Published on People Move

Migration, Security and Development: Understanding the Linkages

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Migration, security, and development are inextricably linked. Understanding these linkages is important to correct public misperceptions as well as promote more effective policies; but they have largely defied research and analysis to date. KNOMAD Thematic Working Group on Migration, Security, and Development seeks to articulate an analytical framework on the linkages, drawing on a range of existing empirical case studies.

It is clear that migration, security and development are linked. Policies in one arena can promote positive outcomes in another. For example secure borders are an integral component of well-managed migration, which in turn can help match migrants’ skills to labour market demands, while also empowering migrants to contribute to development in their countries of origin. Equally, and especially where policy is poorly coordinated, unintended consequences can ensue. While numerous factors contribute to the global growth of migrant smuggling, there is strong research evidence that smugglers may profit when border controls tighten, in turn exposing migrants to risk, exploitation and vulnerability.

Understanding the linkages between migration, security, and development is important not just to support more effective policy coordination and outcomes, but also to help correct unsubstantiated assumptions regarding migrants. For example it is widely perceived that migrants compete with locals in the labour market, or exploit social welfare systems, thus impacting national economic growth. It is also often argued that national sovereignty and migrants’ rights are irreconcilable goals; and that is almost impossible to resolve the dual imperatives of security in destination countries and development and poverty reduction in origin countries. More directly, some people view migration and migrants as a security threat.

But understanding these linkages is not easy. Migration, security, and development are each complex and dynamic concepts. Migration covers a wide range of people, with different backgrounds and skills, moving for different motivations, over different distances and time periods, and both legally or in an irregular fashion. Distinctions are often made between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ security, national and human security, as well as security at the local, urban, state, regional, and global levels. Equally development applies in economic, social and ecological arenas, and ranges from poverty reduction through women’s empowerment to climate change. While there is a robust body of research on migration and development, there is little research on the migration-security nexus or its implications for development. In addition the debate about migration and security is politically sensitive. Around the world policy makers have different understandings of the security dimensions of migration – in the US and Australia for example it usually associated with border control; whereas in the EU it has traditionally been understood as a development issue.

KNOMAD’s Thematic Working Group on Migration, Security, and Development is undertaking a one year research programme to better understand and articulate the linkages between migration, security, and development. Drawing on case studies ranging from the impact of visa policies on economic competitiveness to the humanitarian implications of border controls, it aims to develop a new body of evidence, and design a new analytical framework to promote better informed debate and more effective policy.


Khalid Koser

Deputy Director and Academic Dean, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Geneva

Jerome Elie

Cnsultant, KNOMAD Thematic Working Group 6 'Migration, "Security and Development"

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