What are the links between social protection (broadly defined as initiatives that aim to reduce vulnerability) and migration? How does migration fit into existing social protection policies? This paper from the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty aims to locate migration within a social protection framework. Migration is both a social protection strategy as well as a process leading to vulnerabilities that require specific social protection instruments.
Current discussions on social protection focus on managing risk to reduce vulnerability. Vulnerability is a characteristic of individuals or groups that can be economic (lack of income) or physical. Three types of social protection strategies are used to reduce such vulnerability: (i) Promotive measures to improve real incomes; (ii) Preventative measures like insurance that aim to avoid deprivation and (iii) Protective measures or safety nets which provide relief from deprivation.
However, an alternative approach is to examine the fundamental causes or socio-political sources of vulnerability. The social protection framework then needs to be expanded to include transformative measures, which aim to change the power imbalances between individuals that create and sustain vulnerability.
Using this framework, migration can be linked to social protection in two distinct ways. Migration can be regarded as a social protection strategy – the decision to migrate is often made to reduce risk and secure livelihoods. At the same time, the process of migration leads to vulnerabilities that require social protection. Furthermore:
- Migrants face four types of vulnerabilities: temporal, spatial, socio-cultural and socio-political.
- Different vulnerabilities characterize the migrant at different stages of the migration process – at source, during the journey, at the destination, and the returned migrant.
- International migrants face particular spatial (entering a foreign territory) and socio-political (lack of legal protection) vulnerabilities. The most significant source of vulnerability is illegality.
- The vulnerability of internal migrants stems less from their migrant status and more from their being concentrated in urban informal settlements and in informal sector employment. Spatial and socio-political factors make it difficult to provide social protection. For instance, informal sector workers are not covered by legislation.
Examining the determinants of vulnerability of migrants is important so that social protection policies can include structural, long-term perspectives rather than just remedial perspectives. Social protection for migrants can be considered in terms of formal (state or market) and informal (non-state/market) mechanisms. Strategies used can range from legislation and sensitization campaigns to cooperative action. Empirical evidence of these social protection mechanisms suggests that:
- International migrants require specific social protection strategies. Measures like international legislation are available, but not all states are signatories and therefore not bound by its provisions.
- Agencies established to provide social protection to international migrants can be under-resourced and lack institutional capacity.
- Formal protective measures for specific groups of international migrants like women and children are mainly provided by non-governmental organisations.
- Informal social protection like extended family networks or informal contacts is important for migrants.
- Social protection measures like legislation for internal migrants do not guarantee implementation in practice.
- There is little evidence of social protection strategies for households where one or more of the members have migrated and for returned migrants.