21 February 2014

Africa: UN Puts Its Weight Behind Human Migration Research

The United Nations University (UNU) has launched a collaborative research platform on human migration, an issue that it says is "a major phenomenon of the 21st century, with impact at local and global levels".

The UNU Migration Network is a response to what its coordinator, research fellow Valeria Bello, says is heightened awareness about migration at the United Nations.

Last October the UN held high-level talks on migration where member states unanimously adopted a declaration that recognises migration as a "multidimensional reality" and calls for members to act "in a coherent, comprehensive and balanced manner, integrating development with due regard for social, economic and environmental dimensions and respecting human rights".

UNU, a group of 15 institutes and programmes in 13 countries, and headquartered in Japan, says the Migration Network will share knowledge and research practices, find links between "supposedly different approaches to the study of migration, such as those between environmental causes for migration and economic consequences", and inform policy on matters related to human security.

Migration is a complex and often involuntary phenomenon that is expected to increase as development advances and climate change takes hold. But researchers do not fully understand exactly how it is driven by economic, social, cultural and political factors. The network will help address migration knowledge gaps, particularly where various factors overlap, Bello says.

"We want to reply to this complex phenomenon by addressing those issues in an interdisciplinary way," says Bello. The network, she says, will encourage more cross-disciplinary research, and it has set up a portal as a resource for policymakers and the public.

Researchers at separate UNU institutes have often struggled to know what one another are working on, Bello adds. The network will reduce this problem through in-person and online meetings and help generate ideas for research into little-studied, cross-disciplinary aspects of migration.

Anthony Oliver-Smith, professor emeritus in anthropology at the University of Florida, United States, agrees that the network could serve as a useful tool for policymakers. In addition to yielding new research from collaborations, it should give policymakers easier access to migration information.

But he says there are no guarantees that policymakers will use the data properly. "The relationship between research and policymaking is always complex, because there are political interests involved."

Oliver-Smith, who has worked at UNU's Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany, adds that the portal could serve as a useful resource for other researchers.

"I think this kind of an effort will be worthwhile because we need more information about this very complex phenomenon," he says.

Link to UNU Migration Network

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