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In September 2001, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned a study of the present and potential links between migration and development. In January 2002, the new Danish Government announced a decision to enhance the links between its aid and refugee policies as part of the overall focus on poverty reduction. The present paper provides a state–of–the–art overview of current thinking and available evidence on the migration–development nexus, including the role of aid in migrant–producing areas. It offers evidence and conclusions around the following four critical issues:

Poverty and migration

People in developing countries require resources and connections to engage in international migration. There is no direct link between poverty, economic development, population growth, and social and political change on the one hand, and international migration on the other. Poverty reduction is not in itself a migration–reducing strategy.

Conflicts, refugees, and migration

Violent conflicts produce displaced persons, migrants, and refugees. People on the move may contribute both to conflict prevention and reconciliation, and to sustained conflicts. Most refugees do not have the resources to move beyond neighbouring areas, that is, they remain internally displaced or move across borders to first countries of asylum within their region. Aid to developing countries receiving large inflows of refugees is poverty–oriented to the extent that these are poor countries, but it is uncertain what effect such aid has in terms of reducing the number of people seeking asylum in developed countries. Furthermore, such aid may attract refugees from adjacent countries experiencing war or political turmoil.

Migrants as a development resource

International liberalization has gone far with respect to capital, goods and services, but not to labour. International political–economic regimes provide neither space nor initiatives for negotiations on labour mobility and the flow of remittances. There is a pressing need to reinforce the image of migrants as a development resource. Remittances are double the size of aid and target the poor at least as well; migrant diasporas are engaged in transnational practices with direct effects on aid and development; developed countries recognize their dependence on immigrant labour; and policies on development aid, humanitarian relief, migration, and refugee protection are internally inconsistent and occasionally contradictory.

Aid and migration

Aid policies face a critical challenge to balance a focus on poverty reduction with mitigating the conditions that produce refugees, while also interacting constructively with migrant diasporas and their transnational practices. The current emphasis on aid selectivity tends to allocate development aid to the well performing countries, and humanitarian assistance to the crisis countries and trouble spots. However, development aid is more effective than humanitarian assistance in preventing violent conflicts, promoting reconciliation and democratization, and encouraging poverty–reducing development investments by migrant diasporas.

The paper is a synthesis of current knowledge of migration–development dynamics, including an assessment of the intended and unintended consequences of development and humanitarian policy interventions. We examine whether recent developments in the sphere of international migration provide evidence of a “crisis”, as well as the connections between migration, globalization, and the changing nature of conflicts. We summarize current thinking on the main issues at stake and examine available evidence on the relations between migration and development. Then the consequent challenges to the aid community, including the current debates about coherence and selectivity in aid and relief are discussed and, finally, we elaborate on the four conclusions of the overview.