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Interview: why do we think development will stop migration?

States are increasingly incorporating development aid into their strategies for controlling migration. But is this the right way to look at the issue, and does it have any hope of ‘success’?

The fence around the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Sara Prestianni for Noborder Network/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Cécile Riallant: I'm Cécile Riallant, and I manage a global, inter-agency programme (the Joint Migration & Development Initiative, a global UN/IOM inter-agency programme administered by the United Nations Development Programme) that is dealing with migration and local development. It looks specifically at the key role that cities, and local and regional authorities, play in that respect.

Cameron Thibos (oD): How are states using development aid and development policies as a strategy for migration management/control, and as a strategy to externalise borders?

Cécile: This is a development that is of course very problematic and leads us to ask a lot of questions. But most and foremost, I think we are completely missing the target and this is going to be time wasted, unfortunately. We're going to realise very soon that building walls is utterly ineffective, and definitely with development aid we should be aiming at something completely different.

I'm not a pessimist, in the sense that I think – at some point – these policies will change in the face of reality. We're looking at major trends ahead of ourselves, and particularly the fact that there is this increasing imbalance in terms of demographic trajectories between Africa, in particular, and the European continent.

Obviously, we need to find completely different ways of working on those issues and establishing proper partnerships with the sending countries of migration. We need those migrants, but we need to prepare those migrants to be integrated into our societies, to be productive members of our societies, and we also need to make sure that this migration is for the benefit of the sending countries as well.

Duration: 1:32

This is what development aid should be looking at. We've started doing this, but definitely in the recent past we've somehow seen the whole debate going backwards a little bit. Let's hope indeed that this is just a moment in history and that we'll go back to something more reasonable.

Cameron: States are putting more and more of their eggs in the basket of trying to improve the conditions in home countries or transit countries in order to reduce the incentive for people to move further. Does such a strategy hold water, and if so how much? Based on knowledge do such policies have merit?

Cécile: I think we all know the famous 'migration hump', whereby the more developed countries are, the higher the proportion there is of people migrating, because people have more choices and more aspirations. This is completely normal.

What the theory says is that after a country reaches a certain level of development, then this trend towards migration tends to reduce. But this is not something that has been factually validated everywhere. So to think of development as a way to stop migration is incorrect. Also, we need to be more, shall we say, eloquent in looking at how migration impacts development as well as at how development impacts migration. The relationship is very complex and varied, depending on which countries and which territories.

This is something I'd like to emphasise. If we continue to look at the dynamics between migration and development only from the point of view of people crossing borders, and therefore as issues that are dealt with only by national governments, we're going to miss the point. We have to zoom in on what is going on at the level of territories. What are the migration dynamics in a very specific place, what are the development dynamics in that same very specific place?

Where are the migrants going in another country, which is in another very specific territory? How do we start looking into the development and migration dynamics between those territories that are linked by migrants? If we do this – maybe – that will lead us to more refined policies and more refined ways of establishing partnerships around migration and development, ones which would be balanced and for the benefit of both sides, and for the migrants themselves of course.


Learn more about the demographic argument for allowing more migration to Europe from Patrick Taran, president of Global Migration Policy Associates.

Read Patrick’s entire interview.


About the authors

Cécile Riallant manages a global, inter-agency programme (the Joint Migration & Development Initiative, a global UN/IOM inter-agency programme administered by the United Nations Development Programme) that is dealing with migration and local development.

Cameron Thibos is the managing editor of Beyond Trafficking and Slavery. He is a former research associate at the Migration Policy Centre of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, and holds a D.Phil from the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford. 


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