The Economics of Migration

In the current debate surrounding refugee migration, most people seem to fall into one of two camps: those who favor hosting refugees, and those who oppose it. But many seem to have forgotten that human migration has supported human progress and contributed to global development for centuries.

For opponents of migration, the large influx of foreign born laborers seeking jobs, education, and security is something to be feared. They fear that refugees and other migrant groups are low skilled workers hoping only to benefit from social welfare programs and decrease the standard of living in their host country.  Evidence suggests, however, that on average over a third of migrants entering the workforce have completed post-secondary education, and that in most countries, migrants contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits.

We must rise above this seemingly instinctual reaction and consider the benefits that migration has had in those countries that migrants and refugees leave behind. Not only does migration increase wages for workers that stay behind, but migrant workers often remit money to their families back home. This supplementary income is, in turn, invested in education and health care, important indicators of a country’s development that can lift people out of poverty. The Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016 suggests that total remittances were estimated to have reached $601 billion in 2015, of which $441 billion went to developing countries, a total that is almost three times larger than official development aid flows. These remittance flows to developing countries have grown significantly in recent years, from $325 billion in 2010, to $372 billion in 2011 and $401 billion in 2012.

Nevertheless, the high financial costs of international migration and the transmission of remittances are inhibiting the benefits of migration. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address these issues. Target 8.8 notes that labor rights, including those of migrant workers, should be protected, and Target 10.7 calls for the facilitation of the orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration of people through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. In addition, Target 10.c strives to reduce the costs associated with remittances to 3% by 2030. Taken all together, these innovative targets would reduce the cost of remittances and encourage sustainable and profitable international migration.

As the Sustainable Development Goals suggest, we need to recognize what technology can do today and use it to redesign the world for a more inclusive and prosperous tomorrow. Modern technology requires specialized knowledge, and the easiest way to gather such knowledge is to recruit from outside of the system. It is easier to move brains than it is to move knowledge and expertise. As such, migration is key to the diffusion of knowledge and its long-term positive impact on worldwide development. In short, we cannot have global markets, trade, products, and services without global migration.

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Distress Call From an Ancient City

The recent uptick in violence in Syria had made it nearly impossible for aid organizations to deliver supplies to Syrian citizens caught in the crossfire of a civil war. Civilians trapped in the Syrian city of Homs because of bombings, sniper fire and roadblocks are low on food and medicine. Fortunately, aid organizations brought supplies to around 700 people and transferred them to a safer section of the city that was once a beacon of culture and civilization. Scenes like this are happening all across Syria, with pro-Assad forces and opposition fighters exchanging gunfire while women, children, and the elderly attempt to flee or seek shelter from the fighting.

A destroyed neighborhood in Homs, Syria.
A destroyed neighborhood in Homs, Syria.

Recently, negotiations between Syrian pro-government and opposition leaders have fallen apart. Mediated by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, the first round of talks that began in late January failed to accomplish much aside from hurt feelings on both sides of the negotiating table.  Ten days later, in a second attempt at a dialogue, UN officials looked to ease the chaos breaking out in the Syrian city of Homs by coming to a transfer of power agreement with the Assad government. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN mediator who took the lead in talks with the Assad government, apologized to the Syrian people after negotiations for a transitional government fell through.

On February 10 a cease-fire facilitated the evacuation of citizens and allowed supply trucks and aid workers to give care to the remaining civilians trapped within the crumbling city walls. The cease-fire was, unfortunately, the only positive progress made since talks began in January. Meanwhile, what little is left of Homs continues to be a battleground for opposition and government forces, an estimated 2,500 Syrians caught in their wake.  Photos of the devastation have triggered media outlets to post “before and after” pictures of some of the most treasured monuments in Homs and across Syria.

The UN Security Council came to an agreement on Feb 22 that gives the Assad government and the opposition forces 30 days to comply with a set of humanitarian goals. Russia and China, who are part of the five permanent Security Council members, came out in support of the resolution. All 15 members of the Security Council voted in support of the resolution.  Among other humanitarian goals, the resolution calls for:

  • The cessation of all forms of violence, some of which will be considered war crimes when the conflict is over.
  • The protection of civilians from indiscriminate aerial attacks, including the use of barrel bombs.
  • The expansion of humanitarian relief operations and the movement of medical supplies across the Syrian border.
  • The safe evacuation of all citizens who wish to leave the besieged cities.
  • The end of arbitrary capture and torture of civilians.

Still, the resolution saw opposition from Syria’s UN Representative Bashar al-Jaafari, who claimed that the humanitarian aid has a political agenda. United States Secretary of State John Kerry recently spoke out against the violence in Syria, putting greater pressure on Russia to tone down their support for the Assad regime. The United States continues to meet with world leaders, but a clear solution to the crisis in Syria has evaded them. Some feel that Assad is using these attempts at diplomacy as a buffer until his military can win the civil war against the government opposition fighters. Others remain hopeful that the dialogue at the UN brought forth the demands of both sides, even though no agreement could be reached.

Migrants of a Different Kind

Samysuddin, a current resident of Indonesia, can recall the days when he would take his trusted speargun and dive into the coastal waters of Ujung Village and be able to catch his family’s dinner. But things have since changed in the waters off the Kapoposang island of Indonesia: “I can spend the whole day motoring around, paddling and swimming, I’ll try everything. Sometimes I don’t catch any fish and we’ll go a whole day without eating any. These days, the coral reefs around Kapoposang are degrading. If the reefs continue to degrade then there won’t be any fish here. There won’t be anything left for us to do.”

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A home on the water in Indonesia, a country where migration is already an inevitable method of adaptation and will be exasperated in the future. (Source: Curt Carnemark / World Bank)

Samysuddin is a part of a growing population of Indonesia migrants that have been displaced as a result of economic, social, and now adverse environmental changes.  changes.  Narratives like his are becoming a familiar tocsin. UN forecasts predict  “200 million to 1 billion” people will have to migrate as a result of climate change with 200 million being the most widely cited estimation but not devoid of misapplication and manipulation. While there is a considerable amount of research on migration as a response to various, social, political, and economic conditions, humans are now beginning to migrate as an adaptive strategy to adverse environmental conditions. Migration due to rising sea levels is in its most nascent forms as push and pull factors vary greatly among regions and social groups and are often intertwined with livelihood opportunities and public policy responses. For example, research conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch found that rural Nicaraguan families in extreme poverty were the least likely to migrate as they were unable to finance the cost of moving. Yet Costa Rica still absorbed an enormous influx of Nicaraguan migrants that have been victims of violence and have faced constraints in accessing social services.

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Syria’s Refugee Crisis: Prospects for Regional Stability?

As the 17-month-long civil war in Syria drags on, thousands of refugees flee to neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.  No matter the ultimate outcome of the conflict, the refugee crisis will have a lasting impact on the region’s economic and social stability.

The exact number of refugees is difficult to estimate. The official number of those who have registered for UN assistance now stands at over 200,000. If one includes unregistered refugees and those refugees that remain inside Syria, the number is even higher. There are reportedly 10,000 people on the Syrian side of border waiting to be allowed entry to Turkey, which has temporarily closed its borders while it finishes building more refugee camps. Jordan—a country with a population of only 6 million—has reportedly taken in 180,000 refugees, only a small minority of which have registered with the UN.  It is threatening to close its borders as well. Continue reading