[Paper] Migration, Diasporas and Development Cooperation

This article was contributed by the International Migrants Alliance and the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants to the CPDE e-bulletin.


People are on the move. But in most cases, moving en masse is caused by economic, political and social triggers impinging on their human rights, and putting them in a condition very much vulnerable to abuses, exploitation and worse, violations of their basic rights.

Currently, an estimated 250 million people live in a country outside of their country of birth. This is 3.4 percent of the world’s population. Of all international migrants, 6 percent are refugees.

Commonly, migrants and diasporas (pertaining to the immigrant population) can be found in the more developed countries of North America, Europe and in Middle East particularly among the Gulf Cooperation Countries. Most of them come from the global South – countries that are mostly underdeveloped or are developing.

Estimates suggest that migration will continue to be in an upward path. Meanwhile, the lack of resolution of a number of conflicts around the world – including decisive actions to avert disasters stemming from slow-onset climate change – will also mean that refugees will continue to look for safer havens.

By their very nature, the plight of migrants, diaspora and refugees are multi-country concerns. It is about origin and destination, and even of transit; about causes of displacement and situation of the displaced; about return and conditions for safe and sustainable return, and; about their rights as citizens of the country where they are from and as people – many as workers – in the country where they live and work.

ODA and migration. Relations of migration to official development assistance (ODA) largely remain as an unexplored theme. However, it is widely accepted that migration is caused by development problems in countries of origin.

In fact, the first UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in 2006 reported that:

Participants felt that it was essential to address the root causes of international migration to ensure that people migrated out of choice rather than necessity. They observed that people often had to migrate because of poverty, conflict, human rights violations, poor governance or lack of employment (United Nations General Assembly or UNGA, 2006, p2, para # II.9).

If it is recognised as a necessity – due to lack of sufficient and sustained livelihood, access to social services, and a genuinely peaceful living – migration should then be a barometer for development. Based on steady increase in the number of international migrants (not even counting the refugees), steps have not been taken including leveraging of ODAs to curb forced migration and promote a movement of people that is of choice and an exercise of rights.

Some of the top ODA recipients in the world are also counted as some of the top origins of migrants including Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Vietnam and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza). Major sources of migrants such as Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia also receive significant ODA from donors.

While aid alone will not resolve forced displacement, its possible use to mitigate such phenomenon is not fully utilised but, unfortunately, even distorted as ODAs are channelled to support programmes that reinforce the conditions of economic want that result to forced migration, or are not leveraged to defuse political conflicts creating armies of refugees.

Aid and Refugees. The “refugee crisis” in Europe has spurred the rise in ODAs according to the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD). In 2015, aid budget totalled $131.6 billion dollars or a 6.9% increase from 2014.

It should be noted, however, that OECD member countries’ spending on refugee-related expenses has been considered as part of the ODA for the first year after the arrival of the refugees. OECD reported that if the $12 billion spent to cope with the increase in refugees is removed from the total aid (ODA) budget, the increase is merely 1.7%.

As compared to 2014, money allotted for processing of refugees rose from 4.8% to 9.1% of aid budgets in 2015. While some OECD countries like Australia, South Korea and Luxembourg did not include refugee-related costs in their ODA, others like Austria, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands and Sweden saw 20% of their ODA allotted for refugee costs.

While the allotment of funds for managing the influx of refugees is a commendable step, lumping such funds in the ODA should be a cause of concern as the artificial increase has actually not been earmarked for development projects in underdeveloped and developing countries that should include programmes that will mitigate the forced displacement of people as refugees from these countries.

Development cooperation must also target resolution of conflicts, promotion of peace, and heightened border security.

Aid and Remittances. Remittance of migrants and diasporas is the single biggest economic link between their countries of origin and countries of destination. Global remittances in 2015 has reached US$601 billion with over two-thirds going to developing countries. Remittance is projected to further increase in 2016 to US$610 billion and to US$636 billion in 2017.

Remittance is taking the centre stage in intergovernmental discussions on the relations of migration to development together with other economic links of migrants and diasporas to their home country such as visits, tourism, capital investments and community projects.

Amidst the excitement of governments over remittance – its sheer volume, resilience, upwards trend despite weakened economies of some countries, etc. – such discussions should not be made at the expense of providing enough space and formulating more concrete resolutions to address comprehensive human rights issues of migrants. More so, it is still the duty of governments to provide sustainable employment and industries, with liveable wage so as to curb the need of citizens to work abroad and reduce their vulnerabilities to exploitation, violenence, discrimination and exclusion.

Migrants and diasporas are worth more than the remittances they send. They have issues and national contributions both to the country of orgin and of destination beyond remittance and other finances they generate.

While the Agenda 2030 commits to some positive outcomes for migrants such as decent work, non-discrimination and gender equality, it is a source of concern that concrete indicators are more focused on remittance-related targets. Worse, such targets are subsumed under the goal relating to inequality between countries which can be interpreted to mean remittance-driven development.

The Agenda 2030 – the global ambitions for a sustainable development – promise to “leave no one behind”. Let its promise bring forth a condition where no one is forced to leave at all.

Agenda of migrants and diaspora on development cooperation. In October 2015, representatives of global, regional and national organizations, with the support of the CSO Partnership on Development Effectiveness (CPDE) met in Istanbul, Turkey to initiate discussions on the place of migrants and diaspora in the development cooperation discourse.

While it is recognized that further discussions are needed especially with taking stock of the impacts of aid and development effectiveness to migrants on the ground, the workshop did provide valuable insights that should be further explored alongside developing the advocacy of migrants and diasporas on development issues.

For the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), to migrate is a fundamental human right and conditions that shall enable its practice should be enhanced. Migrants and diaspora have comprehensive human rights that should be upheld within the whole cycle of their migration – origin, transit, destination, and even return.

To this end, IMA and the APMM believe that: 1. Aids must be channeled to developing a condition without forced migration; 2. Participation of grassroots migrants and diasporas organizations to development policy formulation, implementation and review must be enabled; 3. Migration policies must be transformed from security-based and remittance-driven, to one one based on human and labor rights, and; 4. Private sector facilitation of migration and service delivery must be regulated.

For development cooperation to be truly effective, it must lead to lessening – if not elimination – of the causes of forced displacement including economic triggers, political conflicts, and climate change-induced migration. It must pave the way for a kind of migration that is based on human rights and enhances the potentials of migrants (and their families) as development actors both in the country where they live and work, and in their home country that they may opt to come back to.

As a sector, opportunities for migrants and diasporas to take part in development policy discussions, formulation, implementation and review have been very few. While internationally, there have been occasional openings for migrants and diasporas – especially from the grassroots – to engage governments, efforts to outreach to them in the national level are limited, if not nil.

In host countries, migrants and diasporas are excluded from official consultations and processes affecting their condition. This is even worse for temporary migrants whose political and civil rights are severely curtailed due to their immigration status. Governments of countries of origin have also not provided sufficient and sustained spaces for migrants and diasporas organizations to take an active part in policymaking for nation-building.

Through institutionalizing a constituency of Migrants and Diasporas within the CSO Partnership on Development Effectiveness (CPDE), the IMA and the APMM are looking forward to the sector’s broad and active participation in ensuring a development cooperation in all levels that addresses concerns of migrants and diasporas, and their relations to development concerns of other sectors.

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