Migration instead of development? Opening plenary with R. Delgado Wise and S. Castles

A call frequently heard at the PGA and similar events is one for closer cooperation between activists and academe/researchers. At the meeting in Mexico-City, this cooperation seems to be quite well underway. The tone of the presentation of researchers at the PGA opening plenary on Wednesday morning might have not been as passionate or radical as the testimonials by activists the night before – but the content certainly was. Regarding the often proclaimed nexus between migration and development, Raúl Delgado Wise stated: “There is no empirical claim to warrant this assumption – quite the contrary” The full framework paper by Delgado-Wise and his co-authors can be downloaded here: http://www.accionglobalmexico.org/doc/PGA2010-ConceptualFramework-VF.pdf

 One of the main points made in the paper, that was also taken up by Stephen Castles and is at the heart of most migrant advocacy, is the absence of the human rights dimension in the migration & development discourse. Castles pointed out that the dominant discourse on migration is still framing migration as a problem for receiving countries, based on issues like security, identity and criminalisation. To respond by pointing out that migration might also benefit the countries of origin, „oversimplifies the global migration relationships“.

While the EU is increasingly acknowledging the need for more immigration because of declining birth rates etc., most governments have so far refused to implement that demand because of the political discourse and perceived public opinion that is considering migration to be most of all a threat. The result, as Castles noted, is the paradoxical situation that markets are demanding migrant workers but governments are insisting: „No, you can’t come!“. But the consequence  is not that migrants do not come – they are still coming, but under a higher level of insecurity, exploitation etc.

 Castles claimed that some destination countries are even benefitting from the criminalisation of migration because it lowers costs.

May I add my own view that is very much in line with the framework paper. When a new buzzword enters the agenda, it is always a good idea to check where it is coming from. So who are the advocates of the “new development mantra”, as Devesh Kapur has called it? Mostly institutions like the World Bank and Western receiving countries. Less can be heard from the sending countries about this supposed nexus, and even less so from the migrants themselves.

 How come? I would claim that the promotion of the development impact of remittances is fueled by the guilty conscience of receiving countries, who want to distract from the fact that they are not living up to the development aid promised in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Sending countries are often less enthusiastic about the nexus, because that would put them under pressure to show what development has actually come out of their promotion of labour export.

The Philippines, I would claim, are a case of migration instead of development. Although the “temporary” export of migrant labour has become a permanent measure for almost 40 years, this has not exactly led to major development (of course, there has to be a whole debate on what development refers to). Quite the contrary, migration may be seen as a valve that takes some pressure off the national labor market, postpones the need to implement a land reform etc.

 And the migrants themselves? As an often marginalized group, there are understandably not too enthusiastic about being burdened with development goals that neither their countries of origin nor the developed countries have been successful in achieving.

 That may all seem a bit too black-and-white for you, but I think it is important to open up a counter-discourse to a new mantra that has been mostly imposed from above. As often, the “truth” might probably lie somewhere in-between. And, admittedly, there are some benefits of the new discourse: Framing migration in the more positive context of development instead of security certainly was an enabling factor for new global debates and fora on migration like the GFMD, however flawed they may (yet) be.

About Stefan Rother

Lecturer and Researcher at the Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg -- Freelance journalist -- You can find my CV at the links below:
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2 Responses to Migration instead of development? Opening plenary with R. Delgado Wise and S. Castles

  1. This post was written while simutanously attending a roundtable on the ILO convention on decent work for domestic workers, so apologies if it is somewhat sketchy – multitasking only works up to a certain point…
    I might clean it up later, but your comments are welcome as of now, of course 😉

  2. Pingback: Standing in the shadows of civil society? The GFMD government meeting | gfmd2010

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