13 July 2006

Civil Society's Role in Migration Debate to Ensure Real Risks Not Overlooked, Says Deputy Secretary-General at General Assembly Hearing

NEW YORK, 12 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown's remarks at the informal, interactive hearings of the General Assembly with non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector on international migration and development, in New York, 12 July:

These civil society hearing have become an important part of how the General Assembly prepares for debates, such as the forthcoming one on international migration and development.  We had two similar hearings recently: one on HIV/AIDS during the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on that subject, and the second on the challenges facing the least developed countries.

We have already seen the consequences of these kinds of hearings in the meeting of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS.  It was quite clear that, as a consequence of the hearings, a very high degree of mobilization of civil society, and its willingness to lobby for a resolution at the General Assembly meeting itself, led to a hugely improved final resolution, which tackled a number of issues that Governments, left to themselves, would have skirted around for reasons of delicacy, protocol and just a reluctance to tackle socially difficult issues.

This is very clear proof of the importance and value of these hearings.  They offer the opportunity to expand the debate beyond the vital critical inner circle of Governments, to those of you with very strong points of view, representing very strong and important constituencies.  It is a huge strengthening of the UN's convening role that hearings such as these take place.  I can already suspect the kind of contribution you will make today on the issue of international migration and development.

I hope you have all looked at the Secretary-General's report.  It is a very optimistic report.  It is a report that he, his Special Representative, Peter Sutherland, and the authors in DESA all believe offers a vision of how migration, if it is well managed and well supported, can be a win-win situation for both countries of origin and countries of destination.

Countries of destination gain enormously in economic, social, cultural, intellectual and many other ways, through the many contributions that migrants make, which are listed in the report.  Countries of origin benefit through remittances and other economic returns.  This win-win situation is vital, critical and true.

The role of civil society is to warn us, and to make sure that we don't overlook the real risks of international migration, particularly in the area of human rights.

We have all seen, in all of our countries, how migrants are often the victims of unscrupulous employers without protection in the workplace.  We have seen how they are denied rights in new host states -- not just political and civil rights, but also through the denial of access to education and health care for their families.  We have seen the particular challenges that women -- who now form almost half the international migrant flow -- face, in particular during the period of their journey to new homes, when there is a risk that they will fall into the hands of those seeking to make a trade out of sexual exploitation.  There is also the marginal role they often play in the new workplaces of their host countries, compared to their male counterparts, and the discrimination they face in the new host society.

Equally, I am sure you would want to press hard on the issue of the cost to the countries that migrants leave, and how we redress the "brain drain".  I, as a former head of UNDP, was very impressed by many of the debates in Southern Africa about how to protect the human capital in the health and education sectors, when so many doctors and nurses were leaving for higher-paid employment elsewhere.  What was the economic way of compensating the Governments for this?  What were the training and other approaches that could be used to minimize this loss of a critical and skilled service group to these economies, particularly to societies already under so much stress and challenge from HIV/AIDS?

Of course, it is all very well to say that remittances contribute to a win-win situation.  But, remittances are most useful when they are protected by banking systems that allow money to reach relatives back home without exploitative charges, and which prevent the loss of monies through corrupt and inefficient banking sectors that don't really have the rural networks.

Without this kind of support, the potential value to the societies of origin is often lost.  So I hope these points, which sometimes we at the intergovernmental level tend to put aside in the rush to stress the win-win elements, will not be forgotten.  I hope that you will contribute to enriching the debate with these kind of points.

The September high-level dialogue has three purposes.

One, of course, is to raise awareness on the issue of international migration and development -- although the headlines from around the world have made sure that few people are unaware of the challenges of this issue today.

Second is to really try and spell out the linkages between international migration and poverty reduction, both the pluses and the minuses, and how we can correct the minuses.

Third is to highlight the best practices and best policies being used by countries to tackle these issues.

The Secretary-General, Peter Sutherland, DESA and I see the consultative forum as one of the more important recommendations of the Secretary-General's report.  It reflects a feeling that work on migration policy at the national and international level is much too divided between different domestic ministries, between ministries of labour, interior, refugee affairs, social affairs and foreign ministries.  Too few Governments have a locus for thinking about international migration and the range of domestic and international issues it raises.

Forming an international and consultative forum will force countries to assign responsibility for this issue, and then to engage with their counterparts in the North and South around the world to start getting the right tradeoffs between the issues of those countries from which migrants come, and those countries to which migrants go.  Of course, it is no longer a simple North-South division; there is a lot of interregional migration and other flows, which have largely got lost in the debate so far.

We hope a discussion of this kind would involve Governments, UN agencies and the IOM, which has played an important role.  We hope Governments would allow space for civil society participation at the appropriate moments in their discussions as well.  We hope, if this happens, that we can start to institutionalize the discussion around migration, in order to drive better policies everywhere.

Today, with this hearing, we are embarking on an important process, which we hope will culminate in a much strengthened, much more thoughtful, much more just and equitable handling of the international migration issue in the years ahead.

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