Monday, 19 September 2016

Seven reasons why the FAO has got it wrong about distress migration

“Migrants are a potential resource for agriculture and rural development as well as poverty reduction in their areas of origin. However, distress migration of rural youth can result in the loss of an important share of the most vital and dynamic part of the workforce, with obvious consequences for agricultural productivity. This infographic describes the root causes of rural youth distress migration and how out-migration and remittances can contribute to rural development, poverty reduction and food security.”

Predictably this has led to tweets such as “Distress #migration of youth saps agric workforce & undermines food security”; “Agriculture #RuralDevelopment can help #DistressMigration” which can easily be read to mean that migration by those who come from poor families is a problem and agriculture is always adversely affected by young people’s migration.

There are several problems with the rationale presented in the infographic:
1. Young people migrate for both economic and non-economic reasons. In the graphic the causes for distress migration of youth are identified as food insecurity, poverty etc. These may well be the proximate economic causes but inextricably bound up with these are other aspirational causes such as wanting to become an urban person and changing one’s identity; wanting to move away from traditional norms and cultural restrictions on behaviour and life choices.  Our research on migration from chronically poor areas illustrates the complexity of the migration decision calling into question simplistic categories such as distress migrants. For example boys and girls in Ethiopia migrated for a variety of reasons including the desire to continue with higher education, adopt urban lifestyles, escape early marriage and save money of their own to start a business and move away from farming.

2. The situation described is based on cross-sectional analysis, frozen in one point in time. As such it does not consider how the situation of migrants and their social and economic position might change over time. An approach grounded in the analysis of the temporality of migration drivers and outcomes would show how migration is incorporated into the life course of individuals and households and how short term deprivation and hardship may be traded against social and economic repositioning in the longer term. Emerging findings from our research in Ghana and Bangladesh on the migration of young people from poor households shows the transformative potential of migration over time.

3. An underlying assumption seems to be that reducing poverty at source can reduce migration. But we know from experience that this is not the case at all and in fact migration tends to increase with improved access to resources as both Skeldon and Martin have demonstrated years ago.

4. The experience of rural employment programmes in reducing migration is mixed. It cannot be assumed that creating jobs in rural areas will reduce migration. We need to ask what kind of jobs are being created and whether these are in sync with young people’s vision of who they want to be?

5.  People in remittances receiving households withdraw from work but this doesn't necessarily indicate an unhealthy dependence on remittances.  As has been argued by Clemens, instead it could mean that those left behind no longer have to work in degrading and demeaning occupations.

6. It is not clear whether the negative impacts of “distress migration” shown in the infographic are based on empirical evidence or whether they are  purely hypothetical based on old theories such as lost labour theory. The migration of young people from labour surplus situations or large households may not have such consequences. Even in households where other able bodied adults are not present, there may be community or kinship based systems of sharing labour.

7.  If distress migration is defined as migration that is undertaken when it is perceived to be the only option out of poverty this suggests that staying at home is a worse option. So it begs the question – how is migration then a worse outcome than staying at home?

Friday, 16 September 2016

UN draft Declaration on migration: A focus on internal migration and the generation and use of evidence are sadly lacking

By L Alan Winters

On the 19th September, the UN will hold a High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants. It will be informed by a draft Declaration of fairly broad principles accompanied by two Annexes making somewhat more concrete commitments.

The Declaration makes twelve references to ‘sustainable development’ and is heavily oriented towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The high principles of the 2030 Agenda led to concrete promises only in terms of achieving ‘orderly’ migration and the minor issue of remittance costs. The Declaration takes a more balanced approach to migration, by recognising more frankly the developmental benefits that it brings. However, the Declaration’s principal route to ‘balance’ is to mention almost any idea that exists which pertains to migration. Given such comprehensiveness, it is perhaps surprising that I was mainly struck by two omissions – one conscious, but nonetheless regrettable, and the other (I hope) by over-sight. 

Internal migration
The Declaration states that there were 244 million international migrants in 2015. But we know that there were also probably about 760 million internal migrants. The causes and consequences of internal migration are pretty similar to those of international migration, except that in most countries there is no formal legal barrier equivalent to immigration policies a country’s border. People move to try to raise their standards of life in economic or social terms. Because the physical and cultural distances between origin and destination are usually smaller for internal migration, it is cheaper and thus more open to poorer people. So, internal migration is more likely to help overcome poverty than international migration because most international migrants tend not to be poor in the first place.
The lower cost of internal than international migration also means that people will move for smaller rewards and/or with less concern for the risks - internal migration involves taking a smaller bet. As a result it is not surprising to see that some internal migrants fail to realise the gains they hoped for and face challenges finding decent housing and secure employment. This is no reason to discourage migration, however; rather it calls for policies to ease migrants’ transitions by countering discrimination, making public services accessible even to newcomers, and ensuring that potential migrants have access to better information.

Where is the evidence base?
The unconscious omission is to evidence, research or analysis; none of these words occurs at all in the Declaration or its Annexes! There is a hint (in Annex II para. 4.3) of ‘technical expertise’ being provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and reference to a role for civil society, but these are not commitments to evidence-informed policy and practice per se.

Given our profound ignorance of the process and parameters of migration this omission is rather disturbing. The shopping list approach of the Declaration, which lists nearly all possible migration-relevant approaches and activities, means that there is a desperate need to characterise the necessary trade-offs and priorities in deciding what sub-set of them to actually undertake.

In the Migrating Out of Poverty Consortium we have studied the process of making or changing policy in the super-sensitive field of migration. We find that, while politicians often rely more on narratives and myths than on hard analysis (for more on this see our work in Singapore and Bangladesh). Handled sensibly evidence can make an important, if not dominant, contribution to good policy outcomes. Moreover, in one case soon to be published on our website – South Africa’s Trafficking in Persons Act 2013 – the politicians themselves felt the absence of data and analysis acutely.

For sure, we need to act now on migration and to make policy with the best information we have now, but that does not excuse failing to seek more and better evidence in future. Thus in its debate I urge the General Assembly to make a special reference to undertaking research and policy analysis in migration on a deep and wide scale, not to see it as a mere technical afterthought to be managed by its latest recruit to the UN family (the IOM).