In the last few years, migration has received more than its share of news coverage. It has influenced election outcomes, spurred populism, blurred the lines between culture and religion and led to new challenges in humanitarianism.
The current narrative dominating migration, however, clearly rests on the impact it is having on the societies and economies of Western receiving nations. Continental Europe has been at the very forefront of this narrative, consistently contesting the arrival of irregular migrants and refugees at its various borders. The US and the UK have followed suit: Trump has exploited the “fear” of migrants to feed the far-right, while opposition to immigration heavily influenced the outcome of the Brexit vote.
Whether or not any of these arguments holds merit, there has been virtually no counter-narrative from sending countries in the Global South to challenge them. Nor has there been much discussion about the impact that mass migration (both regular and irregular) has on sending countries themselves, even from a Western perspective, and let alone from the South.
The flow of migration has traditionally been from the Global South to the Global North. Over the last decade or so, the flow of those moving from non-OECD countries to OECD countries, in various capacities, has been increasing.
It is no secret that many migrant-sending countries in the Global South suffer from acute political and economic instability, and widespread conflict, war and inequality. Many also happen to be former territories in Latin America, Africa and South Asia, which are still reeling from the impact of colonization. Many of those citizens with the means to do so are either leaving to pursue a better life for their families or fleeing violence and persecution— ironically towards countries that used to be their colonizers.
These causes or drivers of migration from South to North, and more so, the socio-economic impact they are having on the South, have been vastly understudied by Western scholars and practitioners. In Western scholarship, the focus remains on how receiving countries in the West have been and are dealing with the influx of migrants. In turn, such scholarship then influences migration and immigration policies in receiving countries.
Additionally, there is clearly a major gap in the debate on migration from a Southern perspective. The latest figures from the International Organization for Migration show that in 2019, 96,532 migrants attempted to enter Europe illegally, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East. What these figures do not tell us is the number of people who have lost their lives or been displaced within these countries because of war and poverty. For example, 200,000 civilians are displaced in Libya, and 4 million have fled the conflict in South Sudan to neighbouring African countries, not to mention the many millions more who have stayed behind.
Analysis also virtually ignores the millions of refugees still languishing in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Uganda and Kenya – the Global Compact on Refugees notwithstanding – and the effect this is having on those economies. Instead, spurred mostly by the Mediterranean migrant crisis, the emphasis in research and policy has been on efforts to push migrants away from Europe – a key element of the Western narrative against migration.
Conversely in countries like Canada, where the demand for migration is as high as the supply, the emphasis has been on creating narratives and policies that attract qualified migrants away from their home countries. Such narratives have increased exponentially with the advent of renewed calls for the business case for South-to-North migration to fill labour gaps in developed economies – a key element of the Western narrative for migration.
This push and pull narrative on migration is almost completely one-sided. Coupled with the Global South’s dearth of interest in and resources to encourage academic and policy research, sending countries have no tools with which to create a counter-narrative by studying the impact of out-migration from their perspective. For instance, although so-called brain drain may appear detrimental for sending countries, some have argued that the emphasis on education as a path to emigration could, in fact, prompt “brain gain”, helping to lift these countries out of poverty. But sending countries are not producing any systematic research that could encourage policy actions to harness this, barring the conversation on diaspora and development.
Likewise, migration and border control policies are also dominated by the Western discourse on how to manage migration into their countries. So much so that Western nations also control the discourse and policy actions within sending countries on migration control. The case of the EU-Turkey Statement to curb illegal migration into Europe illustrates such policy influence.
The counter-narrative on migration and its discontents must come from us, from the Global South. This is necessary if we are to achieve a balanced, nuanced view on the subject and to establish a two-way discussion between sending and receiving countries. Migration itself is multi-faceted, so the discussion on it should be as well.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Social Policy Blog, nor of the London School of Economics.