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Home arrow Political science arrow Development Centre Studies Tackling the Policy Challenges of Migration : Regulation, Integration, Development.

Introduction: Facts, perceptions, reactions

The recent global financial crisis, Arab Spring and famine in Africa have drawn added attention to migration, an issue closely linked to growing global interdependence and environmental factors. Contrary to widespread belief there is more South-South than South-North migration. The financial crisis has made local populations more hostile to immigration, perceived as a threat to jobs and social cohesion. Migration policies have become more restrictive and immigrants greater targets of hostility and prejudice. At the same time, many developing countries seek to benefit from the export of surplus labour and rely heavily on money sent back by migrants. All these factors provide challenges both to sending and recipient countries. Migration strategies are often unilateral and expensive. Three interlocking issues need to be addressed. How can flows be regulated - or is that even possible? Once immigrants have arrived in receiving countries, can they be integrated and if so how? And what is the nexus between migration and development in the immigrants' home countries?

Three recent events have had significant, but opposite, effects on international migration:

  • 1. The global economic crisis brought about a decline in labour flows. The impact has been especially hard for the immigrants in countries most affected by the crisis and for their countries of origin.
  • 2. The Arab Spring of 2011, which began in Tunisia and rapidly spread to other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries (and even beyond), led to significant movements of population, within and outside the region.
  • 3. The 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa has created thousands of refugees, mainly from Somalia, but also from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Immigrants have been hit particularly hard by the global economic crisis, since they were the first to lose their jobs in the areas affected by the recession (OECD, 2011). The lack of job opportunities meant that total inflows of immigrants to OECD countries dropped by 13% in 2009 (see Figure 1.1). The decline in immigration was particularly high in Spain (-32%), Ireland (-42%) and the Czech Republic (-49%). By extension, there was a drop in remittances received in most developing countries (-5% on average). Europe and Central Asia (-23%) and Latin America (-12%) were the regions most affected.

Figure 1.1. Immigration to OECD countries and remittances to developing countries,


Note: Immigration figures correspond to inflows of foreign population into OECD countries. Sources: Immigration to OECD countries: OECD (2011); remittances to developing countries: World Bank (2010).

The 2011 Arab Spring raised a dilemma for European governments willing to support democratic transition in the region, but reluctant to welcome fleeing refugees. Images of migrants landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa contributed to the fear of invasion and generated tension within the European Union. But in reality, most flows of people were and remain regional. Tunisia and Egypt, and not Italy and France, have received the highest number of migrants from Libya (see Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2. Migrants from Libya, 2011

Thousands of migrants

Notes: Number of migrants crossing Libya's borders. Third country nationals include both Libyans and migrants from other countries (mainly from sub-Saharan Africa). Figures are cumulative numbers until 15 September 2011.

Sources: Situation report on Libyan crisis, IOM Middle East North Africa Operations (IOM, 2011).

The 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa affected millions of people who were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Because of a severe drought in the region a food crisis threatened the livelihood of more than 13 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia (USAID, 2011). By September 2011 the United Nations (UN) had officially declared famine in five regions of southern Somalia and the entire Bay region in Somalia and warned of a spreading risk. As a result thousands of refugees fled to neighbouring countries. Since the beginning of 2011, more than 270 000 Somalis (around 2 000 a day in August) were thus forced to flee to other countries, adding to an already large contingent in Kenya and other countries (see Figure 1.3). According to the UN, around one-third of Somalis were displaced either at the internal or international level (OCHA, 2011).

Figure 1.3. New Somali arrivals by country of asylum

Thousands of migrants

Notes: Figures show increase (%) in Somali refugees in each country during the year (January to 31 August 2011).

Source: UNHCR (2011a).

The global economic crisis, the Arab Spring and the famine in the Horn of Africa have amplified the inherent problems of the current migration system and are thus symptomatic of some of the main facts of contemporary international migration.

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