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Diplomacy in Action

The Migration-Development Link: It's Too Big


Remarks
Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
MPI-Sweden Sponsored Evidence Base for Octover's High Level Dialogue
Washington, DC
June 12, 2013

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Thank you to MPI and the Government of Sweden for co-sponsoring this really informative workshop.

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the challenges of linking migration and development as well as some thoughts about how we, involved in discussions on migration, can better engage with our development colleagues. Over the last few months, I have prepared myself to lead the United States’ delegation to the 2013 High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development (HLD); I have become immersed in the challenges associated with both topics.

One thing that has become clear to me is the importance of an evidence-based understanding of migration trends. I am thinking especially of the extent of south-to-south migration, the different way migration affects economies and development in both sending and receiving countries, and migration to emerging markets. We also need to begin thinking about future issues like how environmental changes may affect migration trends going forward.

I commend the organizers, participants and presenters here today for their efforts to highlight what we empirically know about migration and development and we’d like to see continued efforts to build an evidence base.

Let’s talk a bit about the difficulties with the migration-development link. First of all migration and development are huge cross-cutting topics. When lumped together, they touch upon almost every other issue government’s care about.

Development actors sometimes equate international migration with internal immigration policies which can, in many countries, including mine, be politically divisive. Development ministries or agencies also sometimes perceive migration as a political issue to avoid. They see no advantage to getting involved in controversy and may fear involvement could affect their funding.

There is also often a perception that migration is only bad for developing countries. It leads to brain drain and separated families. Some see any development benefits from migration cancelled out by its negative aspects. Development agencies may perceive their involvement in migration as a drain on scant staff resources that they might best use elsewhere. Some have noted that even where there are developmental benefits in migration, they are uneven. Remittances, for example, are more important to some developing countries than others and even where important, beyond government’s control. Development agencies have more experience and interest in internal migration. Urbanization, or the move in the developing world from rural to urban settings, is having a major impact in many countries on poverty reduction.

Migration and development actors speak different languages. When we say our goal is to “mainstream migration into development,” eyes roll. What does that really mean? And, if we can’t articulate what it means, our development colleagues surely won’t take us seriously. In general I think migration experts look to talk about the migration-development link because they believe that migration can facilitate or enable development. Do members of the international migration community have a common understanding of what the migration-development link is or should be?

The expectations of migration experts may not be realistic. In discussions surrounding the Post-2015 development framework: - development actors in UN member states are under pressure from a range of groups to include their pet issue as a goal. The process will need to be disciplined if the final framework is to remain concise, clear and able to mobilize action in the way that the original MDGs succeeded in doing. Although development and migration are clearly interrelated, how it is incorporated into the ultimate agenda is unclear. [Aside: Our understanding at the State Department is that there will likely not be a post-2015 goal devoted to migration.

So how can those of us in the international migration community do a better job engaging with development leaders and bringing development actors into migration and development dialogues? Let me start by saying it is up to the international migration community to attract the development community to these issues. Development agencies do difficult important work in some of the toughest places on earth. The goal of examining migration’s affect on development must be to maximize the positive effects of migration and reduce the need for government to government development assistance. I would like to suggest seven ideas that should appeal to our development colleagues. None are new ideas, but taken together they may allow us to better engage.

1. Narrow our focus, as I mentioned, migration and development are huge topics. We need to begin to narrow our discussions and focus on issues where there is reliable evidence and a common understanding. For example, remittances. We have solid data from the World Bank on the extent of remittances including the figure of $406 billion in remittances to developing countries in 2012. Looking at that number, and understanding these funds are generally transferred to individuals and families, can our development colleagues help us determine how to best multiply the effects of such large infusions of funds into developing countries?

2. Point to empirical evidence showing that migration enables development, migration can and does contribute to poverty reduction and enables development. For example, the World Bank reports that women in households in developing countries that receive remittances have higher birth-weight babies than mothers who do not receive remittances. In addition, children in these households on average attain higher levels of education than their peers who do not benefit from remittances. These are real results on issues of concern to the development world. Speaking from experience, this kind of empirical evidence gets development actors' attention.

3. Acknowledge that while migration's effects on development are not the same across the board, developing countries, when they deem it in their interests, are including migration in their own development plans. Individual states decide how and if they will include migration in their development planning. For those states interested, we can and should encourage sharing of best practices. We can seek input from development actors about how remittances and diasporas might fit into development plans.

4. Note that we seek expertise, not funds, development actors are under budgetary stress. Decreasing development funds are chased by long lists of development needs. Some of our development colleagues see the push to link migration and development as just another hand in their pocket. We can make clear that this is not so. Where we need help is trying to determine how countries can best exploit existing development aid.

5. Point to other development actors that are looking at the migration and development connection. For example- The World Bank has created the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), a multi-donor hub of knowledge and policy expertise on migration and development issues. When development actors see their colleague’s interest in the migration-development link, they are more likely to pay attention.

6. Keep our expectations realistic. Does it really matter how migration is addressed in the post-2015 development agenda? Isn’t our real goal ensuring the fullest benefits to the most people from migration while safeguarding their rights and protecting them from abuse? Excessive focus on whether migration is enshrined explicitly as a post-2015 Goal seems counterproductive to me, wasting energy on something that is only indirectly related to our core objectives.

7. Finally, Stop speaking in migration jargon, I previously mentioned my distaste for the talking point, “mainstreaming migration into development.” Can we all agree to stop saying it? Is there any common understanding of what “mainstreaming migration into development” means? If so, can we restate it to be clear? There are so many issues that could be “mainstreamed “into development! Let’s say what we mean and try to reach common understandings of what it is we want from development actors.

One final observation-linking migration and development is not a new concept. It dates back at least to the 1994 Conference on Population and Development if not earlier. The two were explicitly linked during the 2006 High Level Dialogue and continue to be linked in multilateral fora like the Global Forum on Migration and Development and the 2013 High Level Dialogue. Some are probably disappointed that more progress has not been made bringing development actors into migration and development circles. I think many look to the 2013 High Level Dialogue as a catalyst for making a big leap in bringing the development world and the international migration world closer together. This would be a great outcome from the High Level Dialogue, but it may not be a realistic expectation at this point.

Another way to look at increasing the migration development link is to see it as an evolutionary process. As more and better data is available, the natural links may become increasingly obvious to those in the development world. As this occurs, international migration will become a greater part of development dialogues. The World Bank, one of the most important development agencies in the world, sees the potential development benefits of migration. As KNOMAD fills the knowledge gaps, how long until other development actors see and understand the implications of migration on development? My guess is not too long, especially if we can narrow our focus and keep our expectations realistic. So let’s think about what we in the migration world can do to help this evolution move forward.

Thank you.



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