Forced Migration and Asylum Policy in the Developing World

Martin Clutterbuck, Laura Cunial, Paola Barsanti and Tina Gewis

Forced Migration Review 57, February 2018, pp. 59-61


Despite the fact that more than 84 percent of the world’s forced migrants are hosted in developing countries, refugee and asylum policies in developing countries are largely neglected in the academic literature, in part due to: (a) lack of data on migration policies outside the OECD; and (b) presumption that de jure policies don’t matter in developing contexts because of weak enforcement and limited policy knowledge. The authors introduce a new dataset of asylum policies in the developing world, and employ it to study the correlates of asylum policymaking in the developing world, as well as the role of de jure policies as pull factors in flows of forced migration. The dataset includes 229 national-level laws relating to forced displacement in 92 African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian developing countries between 1951 and 2017. For each law, the dataset includes codes for 54 provisions across five policy fields: (1) access: ease of entrance and security of status; (2) services: provision of public services and welfare; (3) livelihoods: ability to work and own property; (4) movement: encampment policies; and (5) participation: citizenship and political rights.

The data suggests the following stylized facts:

  • There is much diversity in asylum policy liberality, which cannot be explained by regional clustering.
  • Developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and the post-Soviet space, have been gradually liberalizing their asylum and refugees policies, while developed countries have been moving in more restrictive directions. Policy liberalization has been particularly prominent on status and entry procedures (access) and rights to free movement and documents (movement), and comparatively slower on civic participation and citizenship rights.


Key findings:

  • Developing countries alter their asylum policies when intense civil wars break out in neighboring countries, leading to expectations of future forced migrant flows.
  • Policy liberalization is more likely when co-ethnic kin are excluded from power in neighboring countries in conflict, i.e. liberalization is a function of co-ethnic solidarity. This suggests that countries may be willing to bear greater costs to host kin groups.
  • No generalized evidence that repressive regimes liberalize in exchange for aid, although this dynamic is relevant for some specific cases (e.g. Uganda).
  • As in Western countries, national wealth is associated with migration policy restrictions in the developing world.
  • Liberal asylum policies pull forced migrants, conditional on facilitating factors (information and ethnic kin). Liberal policies on access to services (e.g. education), employment, and free movement are the strongest pulls. In contrast to evidence from data on the OECD, there is no significant association found between asylum-seeking and citizenship or political rights.
  • Transnational ethnic kin networks and mobile-phone and internet penetration are sources of information diffusion about de jure refugee and asylum policies. Ethnic kinship networks have been previously identified as a pull factors directly affecting migration choice by reducing integration costs. However, part of the effect of kinship networks on destination choice is indirect by increasing knowledge about the asylum policies of (potential) target countries.
  • The effect of kin as a pull factor is more important the more liberal asylum policies are.





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