Immigration, Sustainable Development and Aid

With an endowment of 33.5billion US dollars and a minimum annual giving of 1.5billion dollars, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation is one of the most well known and well funded charitable organizations. They, and the partially Gates foundation funded, Clinton Foundation, are well known in international development circles because they focus on global issues related to sustainable development – public health, free access to education, poverty relief.

This, along with disaster relief organizations such as the Red Cross, and state funded aid programs such as USAID are the kind of international aid to developing countries that garner a lot of attention.

There is, however, another form of aid – a quieter form – that though given less attention dwarfs traditional aid.

According to Raj Patel in his book Stuffed and Starved:

“…in 2005 the global total of funds sent by immigrants to their home countries exceeded US $232 billion. And those are just the officially traceable figures. Unofficial remittances are estimated at 50-percent higher. These funds far outstrip the meager development aid given by rich countries to poor, and many countries in the Global South are dependent on the monies that these circles of immigration have brought.”

These numbers, in one fell swoop, transform the development landscape. First, by recognizing that the biggest assistance to development countries are not the ‘great saviors of the so-called developed world’ but rather citizens of the developing countries themselves. Secondly, by recasting immigrants as economic actors; as an illegal immigrant told me at the 2008 Green Dream Conference in Memphis, Tennessee “We are not illegal immigrants, but rather economic refugees.” Until we address the underlying economic inequalities, often driven by first world legislation, that drive people from their home countries, neither aid, nor remittances, will suffice.