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© Frank


The Mobility Mandala

by Daniel Naujoks
July 25, 2019

This interview with Daniel Naujoks was conducted and condensed by frank news.

Where are you from originally? 

Daniel Naujoks: I'm from Berlin, Germany. When we talk about constructing a big wall, I tell people, "I grew up next to the wall." All my childhood I grew up next to a wall. I was lucky I was on the side of the wall that allowed me to cross it if I wanted to. But it was a wall that cost a lot of lives – and everyone celebrated once it came down. 

Were you there when it came down? 

DN: I was in Berlin at the time, yeah.

Wow. What does your work focus on now?

DN: I'm a migration researcher. Many people define themselves in terms of discipline, and I have a PhD in political economy, and a law degree, but I'm really a migration researcher. I do socio-economic migration research, looking at policies, at people, at identities, at the impacts of human mobility on people's lives and on communities – where they go to, where they come from. I focus a lot on global migration. Most people focus very much on immigration, which is a really important issue because that affects local communities where you live. What I do in addition to that, is look at the broader picture globally. Most migration isn’t happening in northern America, or in Europe. North America, especially the U.S., is a very important immigration country. But there's a lot of migration happening within Africa, within Asia, between Asia and other parts of the world. Less so within northern America, even though we can see an uptake in migration there. 

Immigration is always connected to emigration.

Looking at immigration only disregards what happens where people come from, the entire process of why people migrate, what happens to the families and communities where people come from. What I do in my own work is try to look at that more holistically. My first book was on India, looking at Indian immigrants to the U.S., and their transnational livelihoods. Their social connections in both places were shaped by policies and in turn, shaped economic and social outcomes in both the U.S. and in India. 

My recent research is more on the global scale. I'm half based in academia, here at Columbia, but I do a lot of work with the UN. I'm a senior advisor to the UN Development Program, but also to the World Bank, the OECD, and other development agencies. There, we look at the impact mostly on communities of origin. People think of remittances, they ask for investments or brain drain – but my focus is a little broader. 

The Mobility Mandala is a framework I developed that I hope will help channel some ideas into broader discussions about how migration is affecting development in many different settings. 

Let’s talk about the Mobility Mandala.

In 2015, the global community adopted the 17 sustainable development goals, the SDGs or global goals, which really define the world's development agenda. Everything the UN does, the World Bank does, national governments do, with regard to economic development and broader ideas about development, is linked to the SDGs. They are the most important goals, and they include poverty, hunger, education, health, gender equality and economic growth, climate change and environment, conflict and human rights. Basically, any aspect you can think of about development is covered by the SDGs. 


They're divided into 169 targets, and measured by 233 indicators that are currently still evolving. I've been working for the last couple of years with the UN, mostly with the UN Development Program, on the link between sustainable development, broadly defined, from happiness to water management, to peace, to climate change, to poverty and the classic ideas about development, and how they're linked to displacement and migration. There are several goals and targets within these goals that mention migration specifically. For example, target 10.7 – it's very important, it asks countries to facilitate orderly, safe, and responsible migration, including through well managed migration policies. That's actually in the global development goals. It was a huge milestone for migration being part of these global development endeavors. 

Within the goal on economic growth and good jobs, target 8.8 looks at safeguarding migrant's social rights and labor rights, especially for women. These are really important targets. Human trafficking is, for example, mentioned in three different goals. Last year a report came out that I authored for the UN Working Group on Migration in the Arab region that's chaired by the International Organization for Migration, and the UN Economic and Social Commission of Western Asia, the regional commission of the UN. The report focuses on the many specific mentions of migration in the SDGs. 

However, my Mandala is broader. At the center of the mandala are outcomes for sustainable development. Everything related to education, better jobs, higher income, less poverty, less hunger, less climate change, less displacement, all these are in the center of the mandala. 

Migration Mandala (2019.05.15)

Sometimes we look at outcomes for migrants. How are their outcomes changed by mobility? Or, we look at the outcomes for people in host or home communities who are affected by migration. My first of four mandala domains is that development itself affects mobility.

We can see that development changes, often conceptualized as underdevelopment, affects emigration, immigration, displacement, and return migration. I have laid out four scenarios in which this happens. 

The first is that a lack of development drives out-migration. We call it the ‘root cause’ discussion. The lack of development, the lack of jobs, the existence of crime, of war, pushes people out. It's based on some intuitive assumption, but I would like to caution that a lot of the ideas put forth by some of the policy actors and donors trying to address the root causes of migration, are a little short-sighted and problematic. But, of course, addressing what really is bad for people, addressing unemployment, is a good thing, addressing gender-based violence, conflict, and disaster risk is a good thing. But the wish to address these major points as a subfield of the migration agenda is generally not feasible and it can lead to some problematic policies.

Secondly, the lack of development may also lead into less favorable mobility, and that's something people often don't understand. Poorer people are not the most likely to migrate. It's often the lower middle class or middle class, who can afford to go. Because migration is costly. First, in terms of actual money, financial resources, but then it also requires social networks, who you know, how your degree will allow you to work and so on. All this often means that the lower the development in certain communities, the lower chance they have to migrate. Or, they may not be able to migrate regularly, right?

They can't just buy a plane ticket, which is much cheaper than paying a coyote.

They have to take more high-risk, more expensive routes, because they don't get a visa to go to the places they want to go to. So, often, less development may lead to less favorable mobility, meaning, mobility with substantially higher risks and often with less beneficial outcomes. 

Third, in the worst cases, the lack of development can trap populations. We've seen that in some areas, think of conflict, think of environmental disasters. Really poor people should be moving, but they can't because they can't afford it. Instead of addressing the root cause to diminish migration and reduce migration, in some cases, we actually need to help people migrate. In the current political discourse everything is about getting rid of migration, especially of poor people. But in some cases, from a human right's perspective, from a global development perspective, we need to help people migrate who are trapped by low income, by low resources and other development failures. 

My fourth area is that positive development may attract immigrants and returnees. Many think only about how the lack of development pushes people out. But if you have better development, people will come back. Look at India, for example.

One of the key determinants of highly skilled Indians from Silicon Valley moving back to India was that they had gyms, they had nice apartments. All the things that, if you're used to certain standards, you want to have.

The development of certain jobs in the IT sector, spurred the return migration. 

Many countries want to have immigration, but they don't see themselves as attractive destinations and target countries. Some countries say, "Oh, if we can portray our development better, then more people will come." Even Germany. They go out, have fairs and tell students and highly skilled people how great they are in order to attract them. They're able to portray their own development as very positive in order to attract migrants. Again, it's important to understand that not everything is about reducing immigration, there are many countries, and rightly so, in my opinion, that are interested in increasing immigration. So, in a nutshell, these are the four aspects on the first mandala domain on how development affects mobility.

The next domain of the Mobility Mandala is a really critical domain when we want to understand all the links between migration and development, which is ‘mobility as development.’ We don't look only at what's happening to communities of origin, like, remittances, what happens to the families staying behind, what happens to jobs, et cetera, in the countries of destination, we have look at the migrant themselves.

Migration is, first and foremost, an adaptation strategy.

People want to migrate because they see more income generating possibilities, they see better access to infrastructure, to education, to health services. And often, migration leads to better outcomes for migrants. And that's a development outcome that's often not captured because there's no clear constituency for these migrants. They are already out of the country of origin, and the country of origin is more interest in people staying back, but they're too marginal in the country of destination to be counted. From a human right's perspective, from a global development perspective, getting people who have a lower income to migrate abroad, who now have a higher income, and better access to health and education, is a huge development gain for the migrants themselves. 

I think that's important when we want to understand the broader implications.

“Adaptation strategy” is a very helpful term. 

DN: Exactly. It's often used in the environmental migration context, but adaptation can be for anything, right? If there's unemployment, one adaptation strategy is to migrate. And domestically, we've seen it. If in Detroit, there are no jobs anymore, why don't you move somewhere else? For domestic, internal migration, this adaptation for economic livelihood strategies is well recognized. Whereas, internationally we haven't caught up with that. 

But then, of course, we have to understand that not every migration leads to better outcomes. And this leads to the third domain of the Mobility Mandala. The second domain highlights the positive potential of mobility as an adaptation strategy. If you go out of the war zone, if you can leave as a refugee, that's per se good, because you'll tend to go somewhere where it's safer than it was where you were before. But, that being said, often people who leave, are either going through spaces of specific vulnerabilities, or they're ending up in a refugee camp. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya has been very well documented for people having been 30, 40 years there with no good development opportunities.

Yes, it's probably better than where they fled in Somalia, but they're stuck, they're not officially allowed to work outside the camps, there are a lot of restrictions. There's violence.

Dadaab Refugee Camp

For economic migrants, it’s the same. They may have better earning potential, but there may be isolation, there may be strong racism and discrimination. There may be other areas that create vulnerabilities for migrants. And the SDGs have a particular focus on what we call, leaving no one behind. That's one of the central maximes of the development goals.

Thus, the third domain of the Mobility Mandala focuses on mobility-specific vulnerabilities. It reminds us to think about how immigrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees, emigrants and diaspora populations shouldn't be barred from achieving development outcomes. The idea is how to get from domain three, that focuses on those particularly vulnerable populations, to domain two where mobility leads to increased capabilities and positive development outcomes. 

The fourth and last domain of the Mobility Mandala is about how mobile populations affect development outside themselves. They can either be impacting the country of origin, through the mere fact that they're leaving, through sending back remittances, diaspora investments, through “social remittances”, which are values and ideas. I put that into air quotes because to send ideas is not as easy as sending money. But, the idea of social remittances is that, through social interactions with people in migrants’ country of origin, they can help change norms that may be viewed as better. Corporate social responsibility norms, for example, can be transmitted. Certain gender norms can be transmitted from the diaspora back home, and that can, in some circumstances, be considered good development. Another example are ideas about entrepreneurship.

Immigrants and refugees can have an impact on the host society. And that, again, is often portrayed badly, because we know from certain conservative media and publications that there's the idea that immigrants are taking jobs and lowering our wages.

That's actually against all the evidence we have.

In most circumstances, inflows of people, and not just highly skilled people, have a positive impact on the native borns and on the labor market there. It's very, very few instances – for example, when Syrians came into Lebanon where they now representing about 20% of Lebanon's population and where this sizeable inflow happened in a short period of time and into an economy that wasn’t able to adjust easily –  that labor markets had an issue with adjusting to this large inflow. But that cannot be seen in most of the world.

The U.S., for example, has a much, much, much, lower percentage of immigrants, Europe has a much lower percentage of immigrants. So, here, where there's a gradual inflow of immigrants, or refugees, regular or irregular, they generally have a positive impact on development, and on the wages of native borns.

There are very few people who are likely to suffer wage losses, and these are mostly former immigrants. 

Can you give a tangible example of immigration / migration benefitting the labor market? There is a popular and common argument against that. 

I don't want to go too deep into the economics of labor immigration – but the idea that immigrants come in and lower the wages is based on a very simplistic idea of the economy. It's based on the idea of the decreasing marginal productivity of labor. You have a downward slope of the labor productivity, which means, the more people work, the lower the wages. The idea and the static model is, immigration means increasing population. Hence, the marginal productivity of labor goes down, hence, the wages go down. Or, if the wages can't go down because there's unions, et cetera, that means you will have an increase in the unemployment rate. There are several issue with this model. First, the slope of this line is not really what we see in reality.

The most important part is, labor markets are not static. When something happens to the labor market, other things happen to the market too. 

We've seen in Turkey, for example, a large inflow. Turkey right now is the largest host country for Syrian refugees and of refugees in general. About four million, 3.5 to 4.5 million, depending on whether you take UNHCR or government estimates. When Syrians first came, they competed with Turkish workers in the informal economy – agriculture, construction, and other sectors that can absorb informal labor. And that, of course, means they're competing against local labor. It means local labor will either be pushed out, or the wages go down. But, a lot of Turks invested in more skills, because they could do other things. There was an upscaling in certain segments of the labor market. That's the thing about the labor markets, they are not static, they normally react. That's one reason. 

Another reason is that, in addition to those people who benefit, who are direct substitutes, there are also those who are complements. One of the examples is, if I have a director of a lab coming in from abroad, an Indian scientist who's taking over a laboratory, this person with new ideas needs lab assistants – other people. She might be competing with other lab directors, but she may have a lot of additional people who she will employ. There's a lot of this too. 

The entire economy is a little bit more complicated. Even if there are sometimes smaller impacts, what people forget is that the U.S. economy is a $20 trillion economy. It's a huge economy. Immigrants make up a small part of the economy. The idea that some people like to paint that they are destroying our economy – no.

Even if the effects were not as positive as most studies show they are, even if they were negative, it would be a very small negative, not a negative that would justify the draconian measures some people think would be justified. 

What does this mean for different populations and policies? 

DN: Often, we look at refugees only as needing protection. But, refugees are also employers and employees and people who are active on the labor market. They too have an impact. That's why I'm talking about this Mobility Mandala, the migration mandala. Sometimes, putting people into these legal categories of refugees, because they need the protection, which is correct, and from a human right's perspective, and legal perspective, we need to give them this protection, but, from a broader development perspective, they also need to be considered as participants in the labor market, and the broader development schemes. 

Then, of course, the question is, what are the right policy responses? Because, a lot of these policy responses are not just to say, "Oh, migration has an impact." It depends on accompanying measures. If I know there's large inflows of migrants, and I see that my local labor force is, in part, competing with those people, maybe I come up with a new skill development program and help my local labor force to step up in the ladder. It's not just that I have to believe in the market forces by themselves.

I can also help steer by skilling, reskilling, or providing incentives for expanding the production.

Because, again, we're not in closed economies, we're open economies. We have trade, we have other ways to adjust the economy. If we expand production, we can actually compete more at the global market, it's not just the internal market which is static. 

A little footnote, 85% of the world's refugees today are in developing countries. All of the U.S. and Canada, all of Europe, all of Australia and New Zealand, jointly host 15% of the world's refugees.

We hear about how generous Canada is, how generous Europe is, there is a certain amount of generosity if you want to call it that, but, the large number of refugees are still hosted in the global south. Migrants migrating from the south, which is a large term used for developing countries or countries of lower income. We call it South-South migration, is larger than the number of South-North migration. Many think, "Oh, all the migrants are coming from the Global South, from the poor countries to us." But, there's a lot of migration between rich countries, or so called rich countries, for example, within Europe.

And between countries in the Global South. The largest migration of Africans is within Africa. The focus of Europe in all this, the perceived wave of African migrants coming to Europe or all these narratives that are portrayed by certain elements in Europe, are largely unfounded. Yes, there's a slight increase in migration and migration aspirations from Africa and elsewhere, but it's by no means menacing or overwhelming. There's huge migration between people in Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana is a huge immigration country in Western Africa. Morocco recently approved a new immigration law because of a lot of Senegalese and others are coming to work in the country. Botswana is a large magnet for people in southern Africa, as is South Africa. The idea that only the U.S. and only Canada, and only Germany, are magnets for migration doesn't correspond with realities. That's important to understand.

Is media too reactionary to the influx of immigrants into northern countries? 

DN: Putting things in perspective definitely would be the right way to go. That is not restricted to the coverage of migration. I mean, if there's a snowstorm in New York, in Berlin, we have it on the news. If there is a major terrorist attack in Pakistan, well, there's a high likelihood that it will not be. A snowstorm in New York – should that be news? Yes, for us locally living in New York, that's a big deal. But, do Berliners really need to know about the snowstorm in New York? Whereas, I think they definitely should know about the terrorist attack that's happening in Pakistan. Take the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It's great to have empathy, but then, the following week there was a huge massacre in Lebanon and nobody identified with that. That's, of course, a problem with the general reporting structure about how we create empathy, how media report about things. And that is one reason why there's more reporting about migration issues in Europe than there is about migration issues in South Africa or in Botswana. 

Looking at mobility as an anomaly, as something that is not natural, it's just the wrong perspective.

People have always moved somehow. The passport is a recent invention, the passport is like 100 years old. There were several attempts, after it was introduced, to say, "Oh, it is unnatural to have passports, let's abolish passports." Today, it's hard to believe, how can you travel, how can you have mobility without a passport? With an identity document that either grants, or in most cases, restricts your mobility opportunities. 

But, throughout most of the history of humankind, even in the time of nation states, there was no passport. People could move in different ways.

Our current system, which is the idea of migration governance, or migration management, which is used a lot by certain players, is based on a false assumption that it can be managed easily.

Even if we manage some parts of it, the overall flux of people is not managed. It's not a hydraulic system where you just open and close the tap. Most of our policies are not geared towards that. 

Looking at regular migration, a lot of people focus on the wall and on irregular border crossings. The majority of irregular migrants in most parts of the world come as tourists or with other valid visas. And we do want to allow people to come in with various kinds of visas. You don't want to fix people all the time, you want to have business travelers, you want to have tourists, you want to allow people to cross borders for medical reasons. The porosity of borders is natural. We can't live in today's so called globalized world, without porous borders. East Germany was a closed system, it didn't pay off. North Korea may be one of those other examples, where they have kind of non-porous borders or very low degree of porosity. Most other economies, most other countries need open borders. 

berlin wlal

Open borders don't mean everyone can come in and out, but there needs to be some degree of openness where people can come in. As long as you have that, there will be people who overstay their visas and there's nothing you can do about it without having a complete police state, which again, would trample on so many freedoms of people who are non-immigrants. The cost of that will be so high, it's just not worth it.

For the rule of law, it may not be the best to have people violating immigration rules. But in the end, there are people who are parking ticket offenders which we agree is not the best thing, but we don't put them all in jail or behead them because of it, it’d be a little overkill. The same thing is true with migration management. 

Global immigration emigration rates

This is one graph I made to show the diversity of global migration, to illustrate the point that migration is widely spread across the world. Each data point is one country with the share of immigrants per population and the share of emigrants per population. The ones close to the X and Y axis, cluster one, are those for which neither immigration nor emigration are really important. Only 22 countries have fewer than 3% of immigrants and 3% of emigrants, while the remaining 210 countries and territories have higher levels of immigration, emigration or both. Countries located close to the horizontal axis are predominantly immigration countries (cluster 2), and countries located close to the vertical axis are emigration-only countries (cluster 3). Importantly, in 82 countries, both immigration and emigration rates are above 5%. Thus, many countries today are simultaneously countries of origin and destination of migrants. 

Human mobility is really connected to, not just immigration control, like the Department of Homeland Security or internal affairs ministries, but also to economic development, finance, environmental change, conflict security, agriculture, education, employment, all these public policy areas are closely related with migration.

That's why, if we want to design good policies, be it in a developing country, or in a developed country such as the U.S., immigration rules are a tiny fraction of good migration policy.

It's important to understand the scope and the vulnerabilities and the needs in the employment field, in the education field, in the social development field, in all the other areas. That's both true in the country of origin and the country of destination. 

Currently, I'm building a database, I'm coding all development plans in the world. I'm looking at development plans, both UN development plans, which are the UN plans for each of the developing countries where the UN works, or national development plans, in which each country specifies their vision for how to develop the country. The UN gave us a lot of these development plans and we analyze them. How often is migration, mobility, displacement, refugees mentioned in these plans? Our preliminary analysis of these plans shows that in Europe, 100% of these development plans, mention migration and mobility. You can see that, even people who work on economic and social development, increasingly understand the need to go beyond migration control, to understand more broadly how human mobility and sustainable development are linked. That's what I'm investigating.