even generate a threat to peace and security by compounding the propensity for violent conflict. Climate change is, by far, the most important environmental challenge for migratory movements in the next decades. Allow me to repeat that the wider Eurasian area might be heavily influenced, by possible, environmentally forced, migratory movements, in the years to come. This may happen, not only directly, as Central Asia and Southern Mediterranean are considered to be two of the most vulnerable regions, in terms of climate change impacts, but also indirectly, as climate change will continue to hit sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, where a lot of people are already moving, due to natural disasters. It is more than obvious that if we pass the “tipping point”, in terms of unpredictable and destructive climate change impacts, then we could expect massive migratory inflows, from these vulnerable regions, following already existing migratory routes, into the Eurasian area.

Given the above, we obviously need a significant increase in our resources that are used for disaster preparedness, especially in Europe where our own needs are also increasing. We also need more effective migration management, in a way that encourages legal migration and brings benefits to the economic and social development of both sending and receiving countries. Migration management improves the living conditions of millions of migrants and safeguards against potential security challenges, posed by illegal migration and criminal networks that perpetrate this phenomenon. Effective migration management is however impossible without co-operation between States. If we try to avoid the problem by passing it through to our neighbours we all end up with the worst of the possible worlds. It is like trying to cool a number of hot potatoes by trying to transfer them to each other, while no one is cooperating. We all end up with our hands burned. It would be a lot better if we cooperated to cool them in a pot of cold water. But cooperation is not easy. More often than not, on the issue of migration, states tend to follow a policy of myopic national interest, simply because they do not trust their neighbours enough.

Ü IOM/Eurasylum: If there is to be an effective response to gradual changes in the environment there will need to be more coherence between development, migration and environment policies. How could this be achieved and, in particular, how could migration be mainstreamed into national adaptation plans, and how could capacity be built to improve the protection of the rights of the environmentally displaced?

Ü Theodoros Skylakakis: Open dialogue and co-operation on all these levels are key factors for success. We can build upon the ‘aquis’ of certain regional and international institutions and organizations and support activities that facilitate the exchange of expertise and good practices and can contribute to building further capacity to deal with future challenges related to international migration. We should also take into account existing regional, sub-regional and international frameworks dealing with migration management, e.g. the Global Forum on Migration and Development, the Budapest Process and the Barcelona Process. Furthermore, a number of organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Office (ILO), the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), the European Union, the Eurasian Economic Community and the Council of Europe (European Committee on Migration), the OSCE as well as EUROPOL and UNODC are important contributors and partners.

National adaptation plans are in their infancy due to the uncertainty inherent in the climate change phenomenon. The best thing we can do to mainstream migration into them is to create trusted networks of legal short-term (e.g. seasonal) migration. In this way when disaster strikes and migration pressures rise we can use these networks to channel activities in a meaningful and mutually productive way, prioritizing environmental migrants that need a temporary solution to their economic needs, while the rebuilding effort is organised.

As for the rights of the environmentally displaced the best way to improve their protection is to stop using the term “environmental refugee”, since forced environmental migration is a different phenomenon from the reasons that create refugees covered by the Geneva convention and participating countries will never accept the inclusion of forced environmental migration into this convention. We should also try to create a new appropriate international legal framework, that can achieve wider acceptance.

Ü IOM/Eurasylum: To what extent could environmental migration help countries to adapt to climate change through temporary labour migration which relieves pressure on degraded areas and which provides remittances to those left behind?

Ü Theodoros Skylakakis: It is evident that in the global economic environment we should pay more attention to the economic root causes of migration, to the links between economic and migration policies and to the ways and means of maximizing the economic gains that migration could bring about, when effectively managed, to countries of origin and destination as well as to the migrants themselves.

Under these circumstances temporary labour migration which relieves pressure on degraded areas can be a very useful tool. And we can also integrate it into our development assistance policies by promising the migrants to link their remittances to their countries with development assistance for recognizable local and community projects in their places of origin. This is a new field of development cooperation, which can be very useful in the years to come. In the EU, after recognising this need, we must shape such programmes, probably in cooperation with the IOM.

Ü IOM/Eurasylum: Are any of the conclusions of the Copenhagen Summit of relevance for migration policy?

Ü Theodoros Skylakakis: Unfortunately, environmentally induced migration was out of the scope of the Copenhagen Summit. There is no direct reference to this issue in the conclusions of the summit. In my opinion, this is an important gap. If we want to tackle effectively all the climate change related issues, we must put emphasis on environmentally induced migration and incorporate this issue in a truly global agreement. Nevertheless, as we all know, we failed to sign a global agreement in Copenhagen. From my part, as a member of the Environment Committee of the European Parliament and also as a Shadow Rapporteur, appointed by the European People’s Party for the report on the White Paper, concerning a European framework for action on adaptation, I intend to put emphasis on preparing European wide policies, in order to manage environmentally induced migration.