Monday, 11 December 2017

Migration, Security and Development: Lessons from the Centre for Migration Studies’ International Conference

By Emmanuel Quarshie, Nana Essilfie Arhin, and Gloria Makafui Dovoh

Migration, security, and development cannot be examined separately due to the inextricable link that exists between them. To discuss these issues the Centre for Migration Studies, as part of its 10th anniversary, organised a two-day international conference which brought together scholars, researchers, experts, policy makers, civil society organisations, the media, and the general public. The theme of the conference was Migration, Security and Sustainable Development. An important and timely theme given the increased securitisation of borders in Europe and North America.

Dr. Joseph Kofi Teye, research coordinator of Migrating Out of Poverty, highlighted that the negative impacts of migration, such as brain drain in migrant-sending areas and pressure on social amenities in migrant-receiving areas, have historically dominated the academic literature. However, recent scholarship has shown that, if properly managed, migration can contribute to the socio-economic transformation of the economies of both migrant receiving and sending countries. In view of the potential of migration to promote socio-economic development, migration management has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although the benefits of migration are widely acknowledged, the phenomenon is being increasingly securitized, especially by developed countries in the wake of what is perceived as growing threats of terrorism.

In Africa, the link between migration and security manifests in identity, nationalism, and citizenship crises. Despite the potential undesirable outcomes of migration, there are unique windows of opportunity to make migration profitable for both the country of origin and receiving country, as well as the migrant. This requires intensification of lesson drawing, knowledge sharing, and purposive interactions among researchers, policy makers, state organisations, social partners and other stakeholders. The minister of the interior, Hon. Ambrose Dery acknowledged the instrumental role of the Centre for Migration Studies in the development of the National Migration Policy. It is no doubt that the Centre has been very vibrant and has made credible contribution to the entire Ghanaian economy by serving as a resource and knowledge centre.

Prof. Takyiwah Manuh, presented on the relevance of quality research and its impact on society and policy formulation. She stated that a better understanding of migration and security could go a long way to aid in the achievement of the SDGs. Access to migration avenues and migrants' rights remain differentiated with migrants seen and characterized as either desirable or undesirable. In this context, desirables are migrants who are given permits and visas and are also welcomed into the destination countries with skills and social and cultural capital. As she explained, desirables such as investors, doctors, and nurses are encouraged to even live in host countries and are even given dual citizenship, while the undesirables find it difficult in entering and they are either deported, persecuted, or used as cheap labor during their stay. There are perceptions that African migrants are coming in to host countries with primitive ideologies and ‘backward’ thinking so they must be avoided, also Muslims are perceived to be terrorists. Western countries are investing heavily in border security. She stated that migration must not be ethnocentric and that, “Until we restructure the economy regionally and continentally, we are not going to make any head way there are many myths associated with migration which was partly highlighted by the keynote speaker. The speaker highlighted the fact intra-regional migration is even prevalent and needed attention from both policy makers and researchers.

On the second day of the conference, there was a panel discussion on “Leveraging Migration for the development of the Northern Savannah Ecological zone”. This zone consists of the northern, upper east and west regions of Ghana. The Northern Savannah Ecological Zone covers 54.4 per cent of the land space of Ghana, including 63 districts in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West, northern Brong-Ahafo and Volta regions. In this panel there was a discussion about the role of government in managing North-South migration through the establishment of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority. The panelists were introduced by Professor Mariama Awumbila, the first speaker Professor Joseph A. Yaro gave a historical perspective on the Northern part of Ghana and how previous governments have tried implementing policies to bridge the gap between the north and south, this highlighted some key investment plans that government has drawn to revamp the Northern part of the country. One of the objectives of these plans is to regulate North-South migration. Professor George Owusu, an expert in urban planning, spoke about how spatial analyses and accurate planning with the aid tools like GIS and Remote Sensing can help in making good decisions about future developmental projects.

The relative underdevelopment of the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone compared to the rest of the country has its roots in history and to some extent geography. In terms of history, the colonial authorities saw no immediate interest in investing in the place, failing to build roads, schools, health facilities, and markets. Instead, they extracted its most healthy labour force and exported them to cocoa plantations, to the mines, and to clean the streets in the emerging cities and towns in the South.

Towards the end of the conference, there was a thorough discussion on remittances. One of the key lessons learnt was that non-migrant households have also recorded some remittance incomes demonstrating that the benefits of migration accrue beyond the household of those who travel. A representative from the diaspora unit at the office of the president presented on the Government’s initiative to introduce a diaspora bond. This would serve as a form of commitment from government to Ghanaian’s abroad to invest in Ghana rather than abroad. This scheme is reliant on migrant trust in the government and that they perceive the scheme is credible.  Another important issue was the role of financial institutions in supporting financial inclusion. The high transaction cost of sending remittances is one of the main reasons why migrants do not send money home. To counter this the Government is trying to reduce transaction cost of remittances and reducing transaction costs to 3% by 2030, as per the SDGs. Various investment packages have been introduced to help both the recipient of remittance incomes and senders as well to ensure sustainable financial independence. Other potential ways to invest remittances include the purchasing of health insurance to relieve individuals from any unforeseen health issues.

The conference was a great opportunity to bring together stakeholders from a broad range of backgrounds and to help bridge the gap between research and policy, which is being supported by the inter-ministerial steering committee which helps ensure the formulation of evidence-based policy.

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