Why immigrant integration matters

Despite the growing importance of South-South migration, many developing countries do not consider integration a priority.4 Yet, ignoring integration comes with a cost, one that is ignored until problems become insuperable and there is a political backlash in reaction. The lack of integration policies is often reinforced by discriminatory practices, both official and hidden. The high concentration of refugees and migrants stuck in transit in the South contributes to increasing the vulnerability of migrants and the socio-economic costs faced by the "host" society.

Non-integration and political backlash in the South

By nature immigration implies pressure on social cohesion. In general immigrants are perceived negatively by the locally born, as individuals taking something away, without giving back. They are viewed as putting pressure on society and draining resources, all the while acting in their own interests, sometimes as groups. This makes scapegoating easy for policy makers eager to win favour with voters. Immigrants are thus often held responsible for all that ails in society and eventually, without proper policy, such situations incite riots, attacks and civil conflict.

Official discriminatory practice can come in different forms - some more apparent and destructive than others. In 2004, for instance, Cote d'Ivoire passed a law that essentially gave Ivoirians priority over foreigners in all types of jobs, from qualified to manual labour.5 Likewise, Sierra Leone's constitution authorises discrimination against "non-native" citizens (Chua, 2003).6

Discrimination can materialise in the form of lower wages and barred access to jobs, housing and services. In its most extreme forms, it may be synonymous with human trafficking and labour exploitation. Human Rights Watch (2010), for instance, reported severe abuse of labour rights in the case of migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in Thailand. It also condemned the incapacity - and unwillingness - of local authorities to investigate complaints related to the exploitation of labour. Similarly, in 2005 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination condemned the Nigerian government for "active discrimination by people who consider themselves as the original inhabitants to their region against settlers from other States".7 Nigerian constitutional guarantees against racial discrimination do not, in fact, extend to non-citizens (CLO, 2005).

Religion also forms a core determinant of discrimination. Many Gulf countries, for instance, bar freedom of religious expression, which in particular affects Christian Filipino immigrants working in the oil industry or as domestic workers. In West Africa, Muslims in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria have claimed to feel discriminated against on several levels, while Christians allege discrimination in Guinea, (USDoS, 2010a). The types of discrimination range from citizenship and voting rights in Cote d'Ivoire, employment access in Nigeria to political and social exclusion in Ghana. In some cases, official discriminatory behaviour puts immigrants in difficult positions.8

The lack of integration does not only affect immigrants. Many people gain when immigrants are successfully integrated, and everyone loses when they are not.9 As ghettos develop, for instance, they tend to become increasingly exclusive as a result of a grouped protective measure against xenophobic attacks (see Box 3.1). They also deal a major blow to the natural environment and eventually become nests of extreme poverty, even as the country gets richer. Because these enclaves are characterised by very primitive levels of sanitation, they act as vectors for drug-resistant and deadly diseases, such as influenza pandemics, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS (UN-Habitat, 2010). In addition, without schools and medical clinics, human capital development, and thus social and intergenerational mobility, are halted.

Pockets of extreme poverty not only breed disease and circular poverty traps but also growing negative sentiments towards host native workers and government. There is a risk that the social contract erodes while organised crime and popular forms of justice develop. As the degree of infringement of local laws and customs by immigrants rises, costs also increase for the receiving country in providing more administrative services (e.g. police) to maintain order. In many cases these tensions escalate to violence. In some cases, ethnic and racial tensions can even generate civil unrest and long-term political instability, as in Cote d'Ivoire.

Failure to integrate immigrants can have an element of wider contagion: it can induce immigrants to go back (or be forced back) to their countries of origin and spread conflict. For instance, migratory movements were partially to blame for the expansion and length of the conflict in the late 1990s: conflict in Rwanda quickly engendered local fighting in Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

Box 3.1. Finding refuge in migrant ghettos: the case of Old Fadama, Accra

Resentment and opposition can force immigrants to seek or create enclaves of poverty-stricken ghettos, which in turn make it easier to discriminate against them. Slum-dwellers comprise three main groups (not mutually exclusive): the poor and uneducated, women and immigrants. The plight of living in slums is to be excluded from "the right to vote, the right to enter and enjoy all areas of the city, the right to use social and cultural facilities and venues, the right to access basic services, and various other rights which effectively restrict their full enjoyment of the right to the city." (UN-Habitat, 2010).

Why do immigrants crowd together if it exposes them to finger-pointing? First, there is an aspect of familiarity. Migrants may not want to venture into the unknown and rather seek a certain level of comfort. Second, local perceptions against immigrants lead to stereotyping and eventually to discrimination. Within enclaves, immigrants have a greater chance of being treated as equals or continue living within their pre-established social hierarchies. Third, enclaves may enable immigrants without legal documentation to live and stay in the country while being sheltered from authority. Immigrants may feel safer if those around them are also without required "papers". Conversely, they may feel that within an immigrant enclave they can blend more easily into a larger group where there is a mix of regular and irregular workers.

Accra's well-known Old Fadama settlement constitutes a good illustration of the problem. Nicknamed "Sodom and Gomorrah" (or more formally "Agbogbloshie"), Old Fadama is like a world in itself, made up of diasporas from all over Ghana and other West African countries. It is a highly stigmatised place. But although it may appear chaotic to municipality officials, it is very organised, with its own rules and regulations. This type of setting is common in many informal settlements across West Africa. Makoko in Lagos and West Point in Liberia also exist in parallel with the world outside.

However, residents of Old Fadama suffer poor sanitation, and women are vulnerable to sexual predators and disease - the settlement lies in a region prone to flooding. Education services are rare. Many immigrants are temporary residents (so children are often not resident long enough to settle) and make return trips home to visit, to help at harvest time, or to try to start a business venture. Most work in the informal economy, particularly making and selling foodstuffs (Pellow, 2011; Tufuor, 2009).

Unfortunately for many of these workers and residents, Old Fadama also sits in the way of government plans which by 2009 took a firm decision to evict the more than 40 000 dwellers without any form of compensation or relocation. While many immigrants have since been evicted, a constant battle over the right to keep their homes has garnered support from other communities, including some outside of Ghana. The community has since moved to building networks across Accra of community-based and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with a scope which goes beyond the prevention of the Old Fadama evictions to addressing broader issues of social exclusion faced by Ghana's urban poor. But the looming threat of eviction remains.

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