Exclusion based on migration

Migration can act both as a way of moving out of poverty, and a cause of social exclusion. For example, foreign remittances can help receiving households to increase their income and consumption levels, as well as their capabilities to face socioeconomic shocks. However, rural-urban migrants for example, often do not benefit from the same political, social and economic rights as other urban citizens. They often find themselves in insecure, low-paid jobs, or become concentrated in vulnerable areas such as slums and deprived housing estates, with high levels of criminality and violence.

Similar conditions can also sometimes affect foreign immigrants or refugee groups, generating mutual mistrust and resentment. ‘Host’-immigrant tensions can be increased by perceptions of religious, ethnic or cultural ‘otherness’ that can sharpen social divisions and potentially contribute to conflict. (However, findings from West Africa suggest that cultural similarities between immigrants and host populations can actually worsen immigrant-host relations.)

Where policy directly or indirectly discriminates against migrant and immigrant populations – through, for instance, the targeting of immigrants by law enforcement in the first case, or the failure to provide language assistance to foreign migrants in the second – this process may become cyclical, with structural exclusion driving low educational attainment, low employment, vulnerability to crime and consequent community tensions. There are thus fears that the exclusion of migrants can pose a threat to stability.

For a synthesis of recent evidence on migrants’ rights and the practical implications for social exclusion and aid, see the following GSDRC topic guide:

Chrichton, J., Haider, H., Chowns, E., & Browne, E. (2015). Human Rights: Topic guide. Birmingham: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.
See in particular the section on migrants’ rights

Adida, C. L. (2011). Too Close for Comfort? Immigrant Exclusion in Africa. Comparative Political Studies, 44(10), 1370-1396.
Why do some minority groups involved in South-South migration integrate into their host societies, whereas others face exclusion and hostility? Why, for example, are Nigerian Hausas integrated into Ghanaian society in Accra but rejected in Niamey (Niger)? This study draws on surveys of Nigerian Hausa and Yoruba immigrants and host populations in urban Ghana, Benin and Niger. Its findings suggest that cultural similarities may worsen, not improve, immigrant-host relations in sub-Saharan Africa: cultural similarities seem to motivate immigrant community leaders to seek to preserve their group identities by highlighting group boundaries. In addition, host societies seem to reject groups that can easily blend in because those groups can access indigenous benefits in the competition for scarce resources.
Access full text: available online

DFID. (2007). Moving Out of Poverty – Making Migration Work Better for Poor People (Policy Paper). London: DFID.
How can policymakers and development agencies maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks associated with rising levels of national and international migration? This paper analyses the impact of voluntary economic migration on poverty reduction and development goals. Migration carries risks both for migrants and for the countries sending and receiving them. However, the benefits of migration can be maximised by improving planning for internal mobility, encouraging legal migration, promoting low-cost methods for sending remittances, and supporting diaspora activity.
Access full text: available online

Kothari, U. (2002). Migration and Chronic Poverty (Working Paper No. 16). Manchester: Chronic Poverty Research Centre, Institute for Development Policy and Management.
What is the relationship between chronic poverty and processes of migration? While livelihoods strategies are diverse and multiple, for many poor people migration represents a central component of these. How can research examine the characteristics of those who move and stay and what compels them? This paper addresses the implications of current migration-related policies for chronic poverty and identifies possible future research priorities for the Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC). It does not look at ‘forced’ migration (including refugees) but focuses on ‘free’ population movements.
Access full text: available online

Ngan, L. L.-S., & Chan, K.-W. (2013). An Outsider is Always an Outsider: Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia. Journal of Comparative Asian Development, 12(2), 316–350.
Governments in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and Beijing have disadvantaged low-income migrants who have come from rural areas or from abroad, this qualitative comparison shows. The discrimination is based on class, race and the urban-rural divide, and is produced by policies and biased practices. One key driver has been the under-valuation of migrants’ contribution to economic growth, with migrant workers and their families presented as a burden. The marginalisation of migrants from welfare services, labour rights and social participation has had cumulative effects on their social exclusion. The author calls for better legislation, but also for embracing multiculturalism and migration.
Access full text: available online

Sommers, M. (2006). Fearing Africa’s Young Men: The Case of Rwanda. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Do the concentrated numbers of male youths in urban Rwanda threaten social stability? The World Bank investigates this theory, examining the concept that large concentrations of male youths are disconnected from their cultures and prone to violence due to the ‘youth bulge’. However, interviews with urban male youths in Rwanda indicate that they are constrained by limited opportunities rather than menaces to society. The situation confronting most Rwandan youths and most of their counterparts in Africa remains alarming – a largely silent emergency.
Access full text: available online

Yang, J. (2013). Social Exclusion and Young Rural-Urban Migrants’ Integration into a Host Society in China. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 648(1), 52-69.
Has market-driven migration inside China advanced equal rights and personal development for migrants? This multilevel modelling draws on nationally representative data. It finds that young rural-to-urban migrants achieve a lower socio-economic status than local youth, who fare best, and migrant youth from urban areas. Social exclusion against rural migrants stems from institutional constraints (such as hukou – the household registration system) and from the workings of local employment and public services. The author recommends reforming education and hukou, improving young rural urban migrants’ education, and eliminating policies that favour locally born populations in social services.
Access full text: available online

Useful websites

Helpage International

Indian Institute of Dalit Studies

Middle East Youth Initiative


Migrating out of Poverty research programme consortium