How should we understand migration? Many people, communities and states view migration as an opportunity. As a result, over recent decades, more people have aspired to move, and many controls on movement have been relaxed.  Yet for some people, migration remains a necessity rather than a choice; whilst for some communities and states, migration is resisted rather than embraced.

This project is concerned with migration choices in the specific context of development, focusing on the case of West Africa. In Africa, migration is overwhelmingly intra-continental with South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire being the most significant destination countries in terms of numbers. Within West Africa most people move within the sub-region, and ECOWAS, the regional organization of West African states, has sought to facilitate such intra-regional mobility.

West Africa is brimming with young and dynamic people, who are keen to establish a life for themselves. But this is often hampered by missing infrastructure, unemployment or under-employment as well as inequality. Mobility is increasingly an option not only for the privileged but also for those who want to have a bright future but do not have the support or resources that privilege offers.

Within this context, this project asks how and to what extent development interventions affect people’s migration aspirations, decisions and movement? We are working in Guinea, The Gambia and Senegal to explore this question more concretely.

Women in Gambian village laughing together

Our starting points

Mobility – history shows - is foundational. It connects people, enables learning and development, but also challenges through active encounters of difference.

For decades migration knowledge has been narrated by countries of the Global North. We want to challenge these narratives by scrutinizing the knowledge that is available and looking at the issue from different perspectives.

We are particularly interested in the effect of development interventions on migration choices. Conceptually speaking an intervention is an activity which is hierarchically directional. Simply put, one entity has the power and capacity to decide that another entity shows a gap, weakness or need that should be targeted for change – otherwise there is no need to ‘intervene’. The international community has long had a complicated relationship with interventions and colonialism was, unsurprisingly, the most visible.

What happens to migration choices when an intervention is made to promote ‘development’? Beginning with the fundamental presumption that we all have the capacity to make life choices for ourselves, do development interventions widen or narrow migration choices? How do potential and past migrants, state, NGO and international actors talk about the effect of interventions – past and present – on migration choices, and how does this affect the possibility for open choices? And what happens when interventions change?

Our research approach

Details of our research approach are contained in our Inception Phase Report. At its heart, our approach is methodologically innovative because it combines long-established and grounded epistemological approaches with critical and innovative approaches to understanding the world. It prioritizes a gender responsive approach. In West Africa all things migration and development have a visible impact on young men in particular; however, the literature is often silent about young women or adult male and female relationships and their situatedness in the world. Based on this starting point, the project combines:

(a) individual country data collection efforts that are inductive and ethnographic. We believe these produce a richer understanding than an exclusive focus on semi-structured interviews and survey-based research, which is already available in other research projects;

(b) development of an ‘Agent Based Model’ (ABM) to capture the complexity and nonlinear nature of migration dynamics. This will allow us to systematically test the effects of different interventions on migration aspirations in different contexts; and

(c) a strand of work that includes both historical and policy analysis, as well as policy engagement while engaging with the ethnographic and modelling work. This will enable us to ensure ‘triple-loop learning’ in which we track how policy and evidence interact and ensure a region-wide approach is developed.

IOM Research Series - Prof. Richard Black

Professor Richard Black (University of Birmingham) talks about understanding the effects of development interventions on migration choices.

IOM Research Series - Prof. Ester Botta Somparé

Professor Esther Botta Somparé (Université Kofi Annan de Guinée et Université Julius Nyerere de Kankan, Guinea) discusses migration and opportunities in Guinea.

IOM Research Series - Prof. David Hudson

Professor David Hudson (University of Birmingham) offers some insight into agent-based modelling to understand migration decision-making.

IOM Research Series - Prof. Abdoulaye Somapre

Professor Abdoulaye Sompare (Université Julius Nyerere de Kankan, Guinea) talks about migration and development in Guinea.

Our funding

MIGCHOICE is a collaborative and interdisciplinary project of research under Outcome Four of the Safety, Support and Solutions in the Central Mediterranean Route Phase II (SSSII) programme for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Devlopment Office (FCDO).