18 September 2006

Broad Agreement Emerges that, with "Right Set of Policies", Global Migration Can Boost Development, as Historic Debate Concludes

In Two-Day Session, over 140 Speakers Consider Global Migration Flows, Examine Benefits and Challenges:  Remittances, "Brain Drain", Exploitation

NEW YORK, 15 September (UN Headquarters) -- Wrapping up the United Nations first ever ministerial-level consideration of the socio-economic impacts of migration on development, General Assembly President Sheika Haya Rashed al Khalifa of Bahrain said the historic meeting had affirmed that international migration could be a positive force for development in both countries of origin and destination, if supported by the right set of policies.

The Assembly President said that the High-Level Dialogue had affirmed that international migration was a growing phenomenon and a key component in both developing and developed countries.  "Above all, these two days have proven that international migration and development can be debated constructively within the United Nations", she asserted.

The meeting had also affirmed that cooperation needed to be strengthened, bilaterally, regionally and globally, concerning issues of international migration, Sheikha Haya said, noting that many speakers sought the special protection of vulnerable groups, such as women and children.  Broad agreement also emerged that migration was no substitute for development, as many migrants were forced to seek work abroad due to poverty, conflict and lack of human rights in their home countries.

Also notable had been the widespread support for incorporating international migration into the development agenda and for integrating migration into national development strategies, including possibly into poverty reduction strategies, she said.  All speakers during the Dialogue had underscored the need to have decent working conditions in the countries, not only of destination, but also in the countries of origin, in an effort to reduce the flow of migration.

While Governments had long been sensitive about discussing migration in an international forum -- believing it to be a domestic issue -- the two-day Dialogue brought together delegations from some 130 countries to share their experiences.  And, with United Nations statistics showing that most migrants came from developing countries or those marked by conflict in Africa, Asia and the Middle East -- with 6 out of 10 now living in rich countries and one out of five in the United States -- the discussions touched on well-known North-South differences.

But, with more and more migrants from the developing world now heading to other developing countries -- a phenomenon highlighted by speakers from the African continent --the problems for nations that migrants left behind, such as the brain drain, the trafficking in and smuggling of migrants, and the exploitation of immigrants working in poor conditions for little money were repeatedly underscored.  Participants also drew attention to the astonishing size -- about double official aid flows -- and rate of growth, of remittances, or the income that workers abroad sent to their home countries; they sought ways to facilitate safe and cheap modes of remittance transfers, and of ensuring incentives to invest in development.

Throughout the debate, speakers emphasized the role of Governments -- in source and host countries -- and of official aid programmes in securing positive outcomes to migration.  Some believed that the complexities of migration required coordinated polices to ensure that the benefits and challenges were reconciled with the dignity and rights of migrants.  Others called for flexible systems of temporary and "circular migration", and ways of making returns sustainable.  Governments were encouraged to deepen cooperation with the diaspora and its members, as they could be important agents of development.

Many welcomed an offer by Belgium to host the first meeting next year of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposed Global Forum on Migration and Development, a standing body in which countries would be able to exchange the best ideas and practices on the issue.  The Secretary-General had said that the Forum would not set policy, but would serve as an informal consultative body to allow Governments to build relationships of trust, and to bring together the best ideas developed by different countries to:  facilitate remittances; engage diasporas; explore new poverty reduction strategies; and build educational partnerships.

Today, Brunson Mckinley, Director-General, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the Dialogue had been a milestone in the journey to find ways to maximize the benefits of migration for development and minimize its challenges.

The IOM had identified seven key messages for the Dialogue that focused on:  integrating migration into development policy, developing migration policies, partnering with the private sector, matching global labour supply with demand, understanding the relationship between diasporas and home countries, achieving overlap among regional consultations and improving respect for migrants' human rights.

Malawi's Minister of State in the President's Office Responsible for Poverty and Disaster Management Affairs, Richard Msowoya, pointed out that, while remittances were important, countries of origin lost human capital through the emigration of skilled professionals and unskilled labourers.  For example, for every three doctors Malawi trained, two were likely to leave, looking for better prospects, and the statistics were even worse for registered nurses.  That trend, or "brain drain", had seriously hampered the delivery of health services and was a serious deterrent to sustainable development.  Africa needed support to help attract national expatriates back home with professional and financial incentives and, indirectly, through the creation of legal and institutional frameworks.

Saying his country had encouraged migrants to temporarily return to their countries of origin, thereby contributing to their development, the speaker from the Netherlands had developed a project for Ghanaian doctors qualified in the Netherlands to temporarily return home.  Similar programmes were being developed in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Among the speakers from the Latin American and Caribbean region, Belela Herrera, Minister of Foreign Relations for Uruguay, emphasized that migration challenged all countries, whether nations of origin or destination, and was an issue that should be taken up multilaterally.  Uruguay supported the proposal to create a permanent forum under the auspices of the United Nations.  Affirming the aim of the Millennium Development Goals to eradicate poverty, she said, however, that migration should not be a flight from poverty.

The Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration of Canada, Richard Fadden, said that, although there was much to be learned from sharing approaches and experiences concerning migration, solutions should be tailored to local conditions.  The notion of sharing "best practices" required refinement; not everything could be systematized into a global approach.  Any process that might emerge from the High-Level Dialogue should add value to the international discussions, rather than duplicate what was already taking place or could occur within existing mechanisms.  Going forward, the process should focus on developing understanding of substantive issues, rather than on negotiating resolutions or declarations.

Also today, the Chairpersons of the four round tables that took place in parallel to the plenary presented summaries of those discussions.  Tarja Filatov, Minister of Labour for Finland, spoke about Round Table 1 on the effects of international migration on economic and social development; Margarita Escobar, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for El Salvador, on behalf of Francisco Lainez, El Salvador's Foreign Minister, summed up Round Table 2, which dealt with measures to ensure respect for and protection of the human rights of all migrants, and to prevent and combat smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons.

Kastriot Sulka, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs of Albania presented a summary of Round Table 3, on the multidimensional aspects of migration and development, including remittances; and Jean-François Ndongou, Minister Delegate to the Ministry of State and to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, Francophonie and Regional Integration of Gabon summed up Round Table 4, which dealt with promoting the building of partnerships and capacity-building and the sharing of best practices at all levels, including the bilateral and regional levels, for the benefit of countries and migrants alike.

Speaking at the ministerial level were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, Poland, Colombia, Argentina, Belarus, Peru, Paraguay, Benin, Dominican Republic, Syria, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, Mozambique, Ecuador, Honduras, Slovenia, Armenia, Zambia, Nigeria, Switzerland, United States, Albania, Qatar, Greece, Estonia and Cuba.

Chile's Director of Consular and Migration Affairs addressed the Dialogue as did Gambia's Permanent Secretary of the Department of State for the Interior.

The representatives of Liechtenstein, Suriname, Nicaragua, Tunisia, France, Andorra, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Viet Nam, San Marino, Croatia, China, Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Cyprus, Slovakia, Angola, Belgium, New Zealand, Venezuela, Nepal, Iceland, Iran, Guinea, Oman, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Congo, Kenya and Senegal also spoke today.

Speaking, too, were the observer delegations of the Holy See and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as well as the Observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the representatives of the Commonwealth Secretariat; the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries; the European Community; the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States; the Ibero-American Conference; the International Centre for Migration and Policy Development (ICMPD); and the International Organization for La Francophonie.

Speaking in exercise of the Right of Reply were the representatives of the United States and Cuba.

The Assembly will reconvene Monday, 18 September, at 10 a.m. to open its Comprehensive Global Review of the Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries for the decade 2001-2010.

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*  The 3rd and 4th Plenary Meetings were covered in Press Release GA/10494 of 14 September.