World on the Move: The World Has Never Seen the Movement of People from One Place to Another on Such a Scale as at Present. Africans Are in the Thick of It. Can It Be a Positive Force for Africa's Development, or Will Africa Lose out as the Brain Drain Draws Away the Continent's More Skilled Workers? Tom Nevin Reports on the Issues

Article excerpt

Migration, the restless movement of people from one place to another, more often than not in search of a better life, is as old as mankind itself. It is doubtful, however, if the world has seen as intense and sustained migration as is happening right now.

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"The world revolves around the human mobility game, and that's as old as the human race," says Dr Mamphela Ramphele, co-chair of the Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM). "People have always moved around. But in terms of movement of numbers, over the last 25 years since the 1980s, migratory numbers have doubled, to the current levels of 200m people who are living outside their country."

The compulsion that gets people on the move are many and varied: exploring the other side of the fence, being driven out by insufferable conditions, and seeking means of supporting one's family are just a few. The consequences of migration can manifest themselves in a brain drain on the downside and, on the positive, as a means of earning valuable foreign currency in migrants' remissions to the home countries.

Mainly a tide of poor people

More likely than not, however, migration is about poor people moving from their own meagre pastures to the greener fields of rich nations.

"One rather simple conclusion can be drawn from the evidence before us," reports Ramphele. "And that is that the vast majority of international migrants, whether they move on a temporary or permanent basis, whether their status is legal or irregular, whether they remain in their own region or move from one continent to another, move from poorer to more prosperous states. In other words, poverty and inequality are central to the dynamics of international migration."

The issue is not one of absolute or abject poverty, because the most destitute members of society often lack the resources, information and connections needed to move from one country or continent to another.

Rather, it is one of relative poverty and social-economic disparity that exerts powerful influences in prompting people to migrate from one country to another, suggesting that globalisation is the link between relative poverty and international migration.

"While globalisation has had many beneficial consequences, it has also led to the growth of socio-economic disparities within societies, states and between different regions of the world," reports Ramphele. "The process has also given relatively poor people a powerful incentive to migrate while, at the same time, provided the means of moving from one country or continent to another."

It is the opinion of Danny Leipziger, vice president of the World Bank's Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) that migration used to be the sole domain of interior ministries and associated with security issues and strict border patrols. "We now recognise the great potential for developing countries and policymakers to create some coherence between development and migration policies."

Earlier this year, some 400 decision-makers from migrant-receiving and sending countries, as well as representatives of migrant associations, met in Brussels to share country experiences on the factors that make migration a positive force in development, and to discuss ways of mitigating migration's negative effects.

Arranged by the Belgian government, the International Organisation for Migration the European Commission, and the World Bank, the "Migration in Development" conference sought ways to strengthen the effects of migration and economic and social development.

Greater attention to the issue is providing improved data on the size and impact of international migration for policymakers to analyse. The World Bank reports that, at $165bn, officially registered remittances are more than twice as large as all official development assistance. According to the UN, there are 191m migrants around the world, of which 115m are migrants from developing countries who moved to the 'North'. …