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Migration

Background: Seeking new prospects in a foreign country


Border crossing between Bolivia and Chile in the Atacama desert.

Every day people leave their homes and move abroad. They leave behind their families and ex­change the warm familiarity of their own culture, tra­di­tions and social roots for an un­cer­tain future in a for­eign place. This is the sort of decision that no­body takes lightly. Severe pov­er­ty and need, po­lit­i­cal turm­oil and armed con­flicts are among the chief fac­tors driving migration.

Around 216 million people, equivalent to about three per cent of the world's popu­la­tion, cur­rent­ly live out­side the coun­try in which they were born. Glob­al­ly, some 45 per cent of migrants move from a de­vel­op­ing to an in­dus­tri­al­ised coun­try. Along­side this "South-North migration", how­ever, an even larger pro­por­tion of worldwide migratory move­ments takes place be­tween coun­tries in the same de­vel­op­ment category. This typically oc­curs be­tween neigh­bouring states.

German de­vel­op­ment policy aims to improve the life prospects of people at home in their own coun­tries. By tackling the causes of pov­er­ty, it also makes a long-term con­tri­bu­tion to reducing the pres­sures to migrate. In ad­di­tion, as­sis­tance is given to partner coun­tries to make better use of the positive potential offered by mi­gra­tion. Many mi­grants ac­tive­ly build bridges be­tween their coun­tries of origin and their coun­tries of residence. Apart from the money they send back to their old home coun­try, mi­grants also make their newly acquired social, tech­nical and cul­tural skills and know-how available for de­vel­op­ment in their coun­tries of origin.

Causes of migration

Women on their way to the market in the city of Andrigita, Madagascar. Copyright: Ralf Bäcker/version-foto.deIn an age of globalisation, migration has become an integral part of our lives. Fol­low­ing in the wake of com­mod­ity and capital markets, in­ter­national la­bour mar­kets are also becoming in­crea­sing­ly in­tegrated. Mobility has be­come an im­pe­ra­tive. For peo­ple to get ahead in a glob­al­ised world of work, it is more and more im­por­tant that they spend some time work­ing abroad and are part of in­ter­national networks.

Many people in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries see no future for them­selves and their families in stay­ing at home. They are plagued by a lack of ed­u­ca­tion­al op­por­tu­ni­ty, high un­em­ploy­ment, po­lit­i­cal and social con­flict, and poor gov­er­nance. Pop­u­la­tion growth in these coun­tries is often very high, leaving more and more young people search­ing in vain for a job. The result is pov­er­ty and frustration.

Moreover, the situ­a­tion is exacerbated in many regions by worsen­ing en­vi­ron­ment­al deg­ra­da­tion and the al­ready visible im­pacts of cli­mate change. Estimates of how many people will be forced by global warm­ing to emigrate vary widely. They range from 25 mil­lion to one bil­lion people.

Thanks to modern communication media, people find out how at­trac­tive life is, or at least ap­pears to be, in neigh­bouring coun­tries and especial­ly in other parts of the world. Mi­gra­tion is a means of self-help. And the less de­vel­op­ed the home coun­try, the stronger peo­ple's hopes that they can im­prove their living con­di­tions by emigrating.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (BMZ) wants to con­tri­bute to a situ­a­tion in which mi­gra­tion bene­fits all the par­ties to become a "triple win" – for the mi­grants them­selves, for their coun­try of origin, and for the coun­try that takes them in.

Migrants as development workers

Hairdresser trainees in the vocational training school in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. Copyright: Ralf Bäcker/version-foto.dePeople who try their luck in another coun­try do not forget the home coun­try they left behind. On the contrary, once they have settled down into the coun­try of destination and found work, large num­bers of them often send money on a regular basis to their families in the coun­try of origin.

The World Bank estimates, for 2012, that remit­tances total­ling 406 bil­lion US dollars were trans­fer­red by mi­grants to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. In fact, this figure only covers of­ficial­ly recorded trans­fers. It is much more than three times the in­ter­national community's global spend on de­vel­op­ment cooperation.

Migration is, moreover, viewed less and less as a per­manent solution. Stu­dents general­ly only stay abroad until they have com­pleted their stu­dies or gain­ed some initial vo­ca­tion­al ex­pe­ri­ence. Many work­ing mi­grants choose to return after accumulating suf­fi­cient funds or acquiring the know­ledge and ex­per­tise they need to es­tab­lish a live­li­hood in their old home coun­try. And then there are those mi­grants who will take the op­por­tu­nity to return once po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions in the coun­try of origin have im­proved or when they again see prospects for a bet­ter future. Not only do returnees take capital home with them, they also arrive with technical know-how, valuable con­tacts and new experiences.

Migrants who stay abroad for long periods fre­quent­ly link up with other ex­pa­tri­ates to set up diaspora associations and net­works. These orga­ni­sa­tions as well as the many non-profit and com­mer­cial ini­tia­tives of migrants like­wise benefit the coun­try of origin.

Opportunities for receiving coun­tries

A CIM career consultant during a counselling interview with a young Ethiopian. Copyright: Ralf Bäcker/version-foto.deMigrants have a bad rep­u­ta­tion in many re­ceiv­ing coun­tries. Sec­tions of the do­mes­tic popu­la­tion in the mi­grants' new home re­gard them as com­pet­i­tors under­cut­ting the locals in the labour mar­ket and as a bur­den on wel­fare sys­tems. These fears are general­ly ex­aggerated, as the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP) has re­cent­ly es­tab­lish­ed. The UNDP's 2009 Human De­vel­op­ment Report, which focuses on mi­gra­tion, makes clear that there are many ways in which societies can benefit from immigrants.

It is increasingly understood that regulated mi­gra­tion, far from posing a threat, ac­tual­ly pro­duces positive impacts. In those parts of the in­dus­tri­al­ised world with aging and, in some cases, al­ready shrink­ing societies, econ­o­mies are es­pecial­ly de­pen­dent upon the in­flow of wor­kers from abroad to main­tain productivity levels.

With so many European companies having difficulties find­ing specialist staff, demand for ed­u­cated, well-trained men and women is par­tic­u­lar­ly strong. But less skilled wor­kers are also need­ed for vacancies that can­not be easily filled by the in­dig­e­nous labour force. These jobs in­clude carers, home helps, catering staff or seasonal labourers.

The downside

Herat, Afghanistan: A doctor working in the Therapeutic Feeding Center examines a child. Copyright: Sebastian Bolesch/version-foto.deMigration does have neg­a­tive aspects, too. The ma­jor­i­ty of mi­grants are young peo­ple with above aver­age ed­u­ca­tion and skills. This know-how is ur­gent­ly need­ed in their coun­tries of or­i­gin. When they leave home, their ab­sence can re­pre­sent a ma­jor loss of de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial for their coun­try of or­i­gin (the "brain drain"). This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true in the health and ed­u­ca­tion sec­tors. Many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries suffer from an ex­treme short­age of doc­tors, nurses and teachers. And these coun­tries are often not in a position to offer ad­e­quate­ly paid posi­tions to potential returnees.

Emigration can also place a great burden on a migrant's family. The children have to grow up with­out a father or mother, or even with­out either parent in many cases. In some regions, vil­lages have lost all the eco­nom­i­cal­ly active people in the com­mu­ni­ty.

And the migrants them­selves also face a high risk. Many of them place them­selves in the hands of people smugg­lers and travel illegally to their des­ti­na­tion. There is no guarantee that they will find work there as pro­mised. In many cases, they find them­selves large­ly with­out rights. Their ed­u­ca­tion­al and vo­ca­tion­al quali­fi­ca­tions are often not rec­og­nised, leaving them with no option but to do low-paid tem­po­rary work instead of up­grading their know­ledge and skills. In their new life, many mi­grants are again con­fronted with pov­er­ty, ex­ploit­a­tion and discrimination.

De­vel­op­ment policy can make a dif­fer­ence here through pro­fes­sion­al mi­gra­tion man­age­ment aimed at en­suring that the op­por­tu­ni­ties of mi­gra­tion ex­ceed the risks. The BMZ sup­ports its partner coun­tries in their efforts to uti­lise the positive im­pacts of mi­gra­tion and work towards the Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals by har­ness­ing the po­ten­tial of migrants and returnees.

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