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  • Sending Money Home in Conflict Settings:Revisiting Migrant Remittances
  • Daivi Rodima-Taylor (bio)

Vast amounts of money are transferred around the world through remittances—contributions that migrants send to their families, relatives, and friends in their countries of origin. Remittance flows have continued to be resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic, with officially recorded volumes reaching $548 billion for low and middle-income countries in 2020.1 While remittances associated with economic migration have attracted significant attention, less is known about such money transfers in conflict-affected settings. Violent conflict and poverty contribute to each other, often blurring the boundaries between economic migration and forced displacement.2 Conflicts may be accompanied by displacement of large numbers of population within a relatively short time, posing challenges to remittance transfer systems between the countries of origin and destination. Refugees often end up in displacement camps and other protracted situations of uncertainty that may further impair their ability to remit. Despite the challenges, remittances frequently remain a primary source of economic support for those left behind, as well as for national development of post-conflict countries. Therefore, situations in the wake of recent conflicts are known for heightened remittance flows.3 As a large share of the remittance flows in conflict settings occurs through informal channels, the importance of remittances in these economies has often been underestimated.

The centrality of remittances in forced displacement situations

Displacement is a growing trend, particularly affecting the poorest populations of the Global South. By the end of 2020, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.4 The crisis has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic as the forcibly displaced were among the hardest-hit social groups. Food and environmental insecurity emanating from climate change added to the vulnerability. Insecurity and repeated cycles of violence have become primary obstacles to development in many parts of the world. Recently, conventional war between nation-states has been replaced by a more chaotic and complex dynamic of violence, including criminal activities, trafficking and terrorism, and chronic civil unrest.5 As a result, there has been growing attention to sustainable institution-building in conflict-affected countries. A focus on broader settings that can provide security, justice, and economic sustenance to individuals and communities affected by the crisis has been reflected in the human security approach6 to post-conflict7 development.8

Remittances can be central to fighting poverty—by diversifying household income sources, providing capital for productive investment and facilitating local markets, and funding education, health, and other social expenses.9 Remittances can contribute to post-conflict recovery in the long term. At the wake of armed conflict there is often an increase in vulnerable populations, and emergency international relief for those living war zones tends to be insufficient.10 Due to their relative independence from economic cycles, remittances can be more stable [End Page 43] than private investment or foreign development assistance. They can improve countries' sovereign creditworthiness and, therefore, access to international capital markets.11 Most importantly, remittances are a primary mechanism for rebuilding family ties and kin connections in war-torn settings: "the commitment to family remains at the core of these flows."12 While migrant remittances can be significant in conflict-affected situations, they are also private resource flows. Their volumes and transfer pathways can therefore be considerably under-reported. The private nature of remittances also complicates the visions of "harnessing" remittances for national development—from logistical as well as ethical standpoints.13

In conflict-affected contexts, it is more difficult to promote uses of remittances for development due to the absence of financial institutions and functioning governments. It is also more challenging to provide financial literacy training or channel remittances towards micro-credit projects.14 Refugees can be affected by restrictive labor market barriers, including withholding permission to work or uncertainties with their legal status. Immigration regimes affect the length and permanence of the stay of conflict-induced migrants in the host countries and impact their capacity to remit.15

Remittances are not only material in nature but include transfers of new skills, values, behaviors, and technologies. These "social remittances" are particularly relevant...