Understanding migration: The role of research for policy and society
4 February 2016, European Commission
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery

Deputy Director-General, Professor King, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Farid immigrated with his parents from Iran in the 1970s. Farid's father had been arrested several times in Iran for holding religious gatherings. Friends encouraged his family to take a leap of faith. So Farid's parents took a chance. Like all parents, they wanted to give their children better opportunities so they left. Their journey took them to a small coastal town in Scotland where Farid and his family had to adapt quickly.

To Farid the hardest thing was the loneliness at first. He was just 12 years old and away from everything he knew. He looked different. He prayed different. He was different. Farid had to learn English quickly, while keeping up with lessons at school. He washed dishes to earn extra money for his family.

The first years with little income and the language barrier were hard, but Farid's family trusted their decision to leave Iran and they were lucky that they had a choice. Only a few years later, the Iranian revolution forced many of their friends in Iran to flee as refugees. Immigration was no longer possible for religious minorities or political opposition. Returning to Iran was out of the question.

The new government confiscated the property Farid's family had left behind in Iran and his father's pension was revoked, but despite these difficulties young Farid began to do well in his new life. He finished school. He studied science at university and eventually, he became a microbiology lab technician, working for 30 years in a university, helping students to set up their experiments, helping students to research! Students from all over the European Union and the world.

What I want to say with this story is that choosing to leave your home country is never easy, even when you have a choice. It involves much hardship and uncertainty, but give people the right opportunities and they will give back to society a hundred times and more!

When we started talking about this conference, the first thing people asked me was "Why is DG Research and Innovation holding a conference on migration?". I have 2 reasons.

The first is that we have reached a defining moment in European history. The world is waiting to see if we will live up to our own values. The decisions we make now will be judged by history and rightly so.

The second is that to make those decisions, we must be armed with knowledge based on reliable research, because knowledge enlightens. It removes fear. It obliterates prejudice. Evidence-based policymaking can help us make the right decisions, swiftly and decisively.

I need not explain the immensity or the complexity of the task before us. People are fleeing conflict. They are fleeing cities that have been razed to the ground. They are fleeing torture and persecution. Many have endured those who trade on human life − the smugglers and trafficking networks −  and only yesterday, UNICEF announced that 1 in every 3 migrants on the move in Europe are children. Children at risk of abuse and exploitation. Therefore we must wake up!

This is not the first time, nor the last time that people will seek refuge in Europe. We must be prepared! We must unite. We must adjust.

It is my firm belief that Europe's researchers, scientists and innovators will be essential on that journey, because this is not a problem that can simply be "solved". This is not a crisis that will simply come to an "end". This is the new reality of the world we live in today, a reality we can only make better with decisions based on sound research and human compassion.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, war and persecution are displacing more people than ever before. The number of people forcibly displaced rose to around 60 million at the end of 2014. If those people were an EU country, they would equal the population of Italy and now we are also seeing more people displaced by the next threat to peace and security: the consequences of climate change.

Conflict, climate change, natural disasters. None of these things are going away and there is so much more we can do to act rather than react.

Today, I want to talk about 2 things we can do: (1) research for migration policymaking and (2) research to help societies adjust to new trends in migration. During this conference you will be discussing both. You will be discussing how research results can help policymakers design more effective migration policies. You will be discussing the research needs of the future and you will be discussing the societal impacts of migration.

What I want to know is how we can use research to go from reacting to migration, to adapting to it. Which brings me to my first point: Research for migration policymaking.

The arrival and movement of displaced people in EU territory requires an EU response. This is not a situation any one country can deal with alone. This is why international migration has been a part of EU policymaking for so long and why the new European Agenda on Migration aims to develop, in particular, a new policy on legal migration.

I see a role here for research in assessing the effectiveness of EU actions and in providing evidence-based recommendations for EU policy. The research community should hold a mirror to what we do and reveal the weaknesses we must address.

I see an important role for interdisciplinary research too. In putting this conference together, we needed input from a wide range of fields, involving colleagues from health, to climate action, to socio-economic research and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them for their hard work.

In particular, the social sciences and humanities must be given a louder voice. Migration is a human issue, more than it is a political one. The social sciences can provide insight into its root causes. But equally, they can dispel the myths surrounding migration, by looking at the cultural, historical and social barriers to integration within our own populations.

This is brings me to my second point: research to help societies adjust to new trends in migration. President Juncker has already offered assistance to Member States to speed up the integration process. In his State of the Union speech last year he said:

"Member States need to take a second look at their support, integration and inclusion policies."

In my mind, Europe's research and innovation community must be part of that second look. They must help design the strategies that make integration more successful and policymaking more helpful. We need research to replace fear with knowledge, to evaluate our actions and their worth and to be better prepared in the future.

The Commission is doing its part at every opportunity. We want to lead on this issue. We are already providing considerable support and relevant research opportunities in Horizon 2020 and recently I launched the Science4Refugees initiative, which opens a channel between European Universities and qualified refugees, so that they have a chance to improve their long term situation.

I would also like to see migration feature prominently in the next work programme from the start and to explore how more flexibility can be built into future work programmes.

Of course, research will not provide us with the answers to all our policy decisions, but we should not take policy decisions without having the scientific evidence in front of us. This is why I have just launched the new Scientific Advice Mechanism, to connect the best independent scientific advice with the Commissions policymaking needs and I'd like you to help us do more!

Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Russell King has prepared an excellent presentation for you with some very interesting conclusions on the research needs you will discuss later. My final message to you is,

Let us rise to this challenge!
Let us be without fear!
Let us be full of compassion!

I can think of no greater opportunity than integrating new talent and new potential in Europe at this time. A time when we need a great deal of new talent and new potential! So I leave you with the words of José Saramago, a Nobel-laureate, playwright and journalist from my own country of Portugal. He said,

If you didn't migrate then your father did, and if your father didn't need to move from place to place, then it was only because your grandfather before him had no choice but to go, [to] put his old life behind him in search of the bread that his own land denied him...”

So ladies and gentlemen, I am listening to your ideas. I am eager for your response!