Published on People Move

The challenge of forced displacement and survival Migration

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The World Bank’s Social Development Department (SDV) and Migration and Remittances Unit hosted a brown bag lunch (BBL) on state fragility, forced displacement, and survival migration on September 21, 2010. Dr. Alexander Betts from the University of Oxford presented a compelling argument on the need for innovative institutional approaches to displacement and forced migration as a development challenge. In today’s world of internal conflicts, state and societal fragility, and climate-related threats to food security, constant movements of people are not only associated with political persecution (“refugees”) or the mere desire to improve livelihoods (“economic migrants”), but also with a concept called “survival migration.” According to Dr Betts, this concept refers to people who are forced to move outside of their countries of origin because of an existential threat to their liberty, security, or livelihood systems.  Such people do not fall within the existing conventions and agreements related to displaced people. Case studies conducted in Angola, Botswana, among others, illustrate that these migrants are extremely vulnerable groups and that their human rights are often violated in host countries.

In the short term, it will be difficult to create new legal instruments for populations that are not covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the implementation of broad regional mechanisms such as the 1969 African Union Convention on Refugees needs to be strengthened. A key issue that requires more immediate attention is the lack of institutional responses to address forced migration effectively. In this regard, at the country level, policies and institutional capacities are limited, and more substantial external support is needed. It is the development approach to forced migration where the Bank and other development actors can make a difference concerning displaced populations in the near future.  Participants of the BBL discussed key areas where the Bank has a comparative advantage to improve the institutional response to displacement and forced migration issues, including:

  • Analytical work: A knowledge platform is being developed by the Migration and Development Unit (MDU) and will provide insight to migration-relevant topics such as climate change and demographic changes. Similarly, the Forced Displacement Program, (FDP) is working on key analytical pieces on the impacts and costs of forced displacement and an assessment of lessons learned on livelihood interventions for displaced people.
  • Operational support: Both MDU and FDP are providing operational support to regions and networks within the Bank to develop activities at the country level.  Throughout this process, global practices on forced displacement, migration and development are being collected and disseminated.
  • Partnerships with external development actors: Collaboration with external development actors on the issues of migration and remittances is a good example of how partnerships can be strengthened. The FDP is also engaging in partnerships with UN agencies, bilateral agencies, NGOs, academia, etc.


Without a doubt, the BBL was important not only in focusing attention on the development challenges of forced displacement and migration, but also in identifying  areas for future collaboration within the Bank and with external partners in order to build a broader institutional agenda on forced migration issues. 


Margarita Puerto

Social Development Specialist, World Bank

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