4 April 2006

Contribution of Migration to Development Highlighted, as Population Commission Opens Current Session

Migration Benefits Both Sending, Receiving Countries, Speakers Say

NEW YORK, 3 April (UN Headquarters) -- Given the migration-development nexus, the time was ripe for a sober, frank and constructive discussion on international migration and its contribution to development, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, said today as the annual session of the United Nations Population Commission got under way at Headquarters.

The 47-member organ of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) assesses implementation of the 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), and advises the Council thereon.  With the number of international migrants at nearly 200 million, the week-long session will be devoted to international migration and development.  Members hope to contribute to the High-Level Dialogue on the topic, to be held in New York just ahead of the General Assembly, on 14 and 15 September.

The world needed to understand what everyone here knew to be true:  in general, international migrants were enterprising individuals with much to contribute, both to their host countries and to their countries of origin, Mr. Ocampo said.  If managed properly, international migration had been and would continue to be advantageous for both sending and receiving countries, and, from a global perspective, international migration had an overall positive impact on development.  He pointed to the contribution of enterprising migrants in countries of destination, growing importance of workers' remittances to countries of origin, and the social and cultural enrichment of both sending and receiving countries.

Perhaps more than any other issue, migration put into stark relief the enormous social, political, economic and cultural transformations occurring in a world divided by excess and need, said Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  The international migration landscape had changed dramatically over the last decade.  Growing gaps between rich and poor, an expanded global economy, geopolitical transformations, wars, and ecological disasters had profoundly impacted people and their desire to leave their homeland.  Migration was a development issue.  For industrialized countries, immigration helped to ease the pressure brought by a declining population and a dwindling tax base; and for developing nations, migration relieved unemployment and population pressures.

Although demography was not destiny, it certainly shaped it, the Director of the Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Hania Zlotnik, said.  For example, for at least a decade now, high-income countries had been experiencing labour shortages in certain sectors of their economies, particularly in those where jobs could not be exported.  Consequently, as overall employment rose during the boom years of the 1990s, so did migration.  Whether authorized or not, workers from developing countries were taking the jobs that did not find takers in developed countries at going wages.  Some low-income countries, particularly small island States and African countries, were having difficulties delivering basic services because of the high emigration of their skilled workers.

In the exchange of views that followed the opening remarks, South Africa's representative, on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said that the relationships between international migration and development were numerous and extremely complex.  The current era of increased global economic integration, quicker and cheaper transport, high mobility of people, and information and communication technology provided a new context, and, if well-managed, migration had the potential to be "an enabler" of improved and integrated global, regional and national development strategies.  Steps should be taken to, among other things, reduce transfer costs of the migrant remittances to developing countries and train unskilled workers to offset the loss of skilled persons from developing countries.

When managed effectively, the links between migration and development could have a substantial positive impact, both for the host country and the country of origin, Austria's speaker on behalf of the European Union said.  For more than 10 years, the Union had been developing a common migration policy framework and increasingly moving towards a comprehensive approach to migration and development.  It sought an approach that addressed regional and Pan-African dimensions of migration so as to facilitate cooperation between countries of origin and transit and the Union.  Also important were combating illegal migration, protecting migrants' human rights, and ensuring their equal access to health and education and equal treatment before the law as first steps towards their successful integration.

In other business today, Torres Salmeron (Mexico) was elected by acclamation to serve as Vice-Chairperson for the thirty-ninth session.  He joined the following Vice-Chairpersons elected on 8 April 2005:  Majdi Ramadan (Lebanon); Albert Graf (Germany); and Ewa Fratczak (Poland), who will also serve as Rapporteur for the session.

For the members of the Commission and additional background information, please see the Background Press Release POP/942 of 30 March.

Introductions of reports of the Secretary-General were by:  Bela Hovy, Chief, Migration Section, Population Division; Francois Farah, Chief, Population and Development Branch, Technical Support Division of the UNFPA; and Ann Pawliczko, Population and Development Branch, Technical Support Division, UNFPA.

Additional statements in the general discussion were also made by the representatives of Bangladesh, Iran and the Russian Federation.

Representatives of the following United Nations Commissions also spoke:  Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

The Population Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue its general discussion.

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