BEING able to decide where to live is a key element of human freedom, and can be highly effective in raising a person's income, health and education prospects.
This is one of the main arguments of the UNDP's latest Human Development Report, 'Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development', which "lays out the case for governments to reduce restrictions on movement within and across their borders, so as to expand human choices and freedoms".
Globally, there are one billion migrants. Of these, most - 740 million - are internal migrants, moving inside their own country.
Of the world's 200 million international migrants, most moved from one developing country to another, or between developed countries, with the majority moving to a country with a higher level of human development than their own.
Namibia itself is a net recipient of migrants. Only 1,3 per cent of Namibians have emigrated to other countries, while immigrants make up 6,6 per cent of the total population.
At the launch of the report in Windhoek this week, UNDP Representative Kari Egge said in addition to improving people's access to a better standard of living, "migration also benefits the destination countries through the flow of ideas, values and cultural exchange".
She added, as an example, that "if skilled migrants bring their knowledge and best practices, they could contribute to building capacity, promoting innovation and generally helping in advancing the recipient country, if the right policies and institutional frameworks are in place".
The report also argues that migrants boost economic output "at little or no cost to the locals".
"In migrants' countries of origin, the impacts of movement are felt in higher incomes and consumption, better education and improved health, as well as at a broader cultural and social level. Moving generally brings benefits, most directly in the form of remittances sent to immediate family members. However, the benefits are also spread more broadly as remittances are spent - thereby generating jobs for local workers - and as behaviour changes in response to ideas from abroad. Women, in particular, may be liberated from traditional roles."
Egge said that in 2007 alone, remittances to Namibia accounted for about 2,8 per cent of total household income - US$17 million, or some US$8 per person - "a paltry figure compared to India's US$35 billion dollars in total remittances or Luxembourg's remittances per capita of US$ 3 355 in the same year".
"Countries therefore need to reconsider their polices and practices with regards to movement and integration of migrant labour into the domestic economies," she said.
Home Affairs Minister Rosalia Nghidinwa, while agreeing that efforts to bring down barriers to migration are important, was less quick to rely on the remittance argument as a reason, noting the problems that sub-Saharan African and other developing countries are experiencing with the "brain drain" phenomenon.
"Although it is argued that sending countries benefit from remittances as indicated in the report, the impact of lost opportunity to develop sending countries as a result of the exodus of educated and experienced personnel have not been quantified," she said.
Nghidinwa also said that while "Government fully recognises the importance of removing barriers to human mobility, it is equally important to ensure that there is a balance between removal of barriers to human mobility and ensuring that such mobility is properly managed in order to combat illegal immigration and its negative impact to social order and crime."
She said that striking such a balance would also "mitigate the possible feeling by the local people of receiving states that migrants take up their jobs and employment opportunities and blame them for unemployment".
On this, Egge said "while national concerns about unemployment as a result of immigration may be founded on genuine short-term concerns, they are not always justifiable, especially in the long run".But Nghidinwa emphasised that this had to be viewed within the context of prevailing unemployment and poverty.
Other recommendations include creating policies that focus on increased access, particularly for the low-skilled, to migrate; lowering passport and transaction costs to reduce illegal migration; respecting migrants' rights and access to basic services; and maximising gains from human mobility by mainstreaming migration into national development and poverty reduction strategies.
Namibia has signed visa abolition agreements with most SADC countries, and has agreed on issuing border resident cards to people living in the Namibia-Angola and Namibia-Zambia border areas for use when crossing borders to visit their relatives.