02/2004: Dr. Frank Laczko


Dr. Frank Laczko
Head of the Research Division, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Geneva


“Gaps and opportunities in international policy research on immigration, asylum
and human trafficking/smuggling activity”


Ü Eurasylum Ltd: As head of the research division of a leading international supplier and consumer of key policy research, how would you assess the current state of critical knowledge, including both statistical data and qualitative research, enabling public authorities to inform key policy and legal decisions in the field of immigration and asylum?

Ü Dr. Frank Laczko: While international migration is becoming an ever more pressing policy issue migration issues are often poorly understood and remain the subject of much controversy. In many EU states there is a perception among the general public that migration brings more costs than benefits.

Broadly speaking there is a mismatch between much of the migration research that is being conducted and the needs of policy-makers. On the one hand, there is an impression that migration policies are often developed without a sound evidence base. This is partly because governments are not giving sufficient priority to migration policy research. For example, IOM recently surveyed the research activities of 23 governments around the world and found that although most countries conduct or sponsor some migration research, very few have established a clearly defined migration research programme and linkages to policy units.

On the other hand, while there is a growing body of academic migration research, few of these studies seem to have much impact on policy makers. There are several reasons for this.

First, much of the research is not designed in consultation with policy-makers and does not take into account their time-scale. Second, the policy context may change very fast, and sometimes research findings can quickly become irrelevant. Third, research findings are often not presented in a form which is easily accessible to policy-makers. For example, researchers are required to publish in refereed journals relating to their academic discipline. But such journals may often reach only a fairly narrow audience of experts working in a particular field. Fourth, there is also a problem of �information overload�. As the EC pointed out as long ago as in 1996 in a feasibility study to establish the case for creating a �European Migration Observatory�, one of the main problems is the �sheer volume and diversity of information on migration that is available to policy makers�. However, even when research is designed with policy-makers� needs in mind, there is no guarantee that migration research will have much impact on policy developments. Research is seldom conclusive and rarely provides ready-made answers. Policy contexts will inevitably shape the way decision-makers view the evidence and several factors unrelated to the findings of research may influence policy decisions. The impact of research is often indirect or only has an influence over the long-term. For example, research may raise awareness about a particular migration issue, and by influencing public opinion, may eventually lead to policy changes.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: To what extent do you consider that national government authorities, the European Commission and relevant international organisations have sufficient access to, or are expressing a sufficient need for, key research findings to base major policy and programme initiatives?

Ü Dr. Frank Laczko: The situation is improving. The EC has taken some important initiatives. It created a European Migration Network in 2003 which aims to facilitate the sharing of migration information and research findings across Europe in a much more systematic fashion than previously. The EC has also launched an action plan to improve data collection. In April of last year it published a Communication to present an �Action Plan for the collection and analysis of Community Statistics in the field of migration�. The plan includes activities to enhance information exchange and the production of �user-friendly� statistics on migration. Whilst these initiatives are very much welcome, a key gap in our information is the lack of analysis of the data collected by the EC relating to irregular migration trends in Europe. The European Council�s Centre for Information, Discussion and Exchange on Immigration (CIREFI) is responsible for the collection of standard data-sets covering five main areas:

– Refused aliens
– Apprehended aliens illegally present
– Apprehended facilitators
– Apprehended facilitated aliens
– Removed aliens

These data are however confidential and are not published. There is therefore very little reliable data in the public domain relating to trends in irregular migration in Europe. These data may not be perfect, but they do provide a rich source of information that is highly relevant to current migration policy debates in Europe.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: How could mechanisms be improved and systematised to increase production, dissemination and exchanges of adequate and reliable policy research and information among relevant institutional players?

Ü Dr. Frank Laczko: As a starting point, governments have to accept that they have a key role to play in managing migration policy research. Policy-makers need to be committed to evidence-based policy-making and researchers need to be encouraged to develop a closer dialogue with policy-makers if they seek to influence policy. In order to facilitate such a dialogue, IOM organised in Geneva, on 5-6 February 2004, a workshop for government officials and selected migration experts from 23 countries entitled Enhancing the Contribution of Migration Research to Policy-Making. This was the first global meeting of its type bringing together developed and developing countries from all major regions of the world. Participants agreed that information about government sponsored research activities and their policy research priorities tends to be very scattered. As a result of this meeting an informal network of government contact points has been created to foster the sharing of research information between governments. The network will also enable governments to better identify opportunities for research partnerships. It will further provide an opportunity for states from the developed world to share their migration data with developing countries. These countries often lack the resources to conduct migration research or to collect data on migration. A great deal of the information which is relevant to policy-makers in these countries, regarding the situation of their nationals overseas, is to be found in the developed world. As a first step, IOM will make available online on its website all reports submitted by governments at this workshop.

Further information about this meeting can be found at http://www.iom.int/en/what/GMRA.shtml.