Five Takeaways on Migration and Development

By Jason Gagnon, Development economist, OECD Development Centre

Migration can lead to important gains for migrants, for their countries of origin and their destination. But this can only happen if migration happens under the right conditions. Destination and origin countries increasingly face common global challenges such as climate change, new technologies and long term changes in social behaviour. Furthermore, developing countries often have to manage and integrate migrant influxes themselves. All of this in a current state of an increasingly negative narrative surrounding migration. So how can migration be better managed? And what is the state of migration governance today? In between the first ever annual UN migration network meeting, and the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF), the OECD Development Centre held a debate – the Policy Dialogue on Migration and Development (PDMD) – with major players, governments, experts and policy-makers looking at the links between migration and development across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

These were the five big takeways from the debate:

1. Age continues to be a major part of the migration and development debate. The youth movement is gaining speed. Migrants travelling to Europe are mostly “youth”, including amongst humanitarian migrants. Focusing on the desires, aspirations and skills of these young migrants, in relation to demand in both countries can create a better link between home and host countries. For example, having identifying a need for java programmers in Morocco and Belgium, Enabel, the Belgian Development Agency, created a skills partnership between both countries. By training prospective programmers in Morocco, through partnerships between Moroccan universities and the private sector in Belgium, the initiatve responds to needs in both origin and host countries, as well as career aspirations of youth, providing them with more choice of job prospects. Another example is Molengeek, an association in Belgium, that helps train programmers in Morocco and beyond, through local partnerships. Thinking at the local, micro and sectoral levels, in identifying development needs, and building projects from the ground up can have huge impact.

2. Developing economies face unprecedented challenges integrating migrants in their own countries. Some of the challenges they face are not unlike those of OECD countries – a rebelling middle class, a lack of adequate services, migrants gradually moving away from the borders and towards economic centres, and unclear sequencing between humanitarian and longer-term integration measures. Lessons from other developing economies are also useful. Countries like Colombia, Peru and Ecuador can learn from countries like the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica – but also from outside the region, with countries like Turkey where experience in migrant inclusion and integration is more grounded in recent history. Bangladesh, Kenya and Nigeria have all benefited from the Turkish development co-operation agency (TIKA) sharing their knowledge and experience in dealing with migration and combining both humanitarian and longer-term development assistance.

But context matters greatly – and bilateral and regional analysis is needed in newly formed migration corridors. Many challenges are distinct to the cultures, geography and policies of the countries in question. For instance, the fact that Venezuelans regularly engage in circular migration, sometimes walking several hundreds of kilometres home from Colombia and back, to ensure that the Venezuelan state does not take possession of their real estate in Venezuela, is a challenge specific to these countries. The solution can only come from inside.

3. Asia has made important strides in migration management, but still faces challenges in terms of integration. A major challenge in the region is the vast array of needs across its different countries. Several regional efforts work to bridge the gaps between needs and capacity – but not always successfully. Dialogue can play a huge part in improving these links. Partnerships between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, and the UAE with both the Philippines and Sri Lanka are successful examples. These countries worked together bilaterally to set up pre-departure training modules for migrants. But not all success stories are replicable. For example replicating a successful programme between the UAE and India to share capacity and build migrant skills and certification programmes on information systems, has been a daunting task. Few countries have the same information technology capacity as India and are unable to upgrade their systems to the level of the host countries.

4. The migration narrative has taken a hit over the past 5 years. The Global Compact on Migration (GCM) was endorsed by the UN General Assembly not without controversy. We still face major challenges: navigating UN interagency coordination and superbureaucracies; a fundamental questioning of the GCM’s implementation and review process as well as of whether the Global Forum on Migration Development (GFMD) had run its course following the Marrakesh Summit; the lack of a strong voice communicating what is already being done on migration, etc. But none is more daunting than the negativity surrounding the migration narrative. We are both not good at it, and we lack credibility. Investment and deep thinking is urgently needed.

5. Global governance is in good hands. The international community seems poised to not only keep the momentum on global migration governance going, but also committed to bringing it back to its roots – that is, highlighting and leveraging the fact that migration brings benefits if it happens under the right conditions. The 2020 GFMD, chaired by the UAE, will be more regionalised and inclusive, more closely tied to the 2030 Agenda and committed to being state-led. On its side, the UN Migration Network has successfully launched its trust fund, and will be ready to put it to work in 2020. It has gathered working groups dedicated to collecting and producing best practices for the implementation of the GCM, while avoiding the replication of new institutional and bureaucratic processes – seeing itself more as the nucleus of a network leveraging what is already being done on migration, governance and research.

So how can we work better together? All things considered, everyone who took part in the debate was unanimous in saying that producing and leveraging already existing evidence on the links between migration and development, and the implementation of the GCM are crucial at this point. The GCM is wide and broad –implementation is complicated; deciphering what implementation means is a crucial next step.

The PDMD is a space created by the OECD Development Centre for all actors and countries to have open and honest discussions about migration. All countries are in the same boat in needing to find better ways to manage migration – an inclusive space for countries to find solutions together, whether they are context-specific between two countries, or global and replicable at a large scale, is a good place to move forward.