“Do refugee and migration law affect poverty and economic development? by Mawunya Etsa Kudu.”

The raging winds buffeted the rickety boat, as all the refugees huddled under thread bare blankets in a desperate attempt to keep warm. The rain began to fall steadily and the cold wind whipped their faces, searing their skins with uncommon fierceness.  Their gaunt pale faces were absolute Picassos of misery while the chattering teeth sounded more like the gourd rattles they made merry with in the idyllic days before the civil war had ruined everything. The sharp salty tang of the sea assailed her nostrils reminding her of the bean cakes the women used to hawk on the roadside. The alarm bell rang waking up Fatima from this nightmare that had become a song on her vinyl disc of sleep, stuck on replay. She was bathed in cold sweat and flustered.

 Fatima had come a long way from that refugee ship that drifted towards hope in those perilous seas. She had become a distinguished academic who on that morning was going to give a public lecture at a University on how refugee and migration law affects poverty and economic development and how it could be implemented to improve economic development. She roused her groggy self and began to read over the lecture on her iPad:

It could be asserted that Adam Smith was the first “development economist” and that his Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, was the first treatise on economic development.   The study of the problems and processes of economic development in Africa, Asia and Latin America is, however, a recent endeavour. The thrust of traditional economics is the efficient, least-cost allocation of scarce productive resources and the optimum growth of these resources over time so as to produce an ever-expanding range of goods and services. The study of economic development or development economics is different in that it deals with the economics of contemporary underdeveloped nations with a potpourri of ideological orientations, cultural backgrounds, and very complex yet similar economic problems that usually demand new ideas and novel approaches. The ultimate purpose of development economics is to help understand developing economies in order to help improve the material lives of the majority of the global population and the very theme of this essay gives credence to this fact.

Development could generally be construed as the consistent elevation of an entire society and social system toward a “better” or “more humane’’ life. However, the threads constituting the broad fabric of development include education and health inter alia. The effects of refugee and migration law on education, poverty and health will thus be discussed.

Refugee law can be defined as an aspect of international law which deals with the rights and protection of refugees. Thus broadly; refugee and migration law includes a number of principles and rules that regulate the international obligation of States with respect to migrants. This branch of law is closely linked with economic development and poverty issues because they share the same objectives. As aforementioned, the ultimate goal of development economics is to improve the material lives of the majority of the global population. Similarly; refugee and migration law has been formulated primarily with the aim of bettering the lives of migrants and refugees.                                                    

 On Monday 25th April 2016  the House of Commons, the UK’s lower house of Parliament voted to deny entry to 3000 displaced children from Syria .What happens to the educational progress of these displaced children?  They already lag behind because the conditions in their home country might have made it virtually impossible for regular teaching and learning to move on smoothly. During the rat race of seeking asylum, the primary concerns are for food, clothing and shelter. Education is relegated to the background as primal instinct takes over.

History is replete with invaluable lessons and perhaps not merely a cursory look should be taken at how issues were solved in the past.Kindertransport (Children’s Transport) was the informal name of a series of rescue efforts which brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to  Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940.In the wake of the infamous persecution of the Jews in Germany on 9th November 1938, known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), British authorities agreed to allow an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter Britain from Germany, Austria and  Czech. Organizations and private citizens, in a great display of humanity had to guarantee payment for each child’s care, education and eventual emigration from Britain. In exchange, children were allowed by the British government to enter the country, unaccompanied on temporary travel visas and the understanding was that children would return to their families when peace returned to their native countries.

Children with sponsors went to London to meet their foster families and children without sponsors were housed in Dover court Bay and other facilities until individual families volunteered to take care of them or till hostels could be organized to care for larger groups of children. This rescue mission was a collaborative effort between many organizations and individuals, actually about half of the children lived with foster families and the others stayed in hostels, schools or on farms throughout Great Britain.

 Lord Alf Dubs, who proposed the amendment to the immigration bill that would have allowed 3000 Syrian children enter unaccompanied to the United Kingdom was a beneficiary of the Kindertransport and is thus a quintessential example of how an individual can achieve educational goals and attain academic laurels if Refugee and Migration law is implemented so as to promote education of the migrants.

This approach was certainly better than what is being practiced today, where border control measures keep refugees and children in camps on the outskirts of the country and restrictive legislation makes the asylum seeking process an incredibly tedious one. The children, just stay in these shelters or camps and miss out on educational opportunities, whereas if what was done during the Kindertransport days, were to be practiced now, they would be integrated into foster homes where they could start schooling as soon as possible. It was not a matter of governmental policy only; individuals opened up their homes and volunteered to be foster families. Will such humanity and hospitality be found in these times?



In January 2016, Denmark passed a bill allowing the authorities to seize the jewelry of refugees, the reason being to cover the costs of hosting them during the asylum procedure. In February 2016 when the law came into force, arriving asylum seekers were allowed to keep 10,000 kroner (1000 Euros) in cash and valuables but anything exceeding that was seized to pay for their stay. The “jewelry law” is part of an immigration policy, which makes it more difficult for refugees to become residents. With certain refugees, there is a waiting period of three years before they can apply to be reunited with their families. Legislation such as this has a really adverse effect on poverty and economic development. These refugees, as a result of their many attempts to flee the conflict zones, have depleted their resources and tend to be impoverished .The fact that they are compelled by law to surrender their valuables is rather inhumane; those articles could be their only source of capital. They could realize some proceeds by selling such items themselves to earn some money as a miniscule but pragmatic step towards self-sufficiency.

  As a riposte to the public outcry against the legislation by organizations such as the Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, the Danish authorities have said that the legislation applies equally to Danish citizens, who have to sell assets worth more than 1, 120 Euros (10000) kroner before they can receive benefits from the state.  It is submitted that that is not a fair analysis. Danish citizens have had the benefit of a relatively stable economy in a conflict-free environment and thus have the opportunity to earn a decent living and improve their standards of living. Thus, having to sell assets worth more than 1,120 Euros before they can receive benefits from the state, would not be as herculean a task for them as it would be for the poverty-stricken refugees who have fled their countries where employment  and steady flows of  income have grinded to a halt . This piece of legislation can be likened to wrenching the single straw that a drowning man is clutching to from his grip.

Germany also followed in Denmark’s footsteps in January 2016.The southern German authorities’ confiscated cash and other valuables of arriving refugees to pay for their reception. The articles seized included personal items of sentimental value such as family jewelry. The authorities argue that confiscation of valuables has been a long standard practice and is concordant with German federal law, which requires asylum seekers to resort to their own resources before being provided with state aid. According to Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann, the federal rules correspond in substance to what is being practiced in Switzerland. He expressed this in an interview with Bild newspaper on 21st of January 2016.

Refugees are often forcibly deported and when this happens they must begin from scratch in their native countries or in other countries. More often than not, their countries are just barely coming to life after the destruction that civil war or political insurrections bring in their wake. The institutions and all the sectors of the economy become moribund. The refugees return home and need to grapple with such conditions. In the countries of asylum they may not have had access to good education or job opportunities because of their status as refugees and so they may not be able to better their lots and as such when they are deported to their home countries by operation of some refugee and migration laws and meet the failing institutions and economy, the vicious cycle of poverty just continues.

On the other hand, where refugee and migration law allows refugees to stay and does not forcibly kick them out, there are legion examples of how such refugees combat poverty, rise through the ranks against all odds and contribute greatly to the economic development of their countries. A classic example is Ilhan Omar, a Democratic candidate for state representative in Minnesota. She and her family fled civil war torn Somalia and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. She arrived in the United States of America in 1995 and could not even manage to speak a smattering of English. She however improved and began translating for her grandfather at political events in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. She won the Minnesota House seat with 80% of the votes carving an indelible mark in the annals of history as the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.  In the opportune position that she finds herself, she has the political power to effectively contribute to economic development through the law making process. Having experienced first-hand living as a refugee, it stands to reason that she will draw from her experience and formulate laws and policies that will burgeon opportunities for refugees desperately seeking to make a fresh start.



Health conditions in refugee camps are horrendous. The overcrowding and poor ventilation gives rise to a host of diseases. A healthy workforce is needed to improve economic development. If most of the people are ill and battling with diseases, how will they be able to work and earn a decent living? The little resources they own will be spent on accessing health care and clearly this continues the vicious poverty cycle and adversely affects economic development.



Uganda’s 2006 Refugee Act allows refugees in that country to work travel and even start their own businesses. A World Bank article has commented that that law is “considered one of the most progressive and generous in the world.’’ The legislation recognizes the rights of refugees to live in the community, rather than in special camps. It also outlines how a refugee situation can cease, once durable solutions have been found. Under this legislation, refugees are afforded the opportunity to fend for themselves instead of solely relying on State aid.

If every country would enact and implement laws that are as progressive as the Ugandan Refugee Act 2006, it would go a long way to improve economic development.

In Germany, in the wake of more than a million migrants and refugees arriving in the country in 2015, an “open door” policy has been formulated toward Syrian refugees. However, an investigation by Der Spiegel has revealed that these refugees and migrants have struggled to find work. It described the policy as “the jumble of individual [immigration] laws and ordinances…completely impenetrable for foreigners and the “17 different types of residency permission, residency permit and tolerance for refugees and migrants.’’

Tanzania with a GDP per capita nearly 48 times smaller than Germany’s began the process of granting citizenship to 200,000 refugees from Burundi in 2014, which according to the UNHCR is the largest group in UNHCR’s history to which naturalization has been offered. It would foster economic development if other countries would do likewise. Refugees who are offered naturalization can easily be integrated into the country’s systems and find decent jobs where they can contribute their quota to the nation’s development. This is by far a better alternative than sequestering them in camps where they are solely reliant on governmental aid.

In conclusion, it is evident that progressive policies which grant refugees access to social services, freedom of movement and the right to work are a sure way to bolster economic development. They would also reduce poverty in the sense that refugees are afforded the opportunity to be self –sufficient. However, in order to be truly effective, the government and other stakeholders must ensure that they massively invest in developmental projects in the communities where the refugees are hosted so that it would not be the case that progressive policies merely exist but rather that they exist within a viable environment. The progressive policies could be likened to the balloon envelope of the hot air balloon (that is the framework) whereas the significant developmental investment could be likened to the hot air that would enable the balloon to soar towards the heights of improved economic development.

The above discussion appears to lean towards a utopian view that integrating refugees within a country and giving them unimpeded access to settle will surely reduce poverty and improve economic development. This has attendant security implications that cannot be overlooked, particularly in this age of terrorism. How can states get around this real fear? While it is true that some of these migrants may be susceptible to terrorism, it is doubtful that the entire refugee population in a particular community would be ready to engage in it. Thus, some of these migrants could be trained as counterterrorism agents. Since one of the major concerns of refugees is to be gainfully employed, an opportunity to work in the security sector would be welcome. They could be trained to carry out surveillance and share information gleaned on any suspicious activity with the law enforcement agencies. Counterterrorism investigations are labour intensive. Large numbers of refugees could thus be employed in this sector and this would go a long way to reduce poverty and boost economic development.


1. Obsessing over Europe’s refugee crisis while ignoring Africa’s is white privilege at work- Mehdi Hassan, Global opinion in The Washington Post, Nov 3 2016.
2. UNHCR-Figures at a Glance –<http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figure>
4. www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/11/10/501468031/Somali-refugee-makes-history-in –u-s-election
5. www.ibtimes.co.uk
6. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, <https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en /article>