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Multilevel Governance of Migration for Sustainable Development: Perspectives from the Global Souths

Gouvernance multi-niveaux des migrations pour le développement durable : perspectives depuis les Suds
Dêlidji Eric Degila and Valeria Marina Valle
Gobernanza multinivel de las migraciones para el desarrollo sostenible: perspectivas desde los Sures globales [es]


This chapter introduces the thematic volume Governing Migration for Development from the Global Souths: Challenges and Opportunities. It presents the aims and scope of the Volume, and a discussion on contributions to migration studies from the global Souths, in particular analysing positive and negative aspects of the multilevel governance of migration. It also provides an overview of a broad conceptualisation of sustainable development through five dimensions—people, planet, profit, peace and partnerships—before highlighting the main contributions of the individual chapters. Finally, we conclude by underlining the insights brought by a multiplicity of perspectives from the global Souths to an analysis of the complex configuration of migration governance.

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The authors are grateful for the wonderful contributions of their research assistants from the Graduate Institute Geneva and Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, and for their tireless work on the project: Viktoria Karpenko, Michelle Ruiz Valdes, Ximena Bailón and Daniela Martínez.

1. Introduction

1This thematic volume analyses the nexus of migration and sustainable development and how it is a key avenue of global governance. Migration has been considered a core human phenomenon in global development agendas advanced under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (hereafter, the 2030 Agenda) (UNGA, 2015), the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) (Migration Data Portal, 2021) and the Global Compact on Refugees (UNHCR, 2021)—the first adopted in 2015 and the last two in 2018. This political recognition of migration being a key issue at the international level is also materialised at the regional, national and subnational levels, even more so if the closure of borders and the existence of nationalisms and xenophobia are considered. These factors undermine the global aspiration to leave no one behind in the context of sustainable development, in which migration is also linked to economic, environmental and social dimensions. Such factors may be seen as ongoing surges in world politics, which should be analysed as cycles (Kaldor, 2018).

2The 2030 Agenda constitutes the main global framework for dealing with contemporary development challenges, notably those related to human mobility. It is also the first international agenda to ‘include and recognise migration as a dimension of development’ (Foresti, Hagen-Zanker and Dempster, 2018, 2) and as a consequence of inequalities. About ten of the 169 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) refer directly to migration-related issues. In particular, SDG 10, ‘Reduced inequalities’, refers to ‘facilitat[ing] orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies’ (UNGA, 2015). Target 10.7 was materialised in the process of the negotiation and adoption of the Global Compact for Migration in 2018 in Marrakech, Morocco. At the same time, it is important to mention that the Global Compact’s adoption was the result of decades of negotiations that had their antecedent in the International Conference on Population and Development (1984), followed by the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990), the creation of the Global Commission on International Migration (2003) and the first High-Level Dialogue (HLD) on International Migration and Development (2006) (Bayona, 2012; De la Mora, 2020). As underlined by Antoine Pécoud, however, the Global Compact for Migration was designed with the concern to avoid disagreements, and is grounded in the pressing need to depoliticise migration: ‘This search for consensus leads to a depoliticization of migration. The GCM cannot eliminate the controversies and disputes over migration, but can reach […] a certain level of discursive coherence in which they are neutralised’ (Pécoud, 2021). Such a smooth approach is possible thanks to the coexistence of two conflicting perspectives on how human mobility should be governed: on the one hand, there is an open vision, promoted by countries from the global Souths that are mainly departure countries, and on the other hand, there is a more restrictive approach, promoted by global North countries, based on a logic of control. In this context, the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants (2016) established the basis for human security as a paradigm of migration diplomacy (De la Mora, 2020). Within the framework of the New York Declaration, the international commitment of member states also led to the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees (UNHCR, 2018).

3International commitments such as the Global Compact imply the operational execution of actions at different levels, from the international to the subnational and between different governmental and non-governmental actors. This is related to the fact that ‘migration should be part of regional, national and local level development planning and strategies, from initial context assessments, strategic goal-setting and planning, right through to monitoring and evaluation’ (Foresti, Hagen-Zanker and Dempster, 2018, 5). In this regard, ‘[the] 2016 New York Declaration and the negotiations regarding the Global Compacts have broadened the possibilities and patterns of [the multilevel governance] of migration policy’ (Panizzon and van Riemsdijk, 2019, 1232). Due to specific configurations and realities, however, there are a variety of migration governance arrangements outside the global North that the field of migration studies has not yet paid enough attention to.

4In the context of the 2030 Agenda and the Global Compacts, this Volume, the 14th of International Development Policy, explores aspects of human mobility that are positive for sustainable development, with a particular emphasis on the global Souths and multilevel governance. This approach allows us to recognise jurisdictional levels as well as normative and empirical implications related to politics, policy and polity (Piattoni, 2010).

5This chapter refers to the global Souths in the plural. This approach is not intended as simply a grammatical perspective. Above all it is a question of recognising the differences that exist between the countries that are grouped within this identity or category. The chapter connects migration effects to sustainable development in the global Souths through a multilevel governance approach. Multilevel governance in this Volume is understood as the multiplicity of layers of governance that overlap at the global, interregional, regional, national and subnational levels. So, the spatial dimension of this Volume refers to contributions to migration studies from the global Souths in relation to different levels of migration governance. Thus, analytical approaches from the global Souths and migration policies are studied, with particular attention being paid to differences and similarities across regions, countries and subnational territories of this geographic space.

6We understand ‘global Souths’ as a meta category that refers to both a material and an ideational ensemble. From a geographic perspective it is associated with Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, and contrasts with the global North. It is commonly linked to socio-economically disadvantaged and less-powerful nations, often viewed as departure countries for migration. It comprises regions of the globe that have in common a political, social and economic history rooted in the inequalities of a colonial or imperialist past (Alden, Morphet and Viera, 2010). As underlined by Haug et al., the term global South is a general rubric for decolonised nations located roughly but not exclusively south of the old colonial centres of power. It has been used to discuss not only systematic inequalities stemming from the ‘colonial encounter’ but also the potential of alternative sources of power and knowledge (Haug, Braveboy-Wagner and Maihold, 2021). This latter aspect is of critical interest to the present Volume as we aim to shed light on how the global Souths can offer a heuristic approach to the study of migration governance.

7The time frame of this Volume is the current context of migration, and includes challenges such as COVID-19, the rise of nationalisms, an increase in xenophobia, the turning to a new Westphalian system, and public policies that impact migration negatively, especially in the five dimensions of sustainable development. The Volume also focuses on opportunities, such as the design and implementation of public policies that impact migration positively. Again, especially in these five dimensions.

8The Volume is grounded in the social sciences, notably international relations, sociology, international law, public administration and economics, and uses governance as an analytical framework. Governance, though, requires definition. According to Marcela López-Vallejo, governance is inserted into the theoretical approaches of international relations that recognise the dynamism of reality, in which change coexists with rules, forms of collaboration and coordination (López-Vallejo, 2021). Drawing on its etymological origins—in Latin, gubernator—governance can be defined as the manner in which something is regulated. It means a self-acting contrivance for regulation, but also refers to an entity or person who steers. Governance requires some form of patterned regularity and connotes an authoritative system of rule (Biersteker, 2015). It indicates a set of rules and practices with the purpose of managing an issue. Global governance describes a process of rule-making and includes activities such as agenda-setting, negotiation, implementation, monitoring and enforcement. Its practice illustrates how a wide range of actors—notably states and international organisations—approach and deal with a policy domain or activity. The governance of migration is, on a global scale, very fragmented. There are the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compacts (Migration and Refugees), but Betts underlines that there are no formal or coherent multilateral institutional frameworks regulating state responses to international migration (Betts, 2011). The proliferation of soft law, for example, has been analysed both as a catalyst and as a symptom of global migration governance (Chetail, 2019). For Koslowski, global migration governance is divided into three global mobility regimes—namely, a refugee regime, a travel regime and a labour migration regime (Koslowski, 2011). Migration should also be analysed from a multilevel perspective, especially in relation to development.

9In this Volume, the concept of development is approached from a broad, holistic perspective, including aspects associated with human rights, well-being and environmental sustainability. The concept crosses sectors and involves a wide array of actors, including migrants. This multi-stakeholder perspective acquires relevance in the framework of sustainable development, as it seeks alternative forms of governance that promote people-centred public policies. Prime examples include public policies that have been designed and implemented with migration firmly in mind and have at the same time promoted sustainable development, notably taking account of the critical contribution of diasporas, beyond the positive effect of remittances, including return skilled migration.

10While it is common in the literature to find references to the negative aspects of migration, the authors of this volume emphasise the positive contribution of human mobility in countries of origin, of transit, and of destination, while still considering migration’s negative effects, as suggested by Marta Foresti, Jessica Hagen-Zanker and Helen Dempster. These authors argue that ‘migration is one of the defining features of the 21st century and contributes significantly to all aspects of economic and social development everywhere. It can have both positive and negative impacts on development outcomes in origin, transit and host countries – depending on the policies in place’ (Foresti, Hagen-Zanker and Dempster, 2018, 1).

11The nexus of migration and sustainable development is one of the key contributions this thematic volume makes to the debate. Although this interactive relationship has been studied in the literature (Gisselquist and Tarp, 2019), there are still links to be explored, especially related to the 17 objectives of the 2030 Agenda and the 23 objectives of the GCM (Foresti, Hagen-Zanker and Dempster, 2018). Addressing these links also requires analysis that takes a human rights perspective on development, not only because ‘[without] the protection of human rights, the human development potential of migration will be hampered’ (ACP Observatory on Migration, 2014, 127), but also because the 2030 Agenda is also a human rights agenda.

12This thematic volume features contributions from different regions of the global Souths. The reasoning behind this choice is threefold. First, there is a recognition in the international relations literature that regions are becoming a basic pillar of international policy due to the impact that their dynamics (threats, opportunities, diffusion of norms, learning and socialisation processes) have on the construction of global agendas (Costa, 2013). Based on the idea of concentric circles, African States used to promote regional ways of dealing with global issues (Amegan and Degila, 2016). During the diplomatic negotiations that led to the 2030 Agenda, for example, African states promoted the urgent need to protect biodiversity and an ambitious commitment to fight deforestation and desertification through the Common African Position (African Union, 2014). Second, in the migration governance literature

the regional level has been the most progressive. This is because states are willing to cooperate with each other outside the multilateral level, based on their shared common interests at the regional level, their ability to negotiate deeper commitments with fewer partners and the fact that a significant amount of cross-border movements take place within regional spaces.

Bisong, 2019, 1294

13Third, the consequences of migration in the global Souths have traditionally been relatively sparsely considered in migration studies (Rayp, Ruyssen and Marchand, 2020). In this sense, ‘building knowledge about migration governance and policy in the Global South’ (Gisselquist and Tarp, 2019, 247) constitutes a priority for research and policy. As underlined in a UN report published in 2021, most of international migration is regional:

In 2020, nearly half of all international migrants resided in the region from which they originated, with Europe accounting for the largest share of intra-regional migration: 70 per cent of migrants born in Europe reside in another European country. The share of intra-regional migration among migrants originating in sub‑Saharan Africa was 63 per cent. At the other end of the spectrum, Central and South Asia had the largest share of its diaspora residing outside the region, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, and Northern America.

UN DESA, 2020

14 With the above firmly in mind, this chapter answers the following questions, which also guide this thematic volume:

15What type of migration policies and programmes have been implemented in the global Souths to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the goals of the Global Compacts? How are these actions managed through a multilevel governance approach?

16What are the dimensions of sustainable development? How can public policies on migration influence sustainable development positively, beyond the positive effect of remittances? To what extent do migration policies produce negative outcomes?

17What are the main arguments of the authors of this Volume, especially regarding the multilevel governance of migration, including the framework provided by the 2030 Agenda, the Global Compacts (Migration and Refugees), and the five dimensions of sustainable development? Can we identify positive and negative public policies regarding the governance of migration? What specific spatial and temporal dimensions of migration policies designed by countries from the global Souths are addressed by each contribution? To what extent are COVID-19, the rise of nationalisms, increasing xenophobia, and a turning to a new Westphalian system—among other issues—challenges for human mobility? What opportunities can we identify from each contribution, beyond the positive effect of remittances?

18These questions contribute to migration studies by underlying the relevance of the 2030 Agenda and its goals, targets and indicators, particularly indicator 10.7.2, which refers to the ‘number of countries with migration policies that facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people’ (UNSD, 2021, 11). Further, the aim of these questions is to identify and discuss ‘good practices’ in the global Souths.

19This chapter is divided into three further sections. The first presents the multilevel governance approach and its connection to the SDGs and the Global Compacts (Migration and Refugees). Further, it proposes some analytical means of studying the differences and similarities of the global Souths in the current migratory context. The second of the three sections addresses the five dimensions of sustainable development and gives some examples of how public policies on migration can influence sustainable development positively or negatively. In the third and final section we present the various chapters of the Volume through the lenses of multilevel governance and sustainable development.

2. The Multilevel Governance Approach: An Analytical Lens for Studying Migration and the Global Souths in the Current Framework of Sustainable Development

20Governance of migration operates through a multilevel framework involving subnational, national, regional and international (multilateral) policies. At the multilateral level, the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda, the Global Compact for Migration, and the Global Compact on Refugees are examples of normative instruments that guide the actions of nation states and non-state actors. It is interesting to note that these normative instruments were created as a result of a series of negotiations that included a multiplicity of actors from both the global North and the global Souths. A case in point is the negotiations that led to the final text of the Global Compact for Migration. Two countries, one from the global North (Switzerland) and one from the global Souths (Mexico) took leadership roles. Switzerland hosts the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in Geneva, and Mexico hosts an important IOM office, in Mexico City, with close links to the Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, in San José, Costa Rica. Both countries have a history of being distinguished and active actors in multilateral arenas, but they also have something else in common: they host immigrant communities and have therefore implemented legal frameworks vis-à-vis migration.

21Various dimensions of the multilevel governance approach are interrelated. As are economic, social, and environmental causes of migration. Human mobility is not new. People have always migrated to seek better living conditions, to study and gain new skills, or to flee from armed conflicts, authoritarian regimes and natural disasters, and still do. Today, we can add migration to flee the negative impacts of climate change to that list. Migration has always been linked to economic and social development, but it is usually seen as the consequence of inequalities. Mobility has increased both numerically and proportionally over time, exceeding the forecasts of international organisations. Another of the great differences between the past and the present is the current existence of normative frameworks that have been negotiated and agreed at an international level in order to make migration safe, orderly and regular. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), one of the most significant changes to the field recently concerns migration governance (IOM, 2019).

22In the last three decades, international migration has increased from 2.9 percent to 3.5 per cent of the world’s population (IOM, 2019). The prevailing opinion in developed countries is that migration flows have reached crisis point, against the backdrop of a rise in populist discourse and the emergence of new challenges. These challenges include, but are not limited to, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reminded us of ‘the political tensions associated with the field of immigration and health, highlighting the central role that nationalism, racism and xenophobia play in determining responses to communicable diseases’ (Vearey, Gruchy and Maple, 2021, 1) in countries of both the global Norths and the global Souths. Thus, migration is alarmingly depicted as a threat to national security, identity, and values. Migration, though, can also be a key driver of development, particularly if one moves beyond a securitised discourse developed via international co-operation on travel security (Koslowski, 2019).

23Awad and Natarajan argue that

much of the dominant discourse on migration turns on binaries: some migrants are voluntary, others are forced; some are international and others are internal; some are legal and others are irregular; and, perhaps the most formative of the binaries, some are migrants whilst others are refugees. In actuality, people usually move for reasons of economic betterment.

Awad and Natarajan, 2018, 52

24The authors not only criticise these Manichaean discourses, they also make it evident that they have been imposed from the dominant global North, which ‘limit[s] or constrain[s] our knowledge, governance, and practices, particularly with regard to implications for the Global South, which makes up most of the world yet rarely receives most of our attention’ (Awad and Natarajan, 2018, 46). Deepening their analysis, they declare that ‘the dominant discourse of migration assumes that most migration happens in the Global North and ignores that movement and mobility of people had taken place in the South long before the emergence of European-like nation-states limiting migration’ (Awad and Natarajan, 2018, 52).

25The African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) Observatory on Migration, a 2014 report that ‘describes global trends of South–South migration and identifies relevant practices to harness the potential impact of South–South migration on development’ (ACP Observatory on Migration, 2014, iii), estimates that ‘roughly half of all migrants originating from Southern countries reside in another developing country’, and states, ‘South–South migration is overwhelmingly intraregional and extra regional mobility is relatively small compared to it. Nevertheless, extra regional migration represents an important trend which needs to be taken into consideration’ (ACP Observatory on Migration, 2014, 1). Moreover, the report affirms that ‘increasing South–South cooperation is creating new links among often geographically and culturally distant developing countries’ (ACP Observatory on Migration, 2014, 2).

26Awad and Natarajan present more up-to-date figures, drawing from the 2017 United Nations International Migration Report, which states that the total number of international migrants increased from 173 million to 258 million from 2000 to 2017. The authors show that there is evidence that half of this increase took place in the global North and the other half in the global South (Awad and Natarajan, 2018). Specifically,

in 2017, 38 percent of international migration was from South to South countries, 35 percent from South to North, 20 percent from North to North and 6 percent from North to South. In Africa and Asia, 80 percent of international migrants headed for destinations in the two regions, the corresponding share being 60 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Awad and Natarajan, 2018, 49


From the origin perspective, 60 percent of international migrants originating in Asia remained in the Asian continent, while the corresponding figure for Africa was 53 percent. However, for West Africa, the proportion of international migrants whose destination country was in the sub-region rose to 84 percent, seven times larger than migration to any other part of the world. Only four countries in West Africa had emigrant populations who chose an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country as their top destination. All of this means that migrants from the Global South(s) are staying more and more in the Global South(s) when they migrate. These authors forecast that the flow of South–South migration will increase in the coming years.

Awad and Natarajan, 2018, 49

28Moreover, they state that countries of the global Souths

host 84 percent of the world’s refugees, and this percentage is increasing, with the current number the highest in more than two decades. The poorest countries in the world—the least developed states or (LDCs)—host 28 percent of all refugees, and this number is also increasing. Indeed, just ten states host 57 percent of all refugees. What is clear from these statistics is that, first, the refugee issue is almost entirely confined to the Global South; and second, those least able to bear the responsibility are forced to shoulder it.

Awad and Natarajan, 2018, 52

29Thus, paying ‘more attention to migration in the South—who is moving, where, and why—is one way to change how we understand and talk about migration. It can move us toward a more accurate, effective, and just governance of migration’ (ibid., 55). In accordance with this advice, a focus on South–South migration is one of the major objectives of this thematic volume.

30The ACP Observatory (2014) has analysed the causes of South–South migration:

The reasons for choosing these new South–South migration corridors are often related on the one side to the tightening of European immigration policies and the proximity to the United States. [...] Furthermore, it has to be pointed [out] that the expanding economy of Latin American countries is increasingly attracting labour migrants. Finally, Latin America and the Caribbean are often considered as […] less xenophobic and more receptive societies, especially by African citizens. [...] Policy responses have been adopted in several countries in order to facilitate the protection of [migrants’] social and human rights although discrimination and exclusion are often reported.

ACP Observatory on Migration, 2014, 7

31Some of these causes are evidenced in the chapters of this thematic volume, including proximity to the United States for Mexicans and Central Americans and social policies that guarantee access to rights—such as the right to healthcare—for example in the cases of Argentina and Chile, countries that have been receiving migration from other countries of the global Souths.

32Ensuring access to human rights is definitely associated with good practice in the governance of migration, not only by countries of the global Souths but in general. In a context of political and ideological tensions, migration governance has advanced through debate and thanks to the adoption of the principles of the 2030 Agenda. While some discussions focused on the use of terms to account for migration as a human process, IOM advanced the delimitation of principles through the Migration Governance Framework (MiGOF), which requires: 1) Adherence to international standards and fulfilment of migrants’ rights; 2) formulating policy using evidence and a ‘whole-of-government’ approach; and 3) engagement with partners to address migration and related issues. According to IOM, these guidelines facilitate the ‘orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people through planned and well-managed migration policies’ (IOM, 2020).

33Regarding the terms to be used, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has suggested using ‘governance’ instead of ‘migration management’ because ‘management is used more around control (or even containment) of migration. [“Management”] is used mainly around border management. The term governance comprises a set of regimes, structures and actors involved in human mobility’ (ECLAC, 2019, 203). It is important to note that ‘governance’ has also garnered some critical appreciation from countries of the global Souths. With regard to global governance, meanwhile, López-Vallejo argues that it

34is assumed that governments and global actors (cities, provinces, municipalities or [non-governmental organisations]) have participation, development, financing and institutional capacity schemes that make them ‘laboratories of democracy’ and that they participate in ‘bottom-up’ governance architectures. However, in the Global South, local actors with these capacities are scarce; they are generally fragile or subject to highly centralized schemes of their national governments (López-Vallejo, 2021, 542, translation by the authors).

35So, in the global Souths there are operational and capacity limitations of various kinds (including management competencies), as well as asymmetries with regard to power and to the recognition of inequalities that prevail between and within countries.

36For the Mexican researcher Francisco Porras (2016), governance is characterised by being an ‘umbrella term’; since there is no consensus on its meaning, it gives ‘refuge to diverse perspectives, theories, definitions and methodologies that have elements among themselves, and […] is identified as part of a large body of literature’ (Porras, 2016, 25, translation by the authors). Porras offers a typology that takes in various contributions to the concept and classifies them according to:

37a) their generality or degree of abstraction (governance can be seen as a theory, an analytical framework, a practice, a dilemma, a process, an interdisciplinary research program, a power technique or a socio-cybernetic system);

38b) the institutions and resources of the actors (governance can be social, private, self-organised…);

39c) the steering capacities of the state-government (meta-governance; regulatory governance; without the presence of the state or as New Public Management);

40d) the redefinition of the public (public governance; new governance; modern governance; soft governance; evolutionary governance; etc.);

41e) new steering instruments (e-governance; information technology (IT) governance);

42f) indicators related to companies or organisations (corporate governance and organisational governance);

43g) indicators pertaining to international relations (governance as international interdependence; global and regional governance);

44h) indicators related to territorial spheres (national, metropolitan, local, multilevel and regional governance).

  • 1 Gary Marks proposed the concept of multilevel governance as a path to ‘understanding some of the de (...)

45In the complex endeavour to understand what governance is and its respective adjectivation to understanding various interconnected problems, we consider multilevel governance to be a tool for recognising the territorial process and diversity of the global Souths. For example, Simona Piattoni (2010), who takes up the contributions of Gary Marks (1992),1 recalls that the value of multilevel governance lies in ‘the transformation of the national state, both in terms of its territorial articulation and in terms of its authoritative decision-making arrangements’ (Piattoni, 2010, 3), which means that it analyses how political mobilisation (politics), policymaking arrangements (policy) and state structures (polity) ‘intersect and decid[e] how they are related to one another. It also implies tackling […] theoretical, empirical, and normative implications [in territorial jurisdictions, which] are becoming ever more relevant’ (Piattoni, 2010, 9).

46Territorial jurisdictions acquire importance not only through regional integration processes but also through the adoption of international regulatory frameworks. One such framework is the 2030 Agenda, within which territorialisation is promoted. Territorialisation refers to the ‘process by which territorial actors appropriate the commitments adopted in the 2030 Agenda, which is made visible in the implementation of strategies and actions to advance in the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals’ (Regional Observatory on Planning for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2019, 2).

3. Migration and Sustainable Development: Actions that Affect Migration Positively in order to Leave No One Behind

47The concept of sustainable development was defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987 in its report Our Common Future, commonly known as the Brundtland Report (WCED, 1987) in recognition of the work of former Norwegian Prime Minister (1981, 1986–1989 and 1990–1996) Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Commission’s Chairperson. In the report, sustainable development is described as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (WCED, 1987, 41). This definition of sustainability encompassed three dimensions: economic, environmental, and social.

48The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development bases its 17 SDGs on this definition, but goes further, delivering a broad conceptualisation of sustainable development through the 5 Ps approach and its five dimensions: people (social), planet (environmental), prosperity (economic), peace, and partnerships. These dimensions are mentioned in the Preamble of the resolution ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ (UNGA, 2015, 1). Migration in general and migration policies in particular can be assessed using these five dimensions, as shown in table 1.1.

Table 1. Five dimensions of sustainable development and their constitutive elements


Constitutive elements/criteria for assessment


End poverty and hunger in all their forms and dimensions, and guarantee the potential of all people, with equal opportunities and in a healthy environment.


Through sustainable consumption and production and other measures, protect the planet from degradation, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change so that it can support the needs of present and future generations.


Ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.


Foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace, and no peace without sustainable development.


Mobilise the means required to implement the 2030 Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders, and all people.

Source: Authors’ elaboration based on UNGA, 2015, 2.

49Progress in these five dimensions can be evaluated, and at the same time the dimensions constitute aspirations with regard to sustainability in a timeframe extending to 2030. Thus, our sustainability aims no longer involve only economic, social and environmental issues (prosperity, people and planet), they also target, through ‘partnerships’, multi-actor solidarity, and ‘peace’, since it is recognised that ‘there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development’ (UNGA, 2015, 2).

50The 5 Ps affirm that migrants are first and foremost people. The 2030 Agenda is oriented to satisfy people’s needs, from a human rights perspective and with the aim of leaving no one—especially the most vulnerable, including undocumented migrants—behind. People usually, as we have already mentioned, migrate in search of better living conditions, which have economic aspects but also social and environmental aspects. Migration due to environmental causes is forecast to grow given the trends with regard to climate change and natural disasters. Migrants also leave their countries of origin in search of a more peaceful environment, or to flee from war. Multi-stakeholder partnerships—public, private, and public–private—are activated in order to protect migrants. Governments alone can no longer deliver effective migration policies. They need the contributions of non-governmental organisations, international organisations, civil society, business, foundations, etc., and partnerships between these actors.

51Certain non-state actors—including specialised UN agencies, global and regional discussion forums, the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)—have gained influence in the field of migration governance. One important arena in which these actors interact is the Regional Consultative Processes on Migration (RCPs), which encompass informal forums of governmental and non-governmental networks. The aim of the Processes is to discuss migration-related issues at the multilateral or the regional level and to create new partnerships among countries of origin, transit, and destination (Neira, 2020, 251, citing Kron, 2011). For example, the International Organization for Migration successfully developed a number of partnerships with global Souths groupings—including the African Union and the Arab League—thus contributing to the negotiation of the Global Compact for Migration (IOM, 2021).

52One of the key questions guiding this Volume is how do public policies affect migration positively, beyond the positive effect of remittances? As explained by Khattab and Mahmud,

One of the consequences of migrants’ settlement abroad and their transnational engagement in their origin country is the development potential of migrants’ remittance[s] and transnationalism. In addition to their remittance[s] as an alternative development fund, these migrants facilitate information sharing, technology transfer, foreign direct investment and so forth that together enhance their origin country’s economic growth (Khattab and Mahmud, 2019, 3)

53This can be seen, for example, in Amanda Coffie’s contribution to this thematic volume (Chapter 5), in which she analyses diasporas’ influence on development in countries of origin, citing—as positive aspects of migration—activities of home-town communities and organisations and ‘remittances’ of skills and knowledge.

54Migration has another important positive effect: it is considered one of the most powerful strategies for poverty alleviation. If migrants are safe, well integrated and healthy and their rights are protected, they will contribute much more to development in their communities of origin and destination. It is thus necessary to implement social security systems that guarantee protection with regard to healthcare, that are inclusive, free of discrimination, and sensitive to contemporary aspects of human mobility, and that ensure the portability of rights and social security benefits (IOM, 2016, 4).

55One way in which policy can affect migration positively is to promote education among migrants and refugees. A case in point is Rwanda, the government of which ‘promoted a community-integrated approach to social services, meaning that where possible refugees and local Rwandans have access to the same services including schools’ (Bilgili et al., 2019, 292). The approach, the aim of which vis-à-vis education has been the incorporation of refugees into local schools, has led to the building of extra classrooms and the provision of additional materials and educators. In the long run the aim is to allow refugees to achieve socio-economic inclusion, and to reduce their dependence on aid (Bilgili et al., 2019). As Bilgili et al. note, the ‘long-term impact of refugees depends on how a response is provided to […] increased demands [from] various stakeholders’ (Bilgili et al., 2019, 293). In terms of education in Rwanda, the authors ‘show that individuals who were of primary school age when the [educational] camps in their area were operational have better schooling outcomes’ (Bilgili et al., 2019, 299).

56In this thematic volume, contributors enumerate policies that are positive with regard to migration in, for example, South America. Gabriela Agosto and Fabiana Rubinstein (Chapter 12) give examples of public policies that are positive vis-à-vis migrants and that provide equal access to education and healthcare. Ariel González Levaggi and Luisa Feline Freier (Chapter 13) present the Argentine integration policy for Venezuelan migrants, and its benefits in terms of regularisation, the validation of professional degrees, and access to social services. In Chapter 14, Jossette Iribarne, Andrea Fernández Benítez, Marcela Pezoa, Claudia Padilla, Macarena Chepoe and René Leyva Flores analyse the formulation and implementation processes of the National Health Policy for International Migrants in Chile, a policy that does not discriminate between nationals and migrants regarding access to healthcare.

57Although positive migration policies can drive development, countries of the global Souths have unfortunately also implemented policies that provoke the opposite effect. ​​In Chapter 11, René Leyva Flores and co-authors posit that border closures and other confinement measures imposed by some Central American countries negatively affected migration, not contributing to a reduction in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to the extent that policies in countries such as Mexico and Nicaragua—which maintained open borders and implemented more flexible mobility measures—did.

58The case of China is interesting. The superpower projects an image of itself as a developing country and a partner of South–South cooperation, but some of its policies have not been favourable to sustainable development in the global Souths. For example, China has employed Chinese migrant workers in extractivist projects in the global Souths, including for gold extraction in Ghana.

From […] mid-2000–2013, approximately 50,000 irregular Chinese migrants entered Ghana to engage in small-scale gold mining. These migrants overwhelmingly hailed from Shanglin County, in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region — an area with a tradition of alluvial gold mining, and also a nationally designated ‘poverty-stricken county’ (pinkun xian) that is home to the Zhuang ethnic minority group. Upon arrival in Ghana, the Chinese miners introduced new machinery and technology that dramatically increased the production of gold, although at the cost of serious environmental degradation. […] The arrival of the Chinese miners was controversial, not least for reasons related to their legal status. According to the Minerals and Mining Act 2006 (Act 703, Section 83a), artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is reserved for Ghanaian citizens (Parliament of the Republic of Ghana, 2006). Thus, it is illegal for any foreign nationals to engage in small-scale mining operations. (Botchwey et al., 2019, 310)

59The Chinese presence also provoked disputes between local artisanal miners and Chinese miners in relation to access to mining sites. Chinese miners were accused of displacing local miners, and of being involved in corruption, robbery, and gold smuggling (Botchwey et al. 2019, 311). The Ghanaian government did not react. This lack of a public policy is considered a public policy (by omission), in this case a negative one. While for years it seemed that the Ghanaian government was ignoring what was happening, in May 2013, pressed by the media, President Mahama established a ‘military-style task force against illegal mining’, resulting in the arrest of foreign miners and 4,500 Chinese nationals being deported or forced to leave ‘voluntarily’ (Botchwey et al., 2019, 311).

60There follows a synthesis of the chapters of this thematic volume, and some observations on the relation between the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda and the Global Compacts (Migration and Refugees).

4. The Chapters of this Thematic Volume

61In addition to this introductory chapter, the Volume comprises thirteen chapters, which refer to four regions of the global Souths: Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and South and Central America. These contributions were written by authors with varied experiences of migration. Either they were born in countries of origin, transit or destination, or are migrants themselves. Moreover, the contributors to the Volume come from a multiplicity of disciplines and sectors, all being scholars and some having experience as practitioners or as members of international organisations. All this brings diverse perspectives to the analysis of the governance of migration from the global Souths.

62In Chapter 2, Yousra Abourabi explores the case of Morocco and its liberal migration policy designed in response to the migration policies of the global North. Morocco has, Abourabi notes, become a new migratory junction that serves not only as a corridor to Europe but also as a destination for African migrants. This is due to Morocco’s diplomatic efforts, which project a welcoming image to its African neighbours, and to Morocco’s co-operative and humanitarian actions. However, while it is developing a positive migration policy and advocating for the de-securitisation of migration, Morocco is facing both external and internal challenges. According to Abourabi, the former include the integration of normative security approaches into the security apparatus and attempts by the European Union (EU) to externalise migration control, the latter structural weaknesses of integration and inclusiveness policies and the stigmatisation of migration in the media. The author concludes with a proposal to extend the typology of states developed by Adamson and Tsourapas (2020) by adding a new category—the ‘consensual differentiation’ state—which would include Morocco. The idea of this new category is expanded upon by the author in other of her works, and consensual differentiation can be seen as the autonomous quality that Morocco can employ to differentiate itself from European migration policy based on its institutions and the legitimacy of its implementation of its migration policies (Abourabi, 2017).

63In Chapter 3, Daniel Naujoks offers an analysis of all current United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) adopted between 2015 and 2018 in the Middle East and North Africa region. Naujoks is particularly interested in the intersection of national migration and mobility policies, regional and global norms, and the role of international organisations and development partners. In order to measure the incorporation of migration and displacement issues into development plans and policies, Naujoks introduces the Index of Mobility Inclusion (IMI). The IMI consists of three components―intensity of mobility inclusion, modality, and dimensionality of mobility inclusion―and serves as a tool for detecting various mobility-related issues in policies and programmes. Overall, the analysis has shown that mobility realities, such as migrants, refugees, and remittances, are insufficient to explain countries’ different scores on the IMI. Thus, Naujoks proposes some hypotheses as to what determines migration-related issues’ inclusion in UNDAFs: mobility realities, norm creation as a result of international discourses, national priorities, and specific UN processes.

64The way migration influences development in countries of origin is studied by Gerasimos Tsourapas in Chapter 4. His analysis is focused on Egypt—a state with a liberal emigration policy and the main provider of labour migrants in the Middle East. Tsourapas approaches the migration–development nexus by breaking down the migration process into three steps: exit (emigration), overseas (time abroad), and return. Since 1971, with the goal of combating unemployment and overpopulation, Egypt has changed its migration policy in order to benefit from emigration by promoting exit, encouraging the overseas diaspora to send remittances and ensuring the return of highly skilled citizens to Egypt. Tsourapas concludes with the idea that the states in the global South perceive migration as a multi-tiered process, and tailor both national and foreign policies to benefit from cross-border mobility.

65From a similar angle, Amanda Coffie’s analysis in Chapter 5 focuses on the influence that diasporas have on development in their countries of origin. In particular, Coffie studies the case of Ghana, its diaspora, and the way financial remittances are favoured by governmental policies over any other form of ‘remittances’. According to Coffie, the Ghanaian diaspora is a major contributor to the economic development of Ghana through its contributions and cash inflows, which outweigh foreign direct investment made under poverty alleviation programmes. Through her research, she addresses the different ways in which the Ghanaian diaspora contributes to economic and community development: financial remittances (direct investments and money transfers), in-kind remittances, the activities of hometown associations, and ‘remittances’ in skills and knowledge. In conclusion, Coffie states that Ghana, like many African states, does not accommodate, via its development policy, the heterogeneous composition of its diaspora and the varied ways in which that diaspora can contribute to the country’s development.

66In Chapter 6, Jonathan Crush provides an analysis of national government responses to xenophobia with regard to migrants in post-apartheid South Africa. Crush studies the available data on the population’s attitude to migrants, refugees, migration policies and refugee protection, concluding that high levels of xenophobia in society are translated into xenophobic behaviour and collective violence. Crush discusses the response of the South African government to xenophobic attitudes to migrants, a response that can be characterised as a policy of displacement as the government denies both the fact of xenophobia and its own responsibility by displacing blame onto criminals, criminality, and migrants themselves. Crush concludes with the observation that the South African government’s policy of xenophobia denialism results in its failure to fulfil its commitment under the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) Objective 17 (Section) 33 ‘to eliminate all forms of discrimination, condemn and counter expressions, acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, violence, xenophobia and related intolerance against all migrants in conformity with international human rights law’.

67In contrast to the preceding chapters, in Chapter 7 Wei Li, Ling Ma, Yining Tan and Meixin Liu examine local-level talent recruitment and retention policy initiatives. In particular, the authors focus on the talent recruitment policies established by the City of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, China, in the period 1999–2019. The authors analyse and compare policy documents that are directed at finding ways to attract both Chinese returnees and foreign professionals. The authors note how China has shifted from being a migrant-sending to being a migrant-receiving state alongside the development of its national economy. The analysis allows us to track the evolution of the recruitment policies established in Guangzhou. Initially aimed at returnees, the policies grew to include foreign talent as the economic conditions of the city improved. Among the issues raised by the authors are the fairness and effectiveness of the recruitment process, the necessity of a feedback mechanism, and the balance between the ‘race for talent’ and the achievement of development goals. The chapter concludes with a comparison of the outcomes of talent recruitment policies introduced in China and in India.

68In Chapter 8, Binod Khadria, Narender Thakur and Ratnam Mishra look at the relationship between migration, health and development in South Asian countries and China immediately before the COVID-19 outbreak and throughout the pandemic until early 2021. The authors shed light on and compare statements made with regard to the GCM by certain of its signatories—India, Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and China—and note statements made by Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Afghanistan and Bhutan. The authors contrast the critical tone of the statements made by India with that of those made by the other countries, which recognise the positive role of the GCM. The authors then turn to an analysis of levels of economic growth and development and how they are linked to migration flows and health indicators. They note the obvious effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had on world economies, development and healthcare systems, and the correlation between government expenditures, healthcare and development in general. The chapter concludes with policy observations and recommendations with regard to migration data collection, a call for a change in India’s approach to migration and the GCM, and recognition of the importance of collaboration and partnership between countries of origin, transit and destination if the GCM’s objectives are to be achieved.

69In Chapter 9, Jenny Lind Elmaco looks at the state of nursing in, and current trends in the migration of skilled healthcare professionals from, the Philippines. More precisely, she takes stock of the challenges faced by Filipino nurses as both frontline and migrant workers during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. The case of the Philippines is unique, as the country is caught between a local labour market shortage of nurses and supplying the healthcare needs of the international community. With the aim of highlighting the nexus of migration and development, Elmaco based the research that contributed to this chapter on United Nations SDGs and complementary targets: SDG 3, on global health, and SDG target 10.7, on ‘orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people’. She concludes with recommendations for the international community and the government of the Philippines with regard to legal framework and capacity development measures, based on the findings of assessments and interviews conducted.

70Silvia Núñez García and Consuelo Dávila Pérez address, in Chapter 10, the measures proposed by Mexico between 2018 and 2020 in response to the challenges posed for Mexico’s foreign policy by the migrant caravans from the Northern Triangle of Central America—Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The authors analyse Mexico’s foreign policy with regard to migration and its transformation over recent years as a reflection of international development and crises. The authors pay particular attention to how Mexican migration policies and attitudes to migrants changed from 2018 to 2020 during the terms of Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto (2018) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2019–2020), especially given the pressure exerted by US President Donald Trump’s Administration. In their analysis, the authors note the contradictions and lack of coherence in the Mexican government’s migration policy and proposals to foster regional development.

71In Chapter 11, René Leyva Flores, Karol Rojas and Belkis Aracena further this Volume’s analysis of migration policies in Central America and Mexico. More specifically, the authors analyse the different approaches to border closure and restriction-of-movement policies to control the COVID-19 pandemic adopted by Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Mexico—countries that share borders and a history of robust intra-regional population movement. A comparative case study and content and document analysis allows the authors to conclude that the Central American countries implemented more restrictive mobility policies (border closures, curfews, confinement, etc.) whereas Mexico and Nicaragua did not impose cross-border or general mobility restrictions. According to Flores et al., border closures and confinement measures did not contribute to curbing the spread of COVID-19 and there was no difference in COVID-19 caseloads between those countries that implemented movement restrictions and those that did not.

72Gabriela Agosto and Fabiana Rubinstein discuss the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and SDGs in Argentina along with the GCM and other public policies impacting migrants from 2015 through 2020 in Chapter 12. The authors evidence that Argentina is interested in the well-being of migrants and has developed public policies favourable to migrants by providing equal access to social services such as education and healthcare. In their assessment of Argentina’s public policy, the authors recognise challenges related to structural deficits, social inequality and achieving economic and productive development and the SDGs and that these challenges were further exacerbated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors provide recommendations on developing social policies specifically targeting migrants.

73Ariel González Levaggi and Luisa Feline Freier offer, in Chapter 13, a comparative analysis of the national policy responses to Venezuelan immigration in Argentina and Peru from a development perspective for the period 2015–2020. The authors review the approaches to Venezuelan displacement taken by the respective governments through the triangular relationship between state capacity, immigration and the development of policy responses. Despite the fact that governments of each country have recognised the development potential of highly skilled Venezuelan immigrants, the integration measures and policies developed by each state have been different. While Argentina has been more successful in integrating Venezuelan migrants through regularisation, validation of professional degrees and providing access to social services, Peru has only dealt with highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, as agents of development in the context of COVID-19.

74In Chapter 14, Jossette Iribarne W., Andrea Fernández Benítez, Marcela Pezoa G., Claudia Padilla, Macarena Chepo and René Leyva Flores analyse the formulation and implementation process of the National Health Policy for International Migrants in Chile (NHPIM), as well as its short-term results, from 2014 to 2017. The NHPIM was developed as a response to the challenges economically disadvantaged international migrants with irregular status face in accessing health services in the country. An analysis of the drafting process of the NHPIM enables the authors to draw out the inclusive, participatory, representative and whole-of-society approach taken by the Chilean government. According to the authors, the example of Chile proves that the practical inclusion of migrants in the framework of the principles of ‘leave no one behind’ and ‘guarantee human rights for all’ under the UN 2030 Agenda’s SDGs is both possible and feasible.

5. Conclusions

75It is difficult to capture migration phenomena from a global governance perspective, notably because we are living in a complex and interconnected world. Consequently, experiences from the global Souths grounded in a multilevel perspective offer an interesting way to approach migration governance, especially in relation to development. This multilevel perspective allows a comprehensive analysis that takes into consideration the global, regional, interregional, national and subnational levels, where a multiplicity of governmental and non-state actors play different roles. We have made reference here to the multi-stakeholder approach brought about by the 2030 Agenda, which, together with the Global Compacts (Migration and Refugees), constitute an example of the global governance of migration. Focusing on the global or systemic level does not mean we are living in a world where all actors play the same role. If we want to advance a more nuanced understanding of our contemporary international system, we should pay more attention to experiences outside the ‘core’, as human realities and policy activities are not conceived in an identical way everywhere. This is why a perspective from the global Souths is more crucial than ever before. In further research on this topic, presenting a comparative perspective on the governance of migration by countries of the global North and of the global Souths would be an important contribution. The motto of the 2030 Agenda, ‘leave no one behind’, is related to developing countries, but also to developed ones, and definitively to migrants, who should have their rights guaranteed everywhere.

76We are certainly, today, experiencing big contradictions. On the one hand, in the present thematic volume we analyse the presence of intertwined global, regional, national and subnational policies that conform the multilevel governance of migration, which in turn opens up opportunities for migrants. On the other hand, migrants face challenges that constrain their human right to emigrate and prevent them accessing a multiplicity of other human rights, such as those related to health, education, housing and labour. All these human rights are related, as we see in this thematic volume, to the five dimensions of sustainable development, starting with the first, people. Migrants should not be left behind. This means we need disaggregated data in order to detect their special needs and ensure there are policies to protect their access to human rights.

77The current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of nationalisms, increasing xenophobia, and a turning to a new Westphalian system and other public policies analysed in this Volume, most of which impact migration negatively, will remain great challenges to the multilevel governance of migration. This imposes the need to study this phenomenon from different perspectives, and in different disciplines and sectors. Although in this Volume we try to provide a comprehensive approach to such challenges, much remains to be done. This Volume constitutes a tribute to the people who dream of a better future away from their places of origin. Migration should be viewed as the moral horizon of a changing world.

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1 Gary Marks proposed the concept of multilevel governance as a path to ‘understanding some of the decision-making dynamics of the European Union’ (Piattoni, 2010, 17).

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Dêlidji Eric Degila and Valeria Marina Valle, Multilevel Governance of Migration for Sustainable Development: Perspectives from the Global SouthsInternational Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 14 | 2022, Online since 28 November 2022, connection on 13 July 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Dêlidji Eric Degila

Dêlidji Eric Degila is a Professor of Practice of International Relations at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. A native of Benin, he completed a doctorate in International Relations at Jean Moulin University (France).  His research interests range from international politics to migration and health issues in the global South. A political scientist and lawyer, he combines transdisciplinary analysis with policymaking perspectives with the purpose of studying complex dynamics that shape praxis along his lines of research. Degila currently chairs the Global South Caucus of the International Studies Association. He serves as member of several, global-scale advisory boards and advises governments, and international organisations such as the African Union, l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the United Nations.

Valeria Marina Valle

Valeria Marina Valle, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, emigrated to Mexico City in 1997. She is the Director of the Department of International Studies at Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, where she is also Professor and Researcher. With a Doctorate in Political and Social Sciences and a Master’s in International Relations from UNAM, and a BA in International Relations from Universidad del Salvador in Argentina, she specialises in international development co-operation, especially regarding the UN 2030 Agenda related to health and migration issues. She has conducted research and teaching at Tec de Monterrey; the European University Institute, Florence; New York University (NYU); University of California, Berkeley; Instituto Mora, CISAN-UNAM and the National Institute of Public Health, Mexico. She is a member of the National System of Researchers, Mexico.

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