Document Type

Migration Policy Briefs

Publication Date



The migration of persons across international boundaries in search of better opportunities or as a result of war, conflict and political instability has risen substantially over the years. The UN Population Division estimates that there are currently 175 million people living outside of their country of origin which is more than twice the number a generation ago (United Nations Population Division 2002). As communications and transport infrastructure become more sophisticated and cheaper, this trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

This movement of persons from their own countries of nationality or citizenship, to another country where they take up temporary or permanent residence and may even become citizens, significantly challenges the notions of individual, group or national identity associated with nation-states. Even in multicultural and diverse societies such as those found in most Southern African countries, nationality and citizenship are over-riding features that define those who belong and those who do not belong.

There is an emerging consensus that if migration is properly managed by both countries of origin and countries of destination, that it can have a positive developmental impact. What is often referred to as the 'nexus between migration and development' is becoming a familiar refrain in the global debates about migration with the essence of this approach being that, rather than viewing and responding to migration as a problem that challenges states economically, politically, socially and culturally, that it should be channeled and managed in a manner that maximises its positive impact, particularly in the economic sphere (IOM 2005).

This debate often takes place in conjunction with the globalisation debate - the idea that the countries of the world are becoming more inter-dependant and that higher levels of co-operation are required if all countries, developed and developing, are to benefit. Implicit in this debate is the recognition that migration is inevitable, but at the same time there is an expressed need for it to be managed, rather than just allowing it to increase as a result of globalisation (IOM 2005).

But, the argument that migration should be managed as part of a developmental framework is often seen to be at odds with predominant notions within nationstates about who the beneficiaries of such development ought to be. It is at this intersection of migration, citizenship and national identity and development that the concepts related to the free movement of persons become complex, and sometimes controversial.

The importance of migration in the context of development in African states is clearly recognised by the African Union in its Strategic Framework for a policy on migration in Africa, which was drafted in the wake of a series of resolutions and recommendations that were adopted by various meetings of African Heads of State and other political leaders.

The AU Framework takes as one of its key imperatives, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) strategy that is aimed at promoting the development of the African continent. While acknowledging that NEPAD does not consider migration as a 'sectoral priority', it nevertheless makes the point that NEPAD has the potential to contribute to the solution of many of the root causes of migration by promoting socio-economic and political development (African Union [no date], p. 6).

In framing the need for a comprehensive continental set of migration policies, the AU document states the following:

... [W]ell-managed migration has the potential to yield significant benefits to origin and destination States... However, mismanaged or unmanaged migration can have serious consequences for States' and migrants' well-being, including potential destabilising effects on national and regional security, and jeopardising inter-State relations. Mismanaged migration can also lead to tensions between host communities and migrants, and give rise to xenophobia, discrimination and other social pathologies.

This AU statement, while emphasising the developmental potential of migration, clearly recognises the complexities of managing migration in relation to notions of 'insiders' and 'outsiders' and citizen opinions about those who belong and who should benefit from development and those who do not belong and should not benefit.