Photo: Christophe Vander Eecken/laif


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When asked what is to be done about the “refugee crisis”, almost every politician will argue that development co-operation has to do more towards improving the situation in the regions of origin. And indeed, billions of euros are being allocated to the task of “Fluchtursachenbekämpfung”, i.e. combating the root causes of migration. Can development co-operation in general and rural development interventions in particular fulfil this expectation, and if so, how?

Fluchtursachenbekämpfung is a controversial topic. Opposition parties argue that governments refer to the causes of migration to detract attention from their failure to manage the refugee crisis. Critics of development cooperation ask why so many people are still trying to find a future for themselves outside their home areas. Supporters of migration fear that Official Development Assistance (ODA) could be misused for building walls against migrants. Migration researchers object that more effective efforts to reduce poverty will even stimulate international migration as the very poor cannot afford to migrate. Some development co-operation practitioners fear that reorienting aid towards migration policy aims will just end up as another re-labelling exercise.

So, the question this article explores is whether and by what means development co-operation can mitigate the causes of migration. The focus here is on labour migration, rather than refugees, acknowledging that it is not always possible to clearly separate one from the other.

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