Who Manages Migration? Responsability and practice beyond the Nation State

'As a result of climate change, changes in the global economy, and the perennial threat of conflict, the coming decades will see significant shifts in the magnitude and, potentially, the nature of human mobility. Most of these movements will take place within the developing world. A significant part of this will take place in Africa'. 

by Loren Landau 

Changing patterns of migration in Africa raises important question about who manages migration and what the movements mean for state and human security. In trying to address these concerns, I wish to make two main points. First, we need to distinguish who is legally responsible for migration management and who, in practice, manages migration. Second, we need to reconsider what managing migration means in the kind of places and political environments we are talking about: sites where state institutions are weak, where the law and policy are often as meaningful as rain clouds passing overhead, and where movement of people within countries and across borders is ever more central to the lives of migrants, their families, and the communities in which they live.

As such, if are to talk about 'managing migration' or migration and conflict, there is a need to shift from discussing facilitating (or restricting movement) at the border, or in the case of the European Union, at someone else's border to developing mechanisms to address developmental and human rights concerns (including conflicts) in receiving communities, in sending communities, and in the places that these people travel in between. Let me now return to the first issue of who we should be speaking about: the actors involved in managing migration.

Particularly, I want to consider who is legally responsible for managing migration and the motivations behind their efforts. On 1 July, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, the South African Minister of State Security, announced that government was developing a framework to establish a new Border Management Agency. Why? In his own words, to maintain South Africa's territorial integrity, expedite the legitimate movement of people and goods, and deter and identify illegal or hostile cross-border movement. In the Minister's this statement, we see the classic view of migration management: something done in the state's interest by the central state with the primary locus of action at the borders.

But, unless we confuse intention with practice, these frameworks risk drawing our attention away from those who, in practice, manages migration and where that management takes place. We must begin to realize that what national and regional governments are doing practically does little to Africa to regulate movement. True, South Africa deported more than 300 000 in 2008 (about ten times the number of Sarkozy's France), but this is exceptional by African standards with, on my knowledge, only Botswana really getting into the deportation game. But even here -as in the United State and Europe- these extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive efforts did little to disrupt the movements of people across the border. What they have done is disrupt livelihoods within South Africa and the lives of those who depend on migrants (including employers and consumers). All the same, the number of people of moving remains relatively unchanged.

This reality draws me to reflect a bit more of the two main points I raised before: what we mean by migration management and who is doing it. When we think about managing migration, we must move beyond the idea of managing or redirecting the flows of people. Migrants are not like water easily diverted by a dam or drainpipe even though we often use the language of flows, influxes, or, in the case of one South African Department of Home Affairs Official, a human tsunami. Unlike water, we can't build dykes and seawalls to stop them — not ethically and not practically.

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Photo: Dr_John2005/flickr