“The Human Face of Migration”: speech by Albina du Boisrouvray, FXB International Founder and Honorary President

Presenting an analysis of historical contexts, testimonies, experiences and lessons learned was the focus of this joint United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) -United Nations University (UNU) conference on “The Human Face of Migration: Historical Perspectives, Testimonies and Policy Considerations”, organized at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, on June 15, 2017. The conference aimed to inform ongoing reflection on developing migration policies that place human dignity at their center.

Speech by Albina du Boisrouvray:

FXB International was founded almost 30 years ago on the basis that health, human rights and children’s rights were inextricably linked in the provision of full, effective, long-lasting development.

In 2015, 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum across the 28 EU countries, Norway and Switzerland.

FXB is well aware of the limits of its actions in preventing migration that is caused by wars, violence and political instability. However, FXB’s community development programs, such as the FXBVillage programs, are focused specifically on the causes of economic migration.

This type of migration is caused by macro-economic factors:

  • The higher salaries available abroad attract migrants who are also pushed by the lack of employment opportunities and low pay in their own countries (push-and-pull).
  • In developing countries, the structural change of rural societies into urban, industrial societies causes the traditional income-generating activities (IGAs) to fall by the wayside; such change also contributes to an increase in unemployment and migration towards urban centres and subsequently abroad (step migration).

But there are also micro-economic factors at play: migration is not an individual choice but one based on a decision by the community and household to diversify income sources to reduce risks and increase revenues. A family member who migrates will send money back to his country. As long as households see this type of income as being viable, emigration from developing countries to high-income countries will continue.

So, bearing these migration factors in mind, migration prevention and reduction strategies should take into account the following components:

  • Investments supporting grassroots IGAs and entrepreneurship along with training where necessary.
  • Promoting ways to earn a living and income-diversification strategies which will make economic activities sustainable, and reinforce access to basic requirements such as health, food, education, water, sanitation and housing.
  • Reinforcing the social cohesion of communities and developing the resiliency of vulnerable families.

Looking at the FXBVillage methodology, we can see it meets those requirements precisely and tackles the reasons for economic migration.

The FXBVillage Model was created in 1991 based on the public health paradigm taught by Professor Jonathan Mann of Harvard University, who emphasised the inextricable link between health and human rights. Mann advocated the concept that public health could only have a lasting impact if the social and cultural factors that increased the risk of diseases and prevented people from gaining access to fundamental rights were counteracted at the same time.

Aid divvied out as handouts is an inadequate solution for communities living in abject poverty. The only true way to break the cycle of extreme poverty is through a holistic method.

By taking Mann’s approach and adding the missing economic link, which would enable people to start an IGA, I transformed the public health paradigm into a development paradigm through FXB’s FXBVillage programs.

Indeed, the program’s liberating aspect has been the small business provided to the heads of the families at the start of the program. A small amount of start-up capital is given, not lent, to the participants in the first year of the programme. It enables them to create IGAs without having to worry about repaying a loan.

In 1991, when I conceived and developed our model, the entire international community was fixated on microloans as a means to combat widespread poverty. I was convinced that the families we worked with, who were floundering in abject poverty, would never be able to repay the loans and that the piecemeal handouts would not help them to recover their dignity and financial independence.

And what use was building a school if the children were studying on an empty stomach and did not have a family home to sleep in? Or setting up a clinic if the sick returned home only to end up drinking dirty water?

So, rather than a divided approach, we sought to address all interdependent needs simultaneously in order to extricate those families from abject poverty and to fully fund all basic necessities for families, which the philosopher Jean-Claude Milner has called “the rights of the body”.

The IGAs created at the beginning gradually enable families to earn sufficient income to meet their daily needs and gradually take control of the other key aspects of their life, so that, in three years, they can be socially and economically independent, with instant access to all their basic needs, namely nutrition, health, housing, access to water, education, and work, as well as a healthy environment, safety, respect and dignity. Basically, a future!

Over the three years of the program, the financial support from FXB is gradually reduced. The holistic approach of combined actions fosters participants’  progressive independence, who can now make use of microloans to consolidate and diversify their income generating activities.

We are the step before microloans.

We can see that the FXBVillage program is a strategy that specifically tackles the causes of migration and anchors people to their native country:

  • When economic communities and their members have lasting access to income and also other basic human rights, they do not need to emigrate.
  • Investments in family IGAs and training enable families to diversify their income streams and protect themselves from risks.

The extension of the FXBVillage program to regions that are the sources of high levels of illegal migration can reduce those migration levels.

It can also help with bringing up children, preventing the scenario where, in order just to eat, they must join criminals or terrorists, become child soldiers, or be used for the sex or drug trades. And preventing children from joining the hordes among the “lost generation”.

In essence, an investment in youth is an investment in the peace and security of the world.

Moreover, we strive to be a test site of new offers. In Rwanda for example, we have added biochar and permaculture as additional support for rural IGAs.

For almost 30 years in Africa, Asia and Latin America, FXBVillage has helped release 80 families at a time from grinding poverty. They have started small local businesses, gaining economic independence from us after three years with an 86% long-term success rate.

More than 13,000 families have been put back on the road to dignity and financial independence: almost 100,000 people. Over three years, it costs €250,000 for 500 to 600 people per program, or €145 per person per year. It’s not so much…

For example:

Since 2006, FXB has been developing FXBVillages in Burundi, especially in Bujumbura. While the current political crisis, which has automatically unleashed an economic crisis, has induced a large population movement out of the country (almost 300,000 Burundians have left the country since the crisis began in April 2015), the beneficiary families of FXB have remained in their neighbourhoods and therefore in the country.

Access to their fundamental rights alongside the diversified income streams have meant that these families have decided not to emigrate.

Their overall capacities have been strengthened and so they are also capable of developing strategies to overcome the crises.

We have also just opened a FXBVillage program in Dornogovi province in Mongolia. Almost half of all Mongolians live in the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar (about 1.5 million out of a total population of 3 million). This is mainly because of a rural exodus caused by very difficult climate conditions in the countryside as well as the lack of jobs in such rural areas.

This has created pre-international migration. There is a ghetto of yurts in Ulaanbaatar, similar to the state of affairs in Paris with economic migrants and those fleeing war. It is a dreadful health and sanitation situation similar to the situation at Porte de la Chapelle. There are not only unstable huts creating a jungle of sorts but another 600 people sleeping rough, without latrines or a water source. This could easily lead to epidemics. And it is infested with rats.

Since the beginning of 2016, FXB has been carrying out FXBVillage program in the southern province of Dornogovi, in the Gobi Desert. One of the objectives of this program is to persuade families to remain in their rural community by providing them with access to all of their fundamental rights and necessities, along with a stable source of income.

The economy of that FXBVillage is livestock, poultry, greenhouse farming, and quilt- and fleece-making, among other small businesses.

The results of this ongoing program are visible as no families are planning to leave Dornogovi for Ulaanbaatar. Indeed, the families are developing local strategies to compensate for the lack of employment opportunities and are becoming stakeholders in the local economy. With the quilts and fleeces, a new market has been created.

It is an anchor that prevents migration to the big city and subsequent international migration.

We can also consider such programmes for politically unstable areas, such as Afghanistan. We have just repatriated Afghan migrants who were refused political asylum; they were told they still have the option of living in the safe areas in Afghanistan.

We could propose this programme for France, where migrants are dispersed throughout and there are war refugee camps that should no longer be considered as places of transit but as places to make a permanent life.

We’re at the fourth generation in some of them.

There is a plethora of human and material resources, supplied by the United Nations and NGOs.

Is it so difficult to imagine gathering together a group of 80 families, coordinating the human and material support, and setting up, with some training, a small business—an enterprise that could become integrated into the economy of the country or camp?

An example of a future utopia?

With global warming, the Siberian permafrost is thawing and Vladimir Putin is parcelling out the land freely to city inhabitants in order to reduce overcrowding.

In the coming years, as a result of climate change, a huge population movement, especially from Africa, will seek to live in that uninhabited region.

Could the FXBVillage method be useful there?

Two years ago, I developed, together with some Harvard University lecturers, a free, open-source methodology toolkit so that decision-makers, leaders and everyone else could use the FXBVillage tools and follow in detail this successful methodology, for these new situations of abject poverty and migration.

June 15, 2017


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