Episode 9: The Importance of Migration in Development

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As this year has taken a heavy toll on global migration due to the pandemic, development has also come to a stall. In this series finale, we speak with Loksan Harley about the many aspects of migration, as well as its effects in the development sector.

 

Loksan Harley is the host of The Migration & Diaspora Podcast and an independent migration and development expert with extensive experience working with the United Nations, governments, and non-profits in research, project management, capacity-building and technical assistance across Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. He holds a BA in economics from McGill University and an MSc in public policy and management from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where he has also lectured on migration policy. You can find out more about Loksan and The Migration & Diaspora Podcast by checking out his website at www.loksanharley.com

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Transcript

 

Loksan H

Migrants move to where there's opportunity and where there's, just to think about it in purely economic terms, where there's capital, you know, capital often requires the right labour to transform it. So, we've lived through these sorts of events before from previous pandemics to other kind of even larger and more serious global events. And, you know, migration continues.

 

Peter M

Shouldn't people have the dignity to be able to stay where they are, and isn't there a linkage then to ensuring that we assist those countries to strengthen their economies, and strengthen their civil societies to make sure that they can live with their families rather than having to work in other countries.

 

Loksan H

Think of all the migrant workers that we see, I mean, across the world, but particularly in places like the Middle East, Gulf states, people haven't been able to move and work where they would usually work. And then they don't only suffer themselves, but then that can cause negative impacts on the communities, the families that they support.

 

Peter M

Welcome to the third series of conversations in development, a podcast about challenges, life stories and experiences in the development sector. I'm Peter Mason, your host and CEO of Cufa, an international development agency, working across the Asia Pacific region. In this series finale we welcome Loksan Harley, a migration and development expert with experience in the United Nations, governments and non-for-profit organisations. Welcome, Loksan to our podcast, the linkages between migration and development might not be obvious to people that are not working in the sector. Loksan, can you outline what the relevance of migration issues are to the development sector? What are the linkages? And how is the reduction in the spending of assisting our neighbours to develop their economies, and their civil society can have an impact on civil society in terms of migration?

 

Loksan H

Yeah, sure, Peter, I think there's a few PhDs in that question aligned, but I'm happy to give it my best shot. So, migration really is all about development, which I'm happy to kind of talk about, because I think a lot of people working in development are not so familiar with that. And I'll kind of explain a few of the linkages, and I think it's useful to just imagine why people move in many cases, you know, often people will move to take up an opportunity somewhere, be at education via employment, or otherwise, you know, and just thinking about that decision, when someone moves somewhere else, let's say take up a job, they move because they perceive it to be better for them. And in addition to that, the company hiring them, the organisation hiring them, also needs their skills, so they get those skills, you know, so it's a contribution to that company, to that community that they move to, you know, they can access that talent. And then later on down the line, that migrant tends to earn a bit of money, they pay taxes in the country that they are living in. And they also often support their community where they're from. Now, they'll send money back, and you know, later on, they might return to where they're from, and they'll contribute some of the skills that they gained while they're abroad, and some of the contacts they gained as well. So just kind of thinking through a very classic example, you can kind of see how migration can contribute to not only the migrants own situation, but it can also contribute to the organisation and the community where the migrant is moving to, and then later on, it can contribute to where the migrant is from, as well. So, you know, I just thought I'd start with that kind of very simple example that hopefully, most listeners can relate to. And, you know, to also then zoom out and put that into perspective as to the kind of impact that migration can have on development. When I talk about migrants moving places to move towards opportunities, migrants are also bringing a huge entrepreneurial energy in many cases. So when we look at, for example, the United States, you know, more than half of the US's start-up companies that are valued at a billion dollars or more, were started by migrant entrepreneurs, you know, each of which were responsible for creating 760 jobs, on average a company so that's kind of just one example. And then when we talk about how migrants then contribute back to where they're from, you know, to give an example that might be relatable for you know, Australia and Asia Pacific. You know, if you think about a country like Tonga, you know, there's a lot of Tongans abroad working, and the money that Tongan sent back to Tonga represents 38% of Tanya's GDP. So, they benefit hugely from that. And that often goes to you know, families and communities. So those are just a few things that come from Mind, Peter, you know, feel free to ask some follow up questions, because there's a lot to unpack, I think.

 

Peter M

Yeah, you bring up the issue of remittances, and we know that the flows of remittances can be a major component of certainly some of the smaller Pacific nation’s economy. I mean, it doesn't even have to be some of the smaller nations, you even can look at places like the Philippines. So, remittances are a huge part of the economy of those developing nations. But there is another train of thought to say, well, shouldn't people have the dignity to be able to stay where they are? And isn't there a linkage then to ensuring that we assist those countries to strengthen their economies and strengthen their civil societies to make sure that they can live with their families rather than having to work in other countries? What's your position on that?

 

Loksan H

Yeah, I think it's a that's a really kind of interesting aspect of the migration debate, because migration is typically characterised by many as a symptom of a lack of development. And, you know, sometimes that can be the case. But it's a bit more complex than that, because it can be a result of a lack of development, but it can also be a result of development. And, you know, what we see in terms of the kind of relationship, you know, what, what migration scholars, at least, you know, agree on, is that, you know, typically, there's a kind of migration hump, it's called, I think. I don't know if I'm going to attribute this correctly, but there's a scholar called (unintelligible) in the Netherlands, who has popularised this concept of a migration hump, whereby typically, when you actually need a bit of development in order to enable migration, so migration, you know, as development occurs, migration, I know your viewers can't see my hand moving, but migration kind of goes up when development takes place, you know, when there's more development, but then once it reaches a certain point, once a country becomes, you know, even more developed, you know, it starts to, immigration from it starts to decrease, so that's why we see that most migrants don't come from the poorest countries, most migrants come from middle income countries, you know, and when we think about the big migrant sending countries, it's often countries like the Philippines or Mexico, China, India, send a lot of migrants and they're not the poorest countries in the world, because you need a certain degree of means in order to migrate. Because migration can be expensive, it can be expensive, and you need various capital, social capital, you know, you need to know people, you need to have, often have some qualifications to move. So it's a bit more complex than a case of, and that is also quite important to bear in mind, you know, these statistics are important to bear in mind, when you consider that a lot of developed countries responses to what is perceived as a migration problem is to throw money at countries which are poorer countries. It's kind of, you know, debatable whether or not we should even have that as a policy objective, but you know, that is likely not going to be effective. But to kind of come back a little bit to the more difficult aspect of your question, I think it depends on the situation. Now, I think it's important that we try and create opportunities in places where they are not, and that will likely in the long run, lead to people having more of a choice as to whether to stay or go, but at the end of the day, I think people will always be moving. People have been migrating since the beginning of time, and it's just gonna continue to be a fact of society, you know, Brits continue to move in their droves to Australia, even though the UK is not suffering terribly, although, you know, perhaps recent events might indicate otherwise, but anyway.

 

Peter M

That brings up a good point. I mean, you've got different types of migration. So, I mean, we've seen just recently a lot of migration caused by civil conflict and wars. And so surely, the motivators and drivers of that are very different from economic migration.

 

Loksan H

I think yeah, I think you've hit the nail on the head that Peter I mean, there are a range of drivers of migration and you know, from economic drivers, you know, people just moving towards a better job to you know, environmental drivers which affects a lot of Pacific island states too, you know, cyclones and constant you know, environmental degradation, disasters can lead people to move, and then political drives as you've said. We just saw in 2017, in Myanmar, which I believe is a country that Cufa has done a fair bit of working to; 500,000 refugees crossed into Bangladesh in five weeks due to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. Of course, I think in those cases, everyone should be striving for peace, and because conflict is a driver, but I would also bear in mind that when these drivers that I've just described that you eluded to Peter, you know, they interact, it's not the case, usually that people move for a very single reason, you know, people often move for a variety and a combination of reasons which may interact with each other. So, migration drivers are very complex, as well as underlying.

 

Peter M

So based on that, and if we zero in on, say the economic drivers for people migrating, and we talk, and we want to focus mostly on countries that are economically struggling, and you know, when I look at the Pacific, particularly, there is a huge number, a huge bubble of younger people that just do not have the opportunities. And you can look at Timor, or many of the Pacific countries where people I guess, 30, and under, there's a huge amount of either unemployment or underemployment, and this is driving a lot of social problems. And the governments in these countries are really struggling to deal with this. And we can see an emerging issue here in terms of people sort of wanting to come to places like Australia or New Zealand or other places for economic opportunities. What are some of the solutions? What if we don't pump in development dollars to build their economies to build their trade capacities to be able to create opportunities for the young people? What are the other solutions?

 

Loksan H

I think this goes back to the question about what is the problem, from my perspective on the perspective of, you know, migration, people who work in migration, migration isn't really the problem to be solved. But in the cases you described, it sounds like, you know, development that there's a lack of development. And, of course, the response to that is to try and create opportunities. And when you create those opportunities, people will still move, but you know, people may not be moving so much in desperation, but I think it's kind of like, well, we can support these countries, and we can we can support countries to create those opportunities. That will keep some people there, you know, people will move to opportunities, it could lead to more migration to that part of the world, you know.

 

Peter M

Yeah, it's interesting, because, I mean, I would come from the position that people should be able to live their best life in the place that they want to live. And in a lot of cases, certainly in our region, I think it's unfortunate if people have to move, move away from their families move away from their culture, just in order to feed their families. And, you know, I know there's a lot of people that say, Well, you know, this is a problem for their own governments, their own governments need to solve these problems. But a lot of these governments just do not have the resources to be able to solve these problems. And I'm not just talking about financial resources, even the capacity to manage their economies or adapt their economies to be able to provide those opportunities. So it's a very vexed question in our region, in terms of what do we do to support these countries to be able to enable their communities to live their best lives the way they want to live, rather than having to move for economic reasons. But in saying that, you look at places like Australia where we need migration, if we don't have migration, our population decreases, our economy suffers. So, there is a great need for Migration into Australia. Sorry, I'm getting off track because I find the topic quite interesting. So, let's talk about COVID. Because that's the topic this year. How has COVID impacted migration and the development effects of migration?

 

Loksan H

Yeah, well, it's a very good question, and I think COVID has really had a huge impact in kind of many different ways on migration of migrants, I think most people can probably guess that there's been less movement of people during this time, people haven't been able to move. So, there's just been less migration we've seen in countries in a lot of countries, including, you know, our countries, that migration has kind of plummeted to lows that haven't been seen for a long time. So that's kind of one very obvious effect. Other than that, there are more serious effects that we've seen, such as fact the that people haven't been able to move to places to work has led to loss of livelihoods for many people. Think of all the migrant workers that we see, I mean, across the world, but in particularly in places like the Middle East Gulf states, you know, people haven't been able to move and work where they would usually work. And then they don't only suffer themselves, but then that can cause negative impacts on the communities, the families that they support, you know, so that's kind of another thing that the migrant workers haven't been able to do their thing, then when you also think about how in a lot of our societies, you know, in Australia in the UK, we have a lot of migrant health care workers, right. So migrant health So let's just say migrant workers in general, have tended to be impacted in terms of having been on the front line of providing care to people and providing critical services. You know, we call them key workers in the UK. You know, there's a disproportionately large number of migrants working in these sectors. So, there's been a disproportionately large number of migrants who have been affected by COVID. I'm not sure how the debate has played out in Australia, but in the UK, you know, black Asian minority ethnic people have disproportionately contracted COVID. So that's another thing and then we see remittances having really plummeted. You know, micro remittances going back to the families and communities that really depend on them have been drastically hit by that. And then finally, there's all the stigmatisation and exclusion, you know a lot of migrants don't have access to some of the safety nets that we take for granted, especially when we think about you know, irregular migrants who might not be regularised might not have access to health insurance. Yeah, so in answer your question has been a big effect on migration.

 

Peter M

And even looking at the impacts of Covid on the psychology in terms of migration. If you look at what's been happening in Europe over the last few years, in terms of the migrants coming up through from the Middle East into Europe, where there's been a lot of resistance. Now we've got a lot of countries in that have gone through various forms of lockdown, because of COVID. We're almost in that siege mentality of you know, we're fighting this virus we're locking down, we're closing our borders. Surely, psychologically, that's going to have an effect on migration into the future, that sort of siege mentality. Do you think that we're going to see an impact of a reduction in migration over the next few years just because of that psychology of COVID?

 

Loksan H

It's an interesting question, Peter, and the answer is, I mean, no one really knows right. But my sense is that it's not going to have a huge sustainable impact on migration flows. I think they will continue because migrants move to where there's opportunity and where there's, you know, and just to think about it in purely economic terms, where there's capital, you know, capital often requires the right labour to transform it. So, we've lived through these sorts of events before, you know, from previous pandemics to you know, other kind of even larger and more serious global events, and, you know, migration continues. It's very heavily ingrained in human culture, I think to move.

 

Peter M

You're an optimist. Yeah. Okay. So, tell us about the ways that migrants and migration supports development, then let's move on to that.

 

Loksan H

Yeah, sure. So, I mean, I guess I kind of covered the ways in which, you know, migrants tend to move to where, where there's opportunity, migrants then give back, I think, you know, remittances is kind of one that gets a lot of attention, because they're we're talking about, you know, hard dollars, and people tend to be able to relate to that, you know. One of the projects that I'm working on at the moment is with the Fijian community of Australia, funnily enough. You know, working to see how we can engage Fijians in in Australia and Fijians around the world more in Fiji's development. So I was just having a conversation yesterday with the Fijian who's living in Australia, and she was saying how she sends money home regularly to a family, which is very normal for Fijians and other Pacific Islanders, and she was saying how she, she bought a cow for her sister, about 10 years ago, and then, you know, now she's got like, 20 cows. So that kind of puts it into very real terms, how someone can leave the country, do well, somewhere else, send money back, and it can be for the benefit of all, but I guess make out a bit more nuanced to the debate. You know, you also see a lot of linkages between migration and the different areas of development, too. So, you know, we've talked a bit about employment, right. So, you know, labour moves, migrants move to where there's employment, and that's good for the economy. You know, I think migration also links with things like environment and climate change, you know, because when there are natural disasters, or when there's environmental degradation, or you know, processes like climate change, people move as a result of that, people can be displaced, people can also move as a kind of adaptation strategy to some of these, you know, environmental changes. So that's kind of yet another example. And then when you look at things like health, migration can be a factor in the spread of communicable diseases. Migration can also contribute to bolstering healthcare workforces in countries which are receiving health care workers. Yeah, I think any anything you can mention within the field of international development, you know, I can see link just with migration. Yeah. Well, because that's sort of my job. But you know.

 

Peter M

Yeah, one of the things you touched on just before was what they often refer to as human capital, that knowledge base that people gain when they migrate, and then that they take back when they return. And I think that often doesn't get captured enough. I know a lot of governments provide scholarships, I mean, educational scholarships, where people will do secondary degrees in other countries and then go back. But I'm talking more about those that perhaps migrate and then decide to return after a period of time, and that knowledge that they take back into their communities, into their societies, surely that must have a huge impact from a development perspective.

 

Loksan H

It does, Peter and I think you're right in saying it's not really captured enough. And you know, there's a whole subfield while some people prefer to say it's a field on its own, but there's a whole kind of field of study and work called diaspora engagement, which is kind of a big feature of my work as well. And if anyone wants to know more, as well, in the podcast, I host the migration and diaspora podcast, we've got a few episodes on, you know, diaspora engagement, general and also on things like diaspora investment. Yeah, it's particularly on the return component. I think a lot of countries that have traditionally sent abroad a lot of migrants are coming on to the huge opportunity that they now represent. And, you know, we see that in just to give an example of that Ghana, in West Africa, implemented a very successful campaign last year called the Ghana year of return, it marked the 500 year of since the first slave was sent to the Americas from Ghana. And it was a whole campaign built around encouraging the African diasporas around the world to return to Africa, and particularly to Ghana, there's a big opportunity there, because when migrants returned to their countries, as I mentioned earlier, you know, they bring those skills, they often bring economic capital, they bring the social capital, the norms that they've developed abroad can transmit back to their societies as well, you know, and there's just so many examples of diasporas, as we call them, members of the Diaspora doing fantastic work back in their countries of origin. And that's not just in developing countries. Some people credit Ireland's huge success in attracting capital from Silicon Valley, from big technology countries to some very influential Irish Americans who sort of were the first to come back, the CEO of Intel, who one of the initial trailblazers. So yeah, diasporas can represent such a huge opportunity for their countries of origin. So yeah, big opportunity that I'd say,

 

Peter M

And in some respects, much more impactful than perhaps a development agency working in the field, you might argue.

 

Loksan H

Well, when people talk about remittances, they often compare the scale of them with overseas development. You know, I think now there's about 700 million US dollars sent back home per year by migrants. I think I'm not quite sure what the latest foreign aid figures all, but I think then sort of towards the 150-160 billion dollars. It's a huge multiple already, so just pure volume terms, there's more remittances being sent back by migrants than there is aid. You could argue as well, I mean, we also see on a kind of macro level, there, remittances tend to be more counter cyclical. So, ODA aid can fluctuate a little bit depending on what's going on in the donor countries, whereas remittances tend to be fairly stable, and even increase in times of crisis. When I'm talking to a lot of the Fijians living in Australia, it's incredible how they've supported their communities back home through some of the big cyclones they've had. And you could argue as well, that remittances, you know, they go straight to beneficiaries, they often use for very critical basic goods and you know, paying for school fees and so on. I'm not really going to get caught into the debate of whether it's, you know, one's more effective than the other, but certainly remittances provide such critical lifelines to countries around the world.

 

Peter M

So, you're a practitioner in this field, what are the sorts of projects you've been involved with in the past?

 

Loksan H

I've worked across the migration boards, I've worked on migration topics, ranging from migration and development to topics like trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, you know, the kind of more control-oriented forms of migration. And then now I'm working a lot on diaspora engagement, as I described, and in terms of what I actually do, I do everything from studies conducting studies, to advising on policies, you know, migration related policies, programmes, projects, evaluating those projects once they're done. So, it's kind of a quite wide portfolio of work. And, you know, so to put that in more concrete terms, at the beginning of this year, I conducted a study on human trafficking in South Sudan, currently, and then more recently, I was working with another client to develop some case studies looking at what different West African countries are doing in the field of diaspora engagement, so how the different ways in which they're trying to engage their diasporas. Right now, I'm working with the international organisation for Migration IOM, the United Nations Migration Agency, and we are conducting a study on the Fijian diaspora in Australia as a way to look at how they can be better engaged in features development. So yeah, that's kind of a bit of a snapshot of what I've been doing.

 

Peter M

And your podcast? Why don't you give a plug to your podcast?

 

Loksan H

Oh, thank you. Thanks. Yeah, so I started this podcast, it's still relatively new. So, you know, I'm learning from others who are podcasters like yourself, and I started it. We're on about the sixth episode. Now. It's called the Migration and Diaspora Podcast, it can be found on my web page https://www.loksanharley.com/podcast, or whichever platform you get your podcasts. And yeah, it's really a way for me to connect with different people who I work with, and different people I come across in the field. It's a way to give them a platform to tell different stories, to share information, their projects, share their learnings. And you know, it's been it's been a real fascinating journey for me so far, you know, and maybe you'll relate to this, you know, I just really enjoy asking people the questions on the bar from my audience, but kind of asking questions that I had myself about different aspects of migration. So, you know, we've touched on just in the first six episodes, we’ve touched on issues like we've done a geographic related one. So one on China-Africa, migration; we've done one on trafficking; looking at the trafficking work I did in South Sudan; we looked at remittances as well; we've done so dedicated remittances one on diaspora engagement, one on the kind of behavioural interventions that European donors are trying to support campaigns in West Africa to influence the decisions of migrants. So yeah, we've touched on quite a few interesting issues related to migration. So, if anyone's interested in migration, you know, head on over and tune in.

 

Peter M

I would love to have you back to talk more about the African-China relationship, which I believe you've done a fair bit of work in.

 

Loksan H

Yeah, that's sort of, you know, I've done research work on Africa-China relations, too. And, you know, I'm half Chinese, as I kind of alluded to earlier, but I've also spent a lot of my career and life in both Africa and China. So, it's big air of interests of mine. And yeah, there's a lot of migration issues as well within that relationship. So always happy to talk about that.

 

Peter M

All right, fantastic. Well, thank you, Loksan for your insights into migration and development. I appreciate your time, thank you.

 

Loksan H

Thank you, Peter. It's Great being on and I really enjoyed listening to the podcast and happy to contribute.

 

Peter M

On behalf of Cufa, I want to thank all our listeners for being part of this journey. It’s been an exciting but challenging year in the development sector. As Cufa nears its 50th anniversary, we’re excited to announce that we will release a 4th series next year, with more experts and experiences from the field.