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A Certain Catalyst: Towards the link between migration and development

The controversial debate around migration and development has been gaining momentum in contemporary debates on global affairs in a time sometimes referred to as the ‘age of mobility’. The World Bank estimates that as of 2013, there were 247 million international migrants representing about 3% of total world population. This figure is expected to increase in the future as complex push and pull factors continue to drive migration across the world. This figure also does not include most irregular migrants who move clandestinely and once in their country of destination often remain for years under the radar and work in the informal sectors or as unofficial workers.

More than 1 million refugees and migrants are reported to have entered Europe in 2015 alone and an additional three million are expected by end of 2016. According to UNHCR , 90% of all arrivals to Europe via Mediterranean in 2015 are from the top ten refugee producing countries in the world, raising the question as to whether this is a refugee or migration crisis for Europe and even whether it is a crisis at all when over 86% of the world’s refugees are already hosted in countries in developing regions.

The issue of migration raises temperatures on all sides of the debate – there are few subject that are as politically sensitive or as taboo. Most mainstream parties tread very carefully around migration policy and in the process often avoid taking clear positions on issues that are of considerable concern to their constituents.

Media coverage and commentary on migrants’ and refugees’ journeys often generate compassion and sympathy, especially when tragic events occur. At the same time, reporting has had the potential to stir up, evoking anti-migrant sentiments, antipathy and/or fear, obscuring facts and often denying the public and policy makers opportunity to debate migration and development from an informed perspective.

The United Nations stated in a press release during the International Migrants Day in December 2015. “This new era has […] served to underscore the clear linkage between migration and development, as well as the opportunities it provides for co-development, that is, the concerted improvement of economic and social conditions at both origin and destination”

Echoing this sentiment, the latest research study by the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), A Certain Catalyst, seeks to bring balance to the great migration debate by addressing various myths associated with migration and highlighting ways in which migration could or actually does contribute to development. RMMS considers that full public discussion of the central issues is necessary to stimulate forward thinking and rational policy engagement in relation to the migration discourse.

The report, which also explores the specific linkages between migration and development in the Horn of Africa and Yemen region, examines issues such as diaspora engagement, remittances, labour migration, free movement and refugee economies.

Even though the relationship between migration and development is not a linear or a causal one, there has been increased global focus in this area. In the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN recognizes the positive role of migration in lifting people out of poverty and reducing inequalities within and among countries and aims to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsiblemigration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well managed migration policies.

Migration and development also features prominently in EU’s engagement and cooperation with Africa at continental, regional and bilateral levels. The Valletta Summit on Migration held in November 2015 and the consequent launch of €1.8 billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, adoption of a political declaration and a joint action plan is aimed, among other objectives, at maximising the development benefits of migration, better organizing legal channels for migration and mobility and addressing root causes of irregular migration.

While migration within and from Horn of Africa is considered to be relatively low compared to countries with higher levels of development, such as in coastal West Africa, it is expected that migration flows in the region will increase in coming decades. Africa’s boomingyouth population, rising economic growth, regional integration initiatives aimed at easing citizens’ movement and climate change are some of the factors likely to contribute to increased migration and labour mobility within and from Sub-Saharan Africa in future.

Despite mixed reactions – compassion, fears and objections – towards migrants and refugees, there are positive ways in which migration can contribute to development not only in origin countries in Horn of Africa but also in destination countries.

Africa’s diaspora members are contributing to development in their origin countries through transfer of skills, innovative ideas and technologies from countries of residence. In addition, the diaspora community facilitates trade and investment flows between destination and origin countries contributing to poverty reduction and economic growth in Africa. As the report explains, developing countries will need to take appropriate actions to improve business climate, address governance and corruption concerns in the continent to maximise the benefits of migration and mobility.

Remittances from migrant workers abroad can contribute to socio-economic development in developing countries. According to World Bank figures remittances reached USD 414 billion in 2013, three times the amount of foreign aid. Remittances constituted 2.4% of GDP in Djibouti, 9.3% in Yemen and 1.3% in Ethiopia. Studies have shown a positive impact of remittances on poverty reduction, education and human development however according to the report, this impact has to be complemented by deliberate structural reforms by governments in developing countries for sustainable development.

The UN, in recognition of the contribution of migration to development, sets a target as part of SDGs, to reduce by 2030 the transaction costs of migrant remittances to less than 3% and eliminate corridors with costs higher than 5%. Remittance corridors in East Africa are among those with the highest remittance costs in the world.

Labour migration both South-North and South-South can have many economic benefits for destination and origin countries as well as for migrants and their families. International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 64.8% of the 232 million international migrants in the world today are economically active. Economists argue that the economic contribution of migrants in Europe is greater than their cost to EU governments with benefits expected to outweigh the costs in 5-10 years in countries such as Germany.

At a regional level, the impact of labour migration on development can further be maximised especially in developing countries through facilitation of free movement of persons between countries. Regional integration initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa such as South African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East Africa Community (EAC) have protocols on free movement of persons between member states.

Opportunities for legal or regular migration may lead to better management of migration in the region and reduce irregular migration. However successful implementation of the protocols on free movement of persons in the regional economic communities above has been hampered by insufficient political support as well as restrictive policies and practices by member states.

Countries in the East and the Horn of Africa are initiating policies and programs to tap potential development benefits from their diaspora communities. Kenya and Ethiopia launched Diaspora Policies in 2015 and 2013 respectively. Diaspora agencies and/or departments have been established by Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Puntland and Federal Government in Mogadishu aimed at linking diaspora and migrants abroad to investment opportunities and development processes in their origin countries.

Many specialists agree that migration flows are set to increase in future and this trend will remain a global phenomenon for decades to come. While migration is not a panacea for development challenges in poor countries, if well managed, there are strong arguments supporting the notion that migration can have positive impacts on development for both destination and origin countries as well as on the welfare of migrants and their families. As the RMMS report recommends, there is need for full public discussion and debate on migration and development which should not be informed by myths and constrained by taboos but established on facts and a balanced perspective of the issues at hand.


Note: This article originally appeared on the RMMS Horn of Africa website.