Silk routes: Dialogue as basis for cooperation

In the field of migration policy “migration dialogues” are an important cooperation tool. They help states to maintain open channels of communication between each other, from expert to ministerial level. Countries along the Silk Routes connect through the Budapest Process.

By Cecilia Lundström Carniel

Europe has seldom seen a refugee crisis of the present dimensions, characterised by massive movements of people in search of better lives, escaping from conflict and misery in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Apart from emergency measures to address the immediate humanitarian crisis, long-term responses are needed. We need to increase cooperation and coordination between countries along the migration routes and in this way create possibilities to manage migration better - for countries and for people. Dialogue is a tool to facilitate this cooperation and coordination.

What are the benefits a dialogue?

In the field of migration, “Migration Dialogues” or “Regional Consultative Processes” have successively gained strong importance as a cooperation tool.

Dialogues help states and other stakeholders to maintain open channels of communication between each other, from expert to ministerial level. Personal contacts are created, also when states have strained relations and states greatly benefit through this exchange, also in day-to-day cooperation. This networking is efficient: at a single meeting representatives can exchange with officials from 20 to 40 countries or more. Informal discussions on the side-lines can help break through stalemates or further bi- and multilateral discussions.

In 2010, the Turkish Chair of the Budapest Process, an intergovernmental migration dialogue active since more than 20 years, proposed to redirect the focus towards the Silk Routes Region. Stable cooperation has since then developed with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. Also, Syria participated before the war broke out.

For the first time, the countries of the Silk Routes Region are engaging in this kind of migration dialogue with their counterparts from other regions involved, including South Eastern and Eastern Europe, the Black Sea region, Central Asia as well as EU and Schengen countries. The cooperation is instrumental for dealing with the migration challenges of today.

Growing familiarity and regular contacts between participants of various events organised in this framework increases the understanding of different migration realities and the respect for each other’s situations. There is a special psychology of sitting at the same table which changes dynamics, between people, and in the long run, also between states.

Dialogue is also about knowledge transfer and capacity building

Following an important ministerial conference of the Budapest Process countries in 2013, the European Commission and several governments participating in the dialogue decided to co-fund a larger capacity building project. This “Silk Routes Partnership Project”, has given the Budapest Process the necessary operational means to make a real difference in the Silk Routes Region through building their capacity to manage migration efficiently.

A clear benefit of migration dialogues is that they very often provide a homebase to capacity building projects – serving to improve the capacities of administrations to better manage all aspects related to the movement of people, including awareness of how migration could be more beneficial for the development of each country.

Another key feature of the dialogue is knowledge transfer - from peer to peer during meetings and related operational activities. The Silk Routes Partnership Project has shown that it is not only important to offer a platform for countries from different regions – but also countries from the same region need a place to interact and share experience. At a training held in Tehran a year ago, delegates from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan had countless questions for each other about respective experiences in the field of labour migration.

The Silk Routes Partnership Project has shown that capacity building can and also should start during challenging situations, parallel to other on-going measures serving to give aid, alleviate immediate needs or tackle security issues. Dialogue and capacity building activities have been highly appreciated among officials who get the chance to reconnect to the international community and raise their own competences and those of the administrations.

Flavour of the Silk Routes

The Silk Road and its many routes – the Silk Routes – were more than pathways for the trade of silk and spices. Along these routes, travel, trade and cultural exchange increased mutual understanding, respect and acceptance between peoples of many different cultures. Migrants still travel these routes, bringing with them new customs, ideas and culture and link the countries along the routes in migration systems.

The migration dialogue – in this case the Budapest Process – also brings the officials of these countries together and gives them a framework for genuine cooperation, for handling migration challenges and for managing migration better.
Each country is unique; each country brings its individual spice to the cooperation.

The flavour of the Silk Routes has brought a new set of perspectives for modern migration management, which benefits all levels of migration administration, and ultimately trickles down to the migrants themselves.

ICMPD, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, serves as the Secretariat of the Budapest Process. ICMPD is also the implementing partner of the Silk Routes Partnership Project. Find out more on ICMPD on their webpage.

Photo: lensnmatter on Flickr