Can international frameworks or compacts reduce onward migration?

Photo by Gabriel Pecot for ODI

by Jessica Hagen-Zanker                                               Banner photo by Gabriel Pecot for ODI

Over the past few years, I, along with colleagues at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), have been researching how refugees and migrants make their migration decisions. This has led to new insights on how international policies, frameworks and Compacts shape these decisions.

Where do people want to migrate to?

Our findings show migration decisions are influenced by the broader public policy environment. People want to go where there are labour market opportunities, where their children can go to school, and where they feel welcome.

The majority of refugees and migrants don’t plan to come to Europe, at least initially. Most people go to neighbouring countries in the region first, hoping to find work and build a future there. Many of our interviewees told us that they prefer staying close to their country of origin, because of similarities in culture and language. Data analysed by the UN shows that 82% of African migrants stayed in Africa in 2013.

Gabriel Pecot for ODI
Daily life in Adi Harush refugee camp. Photo by Gabriel Pecot for ODI

But people move on when they’re unable to make a living, when their children are prevented from accessing school, and when their ambitions are not met. This came out very clearly in our research with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. There, underlying labour constraints and mobility restrictions compelled many Eritreans to move on.

What is the role of Partnership Frameworks and Job Compacts?

People want access to jobs and basic services. If the aim of policy-makers is to reduce migration flows to Europe, the logical solution is to provide those services in the region where most migrants come from. This is where Partnership Frameworks and Job Compacts come in.

Ethiopia_AdIHarush__Ashmelas_03, edited
Photo by Gabriel Pecot for ODI

Building on the 2015 EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, Migration Partnership Frameworks aim to reduce irregular migration by addressing its ‘root causes’, breaking up smuggling networks and strengthening borders. They do this through capacity building, return agreements, new legal migration channels, and new financing instruments, in target and origin countries such as Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.

Similarly, Job Compacts aim to deal with protracted refugee situations by bringing together host country governments and bilateral and multilateral actors. To date, Compacts have been set up in Jordan, and proposed for Ethiopia. Building on existing economic, political, diplomatic and trade incentives, these Compacts establish mutually-reinforcing and binding financial and policy commitments. Such Compacts tend to involve a mix of development aid, loans and investment opportunities for target countries. They have multiple objectives:

  1. Give financial support to host countries to provide basic services;
  2. Foster economic development and job creation; and
  3. Stabilise host countries by reducing tensions between host and migrant populations.

At its most basic level, it’s aid to reduce onward migration.

On paper, they may look like win-win solutions. They appear to be a practical, politically viable and constructive way to support countries with large refugee and migrant populations, and provide access to needed jobs and basic services. In theory, therefore, such Frameworks and Compacts have the potential to reduce onward migration.

But do they work?

Our research in Jordan and Ethiopia shows that this potential depends on the Compacts’ design and delivery. Four issues could limit their success and/or create opportunities for policy-makers:

 1. Information and communication

Very little information on government policies actually filters down to people, which means that such information is less likely to feature in their decision-making. In Jordan, we found that people seem unaware of even the most basic details of the Job Compact, including which sectors are covered and the fact that work permits are subsidised in the first two years. In order for refugees and migrants to be able to make informed decisions about their future, information about the initiative should be transparent and accessible. Importantly, the Ethiopia Compact is intended to strengthen information sharing and communication.

Ethiopia_AdIArush__DailyLife_103, edited
Photo by Gabriel Pecot for ODI
 2. Assumptions about jobs

There are many assumptions underlying the decision to provide certain types of jobs. Firstly, that aid can create new jobs, and at a level high enough to make a difference. Many of these countries, such as Ethiopia, have been struggling with limited development and high un- and underemployment for years. Creating jobs isn’t going to be an easy or fast process.

Secondly, that the jobs created are the jobs people want. In Ethiopia, work permits will only be offered in factories in special economic zones; people may not be able to take advantage of their skills, or high levels of education. Often the jobs provided in factories don’t make people better off than irregular work in the informal economy, as shown by Chris Blattman and colleagues in a six year study of Ethiopian sweatshops. It also matters how these jobs are communicated, framed and perceived: is it decent work, or is the activity considered demeaning? Geography is also important: Syrian refugees in Jordan cite ‘factory location’ as a factor, with people not wanting to take on long travel times or be separated from their family.

Finally, that access to jobs reduces aspirations to move on. This will only happen if the jobs provided meet their expectations and skills.

 3. Social tensions

Opening up basic services may lead to overcrowding and lower quality services for the host population. In Kenya, the presence of Kakuma camp has contributed to a shortage of natural resources and another study showed overcrowded and deteriorating school quality in area part of Nairobi hosting a large refugee community. In a context where significant numbers of local people are also affected by poverty, vulnerability and unemployment, this could lead to a rise in social tensions. These Frameworks and Compacts therefore require sensitive management.

Gabriel Pecot for ODI
Photo by Gabriel Pecot for ODI
4. Confidence in government

Migration decisions are not just driven by economic factors, but also by confidence in government, rule of law and perceptions of security. Therefore, job creation might need to go hand in hand with governance and institution building.

Understanding the relationship between aid and migration

Experts agree that development aid will most likely increase migration, rather than reduce it. However, this relationship is far from clear-cut. Specific programmes, if designed and delivered well, may convince some people to stay in the region, but they can’t be assumed to have swift or immediate effects.

Specific programmes may convince some people to stay in the region, but this relationship is being used in simplistic ways for political gains

Yet this relationship is being used in simplistic ways for political gains, threatening the effective and appropriate implementation of aid. Furthermore, the emphasis of programming delivered as part of Partnership Frameworks so far has been on addressing irregular migration, including containment and control, much more than actually delivering development and alternative migration pathways.

Finally, we must remember that both aid and migration are important in their own right, contributing to holistic economic and social development. As such, it is vital that such Frameworks and Compacts draw out the development potential of migration, rather than trying to curb it.

Gabriel Pecot for ODI
Photo by Gabriel Pecot for ODI

About the author

Jessica Hagen-Zanker is a Research Fellow leading ODI’s migration research.

Jessica’s research has focused on understanding how migration and other policies affect migrant decision-making, impacts of migration on migrants and their families, the interlinkages between migration and social protection, and remittances, covering a diverse range of countries, including Albania, Ethiopia and Nepal. She also has extensive experience in the design and analysis of household surveys, conducting systematic literature reviews and the analysis of social protection programmes and policies. Jessica holds a PhD in Public Policy from Maastricht University.

Personal profile

Recent publications

Journeys to Europe: the role of policy in migrant decision-making. Research reports and studies. February 2016. Jessica Hagen-Zanker & Richard Mallett.


Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: