At the end of their course on Migration, Development and Conflict, in which they studied related theories, empirical evidence and policies, course tutor Marieke van Houte asked her MSc in Migration Studies students to come up with constructive recommendations on how to apply their learning to take research and policy on migration and development forward.
Most research on migration and development implicitly or explicitly refers to international migration, and to be more precise South–North migration. It seems to be partially a natural result of life experiences of researchers and funding sources available in their respective countries. This ignores the fact that most migration takes place within borders, from rural to urban areas, and between developing countries. However, if scholars make generalisations about the relationship between migration and development, they should be explicit about what kind of migration they are talking about and not equate it with international South–North migration. Moreover, if we want to get a broader picture of the relationship between migration and development, internal migration should not only be taken into account, but also linked to international migration.
Governments are often tempted to rely on migrants for development. But research also shows that although migrants can contribute to ongoing developments, they are not able to make (infra)structural changes in a country. On the contrary, governments may use migration and remittances as an excuse to prevaricate on reform. Rather than bring change, migrants may reinforce the status quo. Governments that want migrants to contribute to development need to release the pressure on their migrants and take responsibility to enable positive change, to which migrants can contribute.
Migration continues, regardless of how rigorous migration controls are. But with decreasing legal routes feasibly available, migration is increasingly driven underground — bastions for ‘bad actors’ to take advantage of people’s desire to migrate and exploit them during their journeys or while living in undocumented situations. Any migrant who makes it into Europe or the US while undertaking these enormous risks should not be punished for their courage and aspirations. However, anyone capitalizing on such risks should be held responsible for the loss of livelihoods. This includes smugglers, underhanded recruitment agencies, and governments with tight migration restrictions that generate conditions for an underground market. When trying to stop the ‘bad actors’ of the migration industry, policy changes that enable migrants to play by the rules (that is, make legal migration routes more accessible) and foster cooperation not only across borders, but between public/private sectors (this includes reducing profits by those actors benefiting most from underground migration) should be recommended.
Research and policy on migration and development are often biased towards receiving country and macro-level interests. That is understandable, as this is where funding and influence are most prominent. However, effective and lasting processes of social transformation need to be rooted in local realities, accounting for motivations and circumstances of migrants and the communities they leave behind. Policymaking must be in touch with that reality. Research can, and already does, help support this objective by making sure the voices of migrants and those affected by migration policy are represented. But, this linkage can be made even stronger, and we should also promote more direct dialogue and consultation. Migrants are a powerful force in the world, and we need to listen better to what they have to say.
Although international migration has always been a topic of intense contestation, we may be witnessing a turning point or perhaps a reality check. This ‘migration crisis’ has forced many to confront some uncomfortable truths. It has removed any sense of security from those ‘advanced’ states which have hitherto conceptualised development as a context-specific and isolated set of processes that occur ‘over there’ in the so-called Global South. It has brought the face of global inequality to the doorstep of Europe and North America. Globalization and its concomitant processes are effectively turning its head to challenge the very institutions it was thought to strengthen, including the welfare state. This moment may prove to be a turning point that can either compel states to take more responsibility for their part in fuelling migratory-inducing conditions elsewhere, or lead to more hostility and divergence in the global arena. To fully understand this potential, we need to focus on understanding the structural conditions and implications of movement, rather than diverting much needed resources to futile efforts to stop migration.
The MSc in Migration Studies is an intensive nine-month graduate taught degree that analyses migration from a global perspective and as an integral part of development and social change. Taught by world-class researchers from the International Migration Institute (IMI) and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), the course introduces key migration concepts, methods and theories across the social sciences, and prepares students for further research or for a career in policy and international development.