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– by Rahim Hajji, Soraya Moket
Young migrants from Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia and Eritrea in Germany
Approximately 215 million people today are living and working in a country other than the one in which they were born. In Germany alone, there are about 10.8 million migrants, and immigration of highly skilled persons to the Federal Republic is set to increase. Since the beginning of this year, all citizens of new EU member countries enjoy the full liberty to move to other EU countries. Moreover, the EU has begun to implement its Blue Card Directive which is designed to allow skilled migrants entry into the EU.
For a long time, experts complained about “brain drain”, arguing that migration of skilled people from developing countries to rich nations has a negative impact on the economic performance of the countries of origin. More recent research shows, however, that emigration can just as well boost the development of the home country. Remittances are only one reason – India’s total remittance volume, for example, amounts to more than $ 51 billion. Migrants, moreover, contribute to progress through voluntary action, investments and the transfer of technology or know-how.
The role of migrant organisations is also gaining more and more recognition. In Germany, the GIZ and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) have conducted 11 studies on what role migrants play in development cooperation. They found that highly-skilled migrants are primarily interested in knowledge transfer and in building cooperation networks. In previous generations, however, most migrants were blue-collar workers and tended to become involved in projects that directly concern poverty alleviation.
Investing back home
A study conducted by the DMK similarly concludes that highly-skilled migrants want to support their places of origin. In 2011, the DMK conducted its second online survey to assess the engagement of its members and website users, who are mostly Moroccans who live in Germany (see text box). Most of the 117 respondents were economically or developmentally engaged in Morocco. And even those who were not, hardly revealed a lack of interest, but mostly stated they had not had the right opportunity yet.
In our survey, almost all respondents stated that they sent money to family members in their country of origin; 97 % had done so at least once. Half of the persons surveyed, moreover, had invested in real estate, and a third had invested in other economic activities. In addition, 74 % of respondents said they were involved in charity, and 53 % said so of development-related projects. At the same time, only one in four was active in politics.
The DMK is a network with the explicit goal of development cooperation. Accordingly, high figures for respondents’ engagement were to be expected. It is striking, however, that 47 % had not yet taken part in development-related efforts. This may relate to the rapid increase in the association’s membership.
As a reason for their non-participation, 30 % of the respondents stated that they had not had the opportunity to get involved. Another 22 % lacked good ideas, and 17 % had not found the right collaborators. Around a quarter of the respondents had simply not considered the issue yet. Only to a very limited extent are lack of interest (5 %), lack of altruism (6 %), lack of language proficiency (10 %) or lack of skills (12 %) obstacles to becoming involved.
The findings suggest that migrant organisations like the DMK have scope for boosting their members’ active engagement. While some members engage in projects on their own, many must be approached first, and require specific ideas for a project.
To live up to their potential, migrant organisations have to seek out opportunities for development-related engagement in the country of origin, establish contacts in that country, and recruit and inspire new members. They must cooperate with political and civil society stakeholders in both the host country and the country of origin. Doing so, they can help to implement development projects, and stir their members into action. This kind of partnership needs to be maintained; it requires exchange that must be reliable, permanent, regular and active. The DMK, for instance, is in touch with the most important actors in Morocco on the basis of a cooperation agreement.
Migrant organisations, moreover, are well advised to propose specific projects to members. In the experience of the DMK, it makes sense to form working groups of specialists, so members will not only enjoy regular exchange, but can develop ideas and find the cooperation partners they need.
If handled well, the migration of highly-skilled workers to Germany does not have to be to the disadvantage of their home countries. The migrants themselves are not the only ones who can make a difference. The countries of origin must play their part too, by supporting their expatriates’ organisations and helping them to stay in touch with their home country. The Mexican government, for instance, supports migrant organisations in the United States if they want to become involved in development.
Morocco’s government has taken first steps in this direction. The country has established a ministry, an implementing agency and a programme to support Moroccan expatriates, but there is still more to do. It needs an officer that is able to manage the needs of the highly-skilled workers, who are active in development-related projects. Furthermore, the government must help to establish reliable, confidential and active partnerships between organisations in Morocco and migrant organisations abroad.