Why Many Policies To Lower Migration Actually Increase It

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Every spring and summer, when the weather improves, the numbers of people trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe drastically increase, sometimes tripling . Distressing photos and headlines dominate front pages, and politicians stoke negative narratives about migration.

People migrate for many reasons: safety, work, education, family or adventure. Even though politicians like to divide migrants into neat categories, such as refugees and economic migrants, the messy reality is that most people moving fit into several categories at once. This makes it all the harder for governments to stop it from happening, try as they might.

Some adopt a“send 'em back” approach, like the UK's proposed Rwanda policy. Also popular is the“cash for migration control” approach, turning countries on the edges of Europe into, effectively,“border guards”. One example is the EU's recent deal with Tunisia, promising €150 million (£128 million) to boost Tunisia's migration control efforts.

A refrain often heard is that the best way to address migration is to“tackle the root causes” – improve people's lives in their countries of origin so that they are less likely to need or want to migrate in the first place. This approach proposes giving aid money to poorer countries to, for example, help create local jobs and improve schools and healthcare.

This approach seems to make sense, and feels more humane and certainly less unpleasant than implementing a Rwanda-style deportation plan. But there is not much consensus on what the root causes of migration actually are, and little evidence to show that addressing them actually reduces migration.

In MIGNEX , an EU-funded research project on global migration, I worked with a team of researchers to look at what drives people to consider leaving their families and communities and move to another country. We looked at 26 communities across ten countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, using data from more than 13,000 interviews.

Tackling the root causes

People living in poorer countries experience many social and economic challenges. These are often discussed as “root causes” – which MIGNEX defines as widely experienced hardships that are perceived to be persistent, immediately threatening or both, and to which migration is a possible response.

But which ones are the most important drivers for people to take the enormous step of leaving home for somewhere new?

The problem in migration policymaking – which often relies on intuition and guesswork, rather than evidence – is a scatter-gun approach which lists a whole range of issues as root causes. A case in point is the European Trust Fund for Africa which funds development projects to promote resilience, economic and equal opportunities, security and development, and end human rights abuses.

Policymakers assume that addressing all of these issues will reduce people's desire to migrate. But often, these assumptions do not hold. Through our research, we have found that reducing poverty and raising educational levels might actually increase desires to migrate, because it gives people the means to do so and broadens their horizons. For example, having a PhD increases migration aspirations by 22%, compared to those with no formal education.

Addressing other drivers – such as scarce livelihoods and a lack of good jobs – might be more effective, but even so it tends to take generations before international migration is no longer desirable. Creating jobs also tends to be incredibly costly, for example the World Bank estimates that an investment of the equivalent of £8 million in Tunisia would create, at most, 300 jobs in the trade and construction sectors, at the cost of £24,000 per job.

Women looking at a job board in Kombolcha, Ethiopia. Camille Kasavan for MIGNEX, Author provided (no reuse)

Instead, what we have found is that addressing corruption is key to reducing people's aspirations to migrate. People living in communities where being asked to pay a bribe for a service is a common practice are 36% more likely to have strong wishes to migrate.

Corruption is not merely a nuisance but typically a symptom of deeper and less obvious societal challenges. Corruption in hospitals, schools and police forces can be signs of low pay, inadequate management and a lack of accountability.

For example, in Redeyef , a declining mining town in Tunisia's desert, high levels of corruption block many qualified young people from the most desirable jobs, contributing to an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Tackling corruption, therefore, can improve lives and strengthen people's confidence to build their futures locally, rather than seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Aid and migration control

None of this evidence makes richer countries' efforts to help poorer countries reduce poverty, create jobs and expand education any less necessary. These policies continue to be important in their own right, and often make a significant difference to improving people's lives and wellbeing.

Tackling the root causes of migration is not an easy, short-term fix to prevent migration. Governments allocating aid must separate this from the issue of migration, so that this money can be channelled into what it's actually meant for: addressing economic, humanitarian, political and security issues.

Meanwhile, any policy responses to manage migration must be tailored to the specific local context – people's concerns and motivations to migrate are different everywhere.

The Conversation


The Conversation

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