Monday, 16 October 2017

Reflections on the UNU-WIDER development conference in Accra, Ghana, October 2017

by Eva-Maria Egger

Last week around 200 migration researchers and representatives of donor agencies and international organisations discussed how research and policy will shape migration over the next decades. The gathering was organised by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) in partnership with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and held in the University of Ghana at Legon, Accra.
The Vice President of Ghana, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, welcomed the participants in person emphasising the relevance of migration research for policy makers in developing countries as well as richer economies. How challenging it can be to make migration policies was documented in the keynote speech by Ingrid Palmary from the African Centre for Migration Studies (ACMS), a Migrating out of Poverty partner. She presented the results of Migrating out of Poverty research in Bangladesh, Singapore and South Africa on "How unpopular policies are made" showcasing the challenges that advocacy groups face to form successful coalitions when it comes to laws that improve immigrants' situations. Such policies often come at economic costs so they can be politically difficult to defend. The research pointed at the important interaction between local and global processes/actors and exposed the mostly passive consumption of evidence by policy makers.

Throughout the conference, the question of policy implications and challenges continued to arise. The conference addressed various aspects of migration and mobility through the lenses of economists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, political scientists and lawyers. The topics comprised forced migration, health and education impacts of migration, social cohesion, migration governance, integration, determinants of migration, environmental causes of migration, impacts of displacement on hosting communities, and remittances. 

Migrating out of Poverty was represented not only in the keynote speech, but also in two parallel sessions. Julie Litchfield from the University of Sussex presented research on gender differences in remittance sending behaviour in Zimbabwe. The results showed that once migrant and household characteristics are controlled for, there is no gender difference in the incidence nor value of remittances sent, but women send relatively larger shares of goods. Questions were raised that could explain these differences and the author suggested to further investigate the use of remittances, for example, by looking at expenditure share of various goods. This could reveal, for example, whether women might remit goods to directly benefit a specific person in the household such as a child left behind. 

I also presented some Migrating out of Poverty research, co-authored with Julie Litchfield, which described the repeated nature of migration within rural households in Ghana and estimates the impact of sending additional migrants on household welfare. We do not find any effect of further engagement in migration on households' asset wealth. The data suggests that households with new migrants use their savings to finance migration so that they might not be able to further invest in other assets. On the other hand, migration costs for new migrants are lower than those of first-time or previous migrants. This raised the question whether households might be learning from their previous migration experience.

Both studies were well received due to their detailed description of the characteristics of migrants, their households and remittance patterns. This drew the attention to the household surveys conducted by Migrating out of Poverty in both countries reflecting an important contribution to the goal to close the migration data gap

Another example of policy-relevant research was the presentation by Eva Dick and Benjamin Schraven of the German Development Institute (DIE) based on a government funded research aiming to better understand migration governance in source countries. They develop a comparative framework to analyse migration governance in the ECOWAS and IGAD region that reflects on the position of migration within the institutional identity, structures specifically addressing migration, the normative reasoning behind migration governance, and finally how this is transmitted into written policies and actually implemented. The discussion revealed the lack of integration regarding mobility within these two regions and a lack of commitment to implement policies such as freedom of movement due to priority of national interest.

A special session on the root causes of migration with two presentations by the United Nations' agricultural organizations, FAO and IFAD, looked for evidence of the relationship between rural development and migration. These institutions are interested in the extent that agricultural development might encourage or deter migration from rural areas in developing countries. Migration out of rural areas is high in many of the countries that are agriculture dependent and the question arises to what extent this is part of the structural transformation process and as such could be shaped to result in inclusive economic growth or whether new patterns are emerging. These new patterns include those of the youth bulge in many African countries turning away from agriculture and seeking opportunities in cities or abroad and some destinations failing to offer these opportunities. Especially for the African region another challenge is posed by a structural transformation process with a lack of more productive jobs in the non-farm agricultural or service sector due to increased globalisation pressures.

The second keynote speech by Professor Hillel Rapoport from the Paris School of Economics summarised existing evidence on the impacts of diaspora or international migration on origin countries through economic integration (via trade, financial flows, innovation) or cultural integration (political views, cultural convergence). Evidence shows that migration increases bilateral trade as a larger diaspora reduces transaction costs and raises demand for goods from the country of origin. While there is no evidence on this, a larger diaspora could even influence trade agreements by creating the critical demand. Migration leads to an even larger increase in financial flows than goods trade, especially for high-skilled migration. Also, innovation is positively related to international migration. However, there is no evidence specifically for the innovation in the agricultural sector and whether financial flows reach this sector. Professor Rapoport concluded to "let their people come" because the evidence shows an overall positive effect of international migration for development in origin countries and even on national policies of receiving countries. These impacts are expected to be even higher for South-South migration because there transaction costs etc. are usually higher.

Finally, the conference closed with reflections on the future research and policy agenda. A major goal for research is to produce more evidence on the causes and consequences of migration that can help to inform policy makers. This implies more data collection with a focus on migration, in source regions as well as following the migrants along their way and over time. To finance such costly surveys, policy makers have to be convinced of their potential to improve our knowledge. At the same time researchers have to be more creative in exploiting existing data to produce evidence as the resource mobilisation for new data is likely to be slow and challenging. New forms of research engagement with policy organisations are evolving, such as rapid reaction research immediately when and where events occur. One example is a survey collected at the arrival of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea run by the IOM at arrival points. 

Additional topics that should gain more attention by researchers and policy makers alike were raised. Among them were those of irregular migration and drivers to participate in it despite the risks, impacts of return migration, patterns of labour demand in destination countries to create channels of legal migration, net-benefits of migration, the role of information about migration to make it safer, financial product innovation that can improve the use of remittances, as well as the impact on families left-behind and possible need for support policies in origins. 

Covering a broad spectrum of migration-related topics, this conference provided the platform to share existing knowledge and to identify remaining knowledge gaps. These need to be closed to offer policy makers better understanding of how to positively shape mobility around the world. 

All presentation slides, papers and video recordings of the conference can be found online

Eva-Maria Egger worked for Migrating out of Poverty while completing her PhD at the University of Sussex. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Migrating out of Poverty, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, nor the UK’s Department for International Development.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Would you like to respond to anything said by the author of this blog? Please leave comment below.