Q&A: Humanitarian crises have triggered increased South-South migration

Q&A: Humanitarian crises have triggered increased South-South migration


South-South migration basically means migration movement between and among developing countries. If you take West Africa, migration movement within West Africa or even between West Africa and Asia, or between West Africa and Latin America would constitute South-South migration. It has not really been discussed in the mainstream literature for a long time because the people that have had the chance to write about migration are scholars from the Global North. So, most of the things they write are based on people moving into the Global North. Also, all the large-scale research funding agencies are located in the Global North. So, they tend to be more interested in funding projects that look at migration towards the Global North.

Because narratives about migration are dominated by media, politicians, and researchers in the Global North, Joseph Teye, director of the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana and co-director of MIDEQ, told The New Humanitarian. “Not everybody is moving to the Global North,” he noted. “The narratives have to change, and the narratives can only change when we decolonise the knowledge.”

The New Humanitarian: What exactly is South-South migration, why is it overlooked by media narratives driven by the Global North, and what is important to understand about it that is absent from those narratives?

Teye: Things are changing in recent years. For instance, the European Union, the UK, and other governments are beginning to fund research within the Global South. But still there’s a lot to be done when it comes to South-South migration. If you look at the volume of publications on South-North migration, it’s much higher than what is published on South-South.

People also did not think that South-South migration can contribute to a reduction in inequality and the achievement of the SDGs [UN Sustainable Development Goals]. We know that is not true because, on the ground, South-South migration has the same potency to contribute to inequality, but also to reduce inequality – just as the South-North migration.

The New Humanitarian: What is the relationship between migration and inequality, both within and between countries?

Teye: On one hand, migration can be driven by inequality between countries, and inequalities also influence who migrates. Even when people are faced with the same economic challenges, the same environmental challenges, not all of them will be able to migrate. Especially if you are talking about migrating to Europe from Africa, you need some resources.

There are also gender differences. Sometimes you have patriarchal norms, rules, traditions that will not allow women to migrate. Gender inequalities can prevent some people from migrating.

Migration can also cause inequality. Poor migrants often experience labour exploitation, and rich migrants can exploit the labour of people in the countries they move to. When people move from relatively more developed countries to poorer countries, they can also contribute to destroying the environment. For example, people have moved to West African countries to extract resources, and then they are not implementing proper environmental management strategies. That is a source of inequality.

But migration can also reduce inequality. So, if the poor get the chance to migrate and then they are able to work, it means that the inequality gap is being closed. Some people can only do well if they migrate. That is why migration is good.

If you look at climate change, for instance, in areas seriously affected by environmental stress – no rainfall, they are not able to produce – such as in the Sahel region in West Africa – then one of the surest ways to reduce the inequality between those communities and other better off communities will be migration. People also migrate to enhance the livelihoods of their families left behind. So poor families have the money to send one person to another country and he finds a good job, remittances sent back can help to reduce inequality.

The New Humanitarian: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on the inequalities associated with migration?

Teye: Specifically in the China-Ghana corridor, the suspension of flights between the two countries affected regular migration flows. In both countries, rich migrants were able to migrate through chartered flights while the low-skilled migrants were trapped. They were also not able to work, which means that they faced more problems.

The economic challenges that we are facing due to restrictions are also worse when we talk about those that are poor. In China, those that were working for companies were able to receive their salaries and work from home whereas those who were working as domestic workers and others could not work. In Ghana, migrants in the informal sector were hit hard because they could not work during lockdown.

In Ghana, and most West African countries, governments have now opened the borders for airlines, but then they are not opening the land borders, and the land borders are used by poorer people. So poorer people are still restricted. They are trapped. When it comes to access to healthcare, it was also the same thing. Many of the poor migrants struggle to access Covid-19 tests, vaccination, or treatment.

The stimulus packages that were implemented by governments also did not benefit the poor. In Ghana, for instance, a lot of money was pumped in to help businesses to survive during Covid. But the business needed to be registered. Many of the immigrant businesses are not registered because they are small-scale businesses in the informal sector, so they didn’t qualify to get the stimulus packages that were being given out.

The New Humanitarian: What is the relationship between South-South migration and humanitarian crises – what is important to understand about South-South migration in the context of humanitarian crises?

Teye: Humanitarian crises are leading to increased South-South migration, especially related to climate change. For example, parts of Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad are all facing climate change, which is also producing insecurity in the region because you have conflicts as a result of limited resources. Food insecurity has also increased famine and caused people to move within those countries. Most of these people are not able to move internationally.

“Humanitarian crises are leading to increased South-South migration, especially related to climate change.”

When people are moving from West Africa to Europe, most of them will pass through Agadez, Niger. But most of the people migrating from Niger do not go to Europe. They come south to Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana because these are relatively poor communities. They don’t have the resources to go to Europe. So, poor people fleeing areas facing environmental challenges are likely to move just short distances.

Climate change, security issues, forced displacement are all humanitarian crises driving South-South migration.

The New Humanitarian: You mentioned that the funding situation for research on South-South migration has improved a little bit recently. But MIDEQ has been affected by the funding cuts in the UK. What impact are those cuts having on the project?

Teye: It’s important for me to clarify: The funding issue was very bad in the past, and it has not improved tremendously. Now, there are a couple of mostly small-scale projects largely focusing on South-South migration. So, I was just comparing with the past when there was almost nothing. Compared with research on South-North migration or North-North migration, research on South-South migration is still very limited.

We were looking at how to engage policymakers and communities to maximise the developmental benefits of migration, protect the human rights of migrants, and ensure our findings were used to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. All of these things are at risk now.

If MIDEQ ends because of budget cuts, it means that there will be no major project in the world looking at South-South migration.

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