The New Appeal of the South

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By Alina Suvila

The flows of migrants have been enormous for long but the direction is currently changing. People from the Global South are now staying there instead of migrating to the North. The effects can be seen in power relations and the global economy where groups of emerging economies are dominating.

Emeritus professor Bimal Gosh from the Colombian School of Public Administration gave a presentation on the subject of migration on 8th May 2014 at the Graduate Institute (IHEID) in Geneva. In his presentation ‘The Changing Configuration of Global Migration: Why South-South migration matters’ he addresses the reasons of the change in directions of migration flows.

For centuries the North has been the engine of economic growth and the world suffered from economic and democratic asymmetry. This imbalance has been the driving force of migration for the past five decades. Today people are not forced to move anymore and survival migration has switched to opportunity seeking. The economic and democratic balance has changed and the location of growth is now elsewhere.

Between 2003 and 2011 emerging economies such as China or India have experienced a growth of 19% in GDP whereas developed countries have reached a growth of 14%. In 2012 developing Asia experienced the biggest growth in real GDP. Economical growth and rapid rise of wages make people move interregional. For example between 2007-2010 the desire to migrate declined in the Sahara’s Southern region from 38% to 33%. When the economy glows the public perception of economy is very positive and this shapes migration decisions.

The progressive opportunities in the South will cause what has mainly been interregional South-North migration to become intraregional on the South-South-scale. The people flow from Asia e.g. to Latin American countries exists because of changes in the global economy. Trade, investments of capital and transfer of technology are all triggers for these movements. This trend of economic growth is reflected on the political field as well: Brazil has 31 diplomatic missions in Africa, China 42. Britain has 26.

Another reason besides growing opportunities behind the economic boom in the developing world is the acceptance of low skilled workers. Growth calls for trade, investment and technologies so there is an ongoing demand for a “low skilled” labor force in the developing countries. People head where they find work. This kind of labor force is also needed in the developed countries but at the same time immigration policy does not encourage the migration of low-skilled workers. Despite the positive outlook pitfalls exist: The progress foreseen will not be just linear, but bumpy. For example China’s growth has dropped from 10% to 7 %. There are ups and downs in the curve but the long-term development is in favor of the developing world also because many of the Western countries carry a burden of debts worth decades.

A shift in attitudes of migrants can also be seen. The moving generation is younger and more used to a dynamic global world; ties to family roots are not as strong as they used to be. The second generation of migrants has absorbed the new local culture, which has large-scale social impacts by serving cultural tolerance. Urbanization causes people to move into cities but a danger lies in the marginalization of the young generation if work is not available. This is where the aspirations of the youth and the goals of economic well-being need to meet each other in a productive way.

Existing institutions dealing with migration are weak and human rights violations occur on a regular basis. A new architecture of the system is needed in both sending and receiving countries. A new set of normative principles to encourage diversity and remove the notion of “otherness”. Migration and human rights on an international level need to be addressed by powerful organizations. If immigration flows are stopped or are prevented, people become part of the refugee quota and are therefore easily marginalized. Category jumping can be reduced by a solemn convention governing these issues, a declaration of fundamental rights. Hard and soft instruments need to be used together to achieve this goal of equity when it comes to migration.

The remaining challenge is achieving the proper objective of understanding the pros and cons of the phenomena of migration. Only then is it possible to construct an efficient system that serves the world as a whole.

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