DESA News Vol. 11, No. 12 December 2007


MigrationMigration in motion

Sound policies can accelerate opportunities for rich and poor countries alike

A new era of mobility has given rise to nearly 200 million migrants around the world. While the ebb and flow of migrants is as old as human history, globalization and advances in communications and transportation have greatly increased the number of people moving across borders. Many still perceive migrants as a threat but the fact is they are crucial for the success of economies and the welfare of people in developed countries. Migrants’ remittances, meanwhile, provide much needed family income that can cover education and health costs back home. Yet only recently have we begun to grasp how important is to magnify the impact of international migration in development, and how smart public policies can boost this effect.

The close and complex relationship between migration and development policies was brought to the fore last year at the General Assembly high-level dialogue on international migration and development. The dialogue reaffirmed that carefully crafted policies can ensure international migration is a positive force for development and, conversely, that development strategies which address the root causes of migration –poverty, lack of jobs, violation of human rights – can also impact on international migration. Taking up the Secretary-General’s recommendation to establish a mechanism for continuing consultation among governments, the Government of Belgium offered to take the lead in organizing an informal, non-binding, voluntary and State-led Global Forum on Migration and Development.

The development connection

Belgium hosted the first meeting of the forum in Brussels in July this year. Over 800 delegates representing 156 States and more than 20 international organizations took part. Setting a constructive tone for the discussion, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in his opening remarks that, “At this early stage of international cooperation on migration and development, we are trying to build trust among States. So we should focus on those policy actions that stand to benefit all the actors in the migration system.”

In Brussels, countries looked at ways in which the employment of migrants in rich countries, and their remittances, could contribute to the development of countries of origin. The first of three roundtables revolved around maximization of opportunities and minimization of risks for human capital development and labor mobility. A second roundtable covered ways of increasing the volume and development impact of remittances, while the third addressed opportunities for greater coherence of migration and development policies, coupled with promotion of partnerships.

The Government of the Philippines has taken up the baton and is organizing the second forum in October 2008 in Manila. As this country is the origin of millions of migrants, the Manila event is expected to offer a “different, or rather, a complementary” perspective to that of Brussels, in the words of Esteban Conejos, Under-Secretary for Migrant Worker Affairs of the Philippines and focal point for the second forum. The Manila forum will follow the same format as Brussels with a spotlight on the rights of migrants. The discussion will look at ways of increasing safe and legal opportunities for the migration of workers and strategies to combat migrant smuggling and human trafficking, while continuing to stress the importance of policy coherence between migration and development.

Although the Global Forum on Migration and Development is a State-led initiative, the UN system was directly involved in the preparatory process in Brussels. DESA contributed to the forum by organizing a “marketplace” where governments could present their requests for migration-related services and find partners to implement them. Both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang made statements in the plenary session of the forum, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Migration, Peter Sutherland, led a roundtable on the future of the forum. Mr. Sutherland is, indeed, the most direct link between the UN and the forum.

DESA and, broadly, the UN system have been requested to provide support for follow-up of the outcome identified in the first forum meeting. To that end, the Executive Director of the first forum and Ambassador for the Kingdom of Belgium to Switzerland, Régine De Clercq, attended the sixth UN Coordination Meeting on Migration held in New York on 26 and 27 November which was convened by DESA’s Population Division. Mr. Conejos, as a focal point for the Second Forum in 2008, also took part. The UN Coordination Meeting brings together representatives of all entities in the UN system working on international migration in addition to other organizations engaged in migration-related work such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and OECD.

From drain to gain: Recovering skilled workers

The Brussels forum produced at least fifty concrete recommendations for putting migrant employment and remittances at the service of development. Those recommendations, said Ms. De Clercq, are “voluntary steps” that governments can take to ease seasonal movements of migrant workers, strengthen institutions for migrant affairs, and cut transfer costs on remittances. Other concrete outcomes range from preparing a compendium of best practices on temporary labor migration, guidelines on ethical recruitment practices for hiring skilled personnel, and recommendations for dealing with the loss of skilled workers from low-income countries, the so-called “brain drain”.

Migration of highly-skilled workers has been growing, according to a study presented by OECD at the Coordination Meeting. A large proportion of skilled migrants originate in developed countries or in large countries where they do not represent a major drain on the members left behind. But for many poor countries with low numbers of highly-skilled workers, their emigration poses a troubling dilemma, says Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division in DESA. “Rich countries are opening doors for skilled workers but poor countries cannot afford to lose high proportions of their relatively small number of skilled workers.” This is especially true in sectors as health and education that are crucial to economic and social well-being. The WHO World Health Report 2006 has referred to a “current crisis in the global health workforce,” revealing an estimated shortage of almost 4.3 million doctors, midwives, nurses and support workers worldwide, a shortage that is most severe in sub-Saharan Africa where health workers are most needed.

Between 50 and 80 percent of all college graduates from several small countries in Africa and the Caribbean live abroad, the Secretary-General reminds us in his 2006 exhaustive report on international migration and development. These countries need assistance to train skilled workers and most importantly to retain them since crushing workloads, lack of proper supplies, limited career prospects, professional isolation, and inadequate pay all feed the brain drain in a mutually reinforcing cycle of lost opportunity. The lure of a well-paid job in a wealthy country is a powerful driver of international migration, which has intensified as income inequality among countries continues to grow.

Gender inequality also plays a part. “Representation of highly-skilled women from poor countries in migration flows to developed countries is high,” notes Ms. Zlotnik, “higher than the number of highly-skilled male migrants.” A likely explanation, she adds, is that women tend to enjoy a much better status in developed countries than in developing ones, which spurs them to move.

The general consensus of the Brussels forum was that joint actions between countries of origin and destination are needed to prevent “brain drain” and promote “brain gain,” especially to recover skilled health workers in developing countries or train more. It was likewise agreed that a statement of principles for ethical recruitment in the health sector should be developed. The Global Health Workforce Alliance is already working on such a code of conduct and will report on its findings in Manila in 2008.

Is temporary mobility the best approach?

A compendium of good policies for safe and orderly temporary labour migration is also needed, forum participants suggested. Families and communities in poor countries benefit in particular from temporary migration, which has the potential to match labour surpluses with shortages across countries in a flexible and mutually beneficial way.

Temporary migration programmes are rising. Indeed, circular schemes are often preferred by rich countries to more permanent arrangements. After years of tight borders and restrictive immigration policies, a new thinking has emerged. “European countries now say: We realize that migration can have benefits. We need migrants – caregivers, cleaners, etc. – but we have to make sure that migration is organized, legal and, preferably, circular,” says Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section in DESA’s Population Division.

The use of bilateral agreements stands out among the recommendations of the first Global Forum, especially if based on standard contracts and assured social security benefits for migrants. Similarly, joint agreements between origin and destination countries, with an emphasis on lower-skilled migrants, can help enforce the laws to protect temporary migrants.

Temporary migration programmes do not, however, offer a solution to all migration challenges. States that focus on admitting temporary migrants face a dilemma, says the Secretary-General in his report. In particular, their temporary status makes the integration of migrants more difficult, and may lead to their marginalization. At the same time, given the structural needs for migrants in industrialized countries with ageing populations and highly educated people who are not willing to take low-paid and physically demanding jobs, “filling those needs exclusively with temporary migrants may turn out to be problematic,” according to the report.

There are even more dilemmas. “The most beneficial migration for poor countries is the temporary one,” Ms. Zlotnik points out, because temporary admission regimes promote the return of migrants and the sending of remittances that can contribute to the development of their communities of origin. “But in order to maintain the temporary status of migrants, governments need to restrict their rights, and generally do not allow family reunification in the host country.”

Tapping remittances

In terms of development, remittances are the most immediate and tangible way to reap the benefits of international migration. While statistics on migration have some deficiencies, migrants from poor countries sent home in 2006 about $207 billion, according to the World Bank. That is more than double the global total of foreign aid.

Encouragingly, remittances have the potential to raise the incomes of households without migrants as well. According to the Secretary-General’s report, “Every dollar from remittances may create two or three additional dollars of income in the communities of origin,” mostly because remittances are spent on goods and services supplied by others in the local economy. But even if goods are produced outside the community of origin, multiplier effects will increase incomes because of diffusion through the national economy.

Remittances could have a major impact if competition among money transfer institutions can be boosted and procedures eased to minimize transaction costs. Such initiatives could be combined with improved “financial literacy not only of migrants, but of everybody in countries of origin,” proposes Ms. Zlotnik, so that savings from families receiving remittances could be deposited in banks, yielding returns for those families and providing capital for entrepreneurs in the country of origin. Education is key. A migrant, through remittances, can provide the household with capital and income security that pave the way for more productive activities such as agricultural production or microenterprises. In Mexico for example, about a fifth of the capital invested in microenterprises comes from remittances.

Despite their obvious advantage, a country should not bet everything on remittances. “Remittances do not diminish the need for official development assistance,” agreed forum delegates, “and they should never become an alternative to individual or national development.”

The need for coherent policies

Migration should be taken into account by those in government responsible for national development policies, and not relegated to the realm of migration policy alone. Indeed, fostering communication among the different government entities involved in managing migration is pivotal if policies and decisions are to be consistent. This is the main conclusion of the roundtable on policy coherence that took place in the Brussels forum. Consideration of this important issue will resume in the Manila forum in 2008. It is encouraging, says Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs and current chair of the Global Migration Group, that preparations for the forums have generated more and more coordination at the national level in many countries.

The Global Migration Group is the main available instrument for such coherence and coordination within the UN system. The group, which exchanges information and works to develop synergies among international agencies working on international migration, has produced a survey of best practices in the areas explored by the Belgium forum, as well as a compendium of capacity-building activities by members of the group. Mr. Sha is Chair of the Global Migration Group through 31 December. In addition, the Population Division of DESA estimates the number of migrants in the world at the national level and is currently engaged in the estimation of the number of international migrants by age, estimates that are very relevant for the work of other units of the system, including UNICEF that is increasing focusing on the plight of migrant children.

Since 2000, the international community has designated 18 December as International Migrants Day, to celebrate the achievements and highlight the struggles of migrants around the world. The UN invites governments to observe this day through the dissemination of information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, and through the design of actions to ensure their protection. Aware of the imperative to ensure those rights and combat trafficking and smuggling of migrants, the Global Forum will discuss next year actions that need to be taken to safeguard their rights of migrant.

For more information:

Ms. H. Zlotnik

Esteban B. Conejos Jr., Under-Secretary for Migrant Worker Affairs of the Philippines, Ambassador Régine de Clercq of Belgium, and Hania Zlotnik, Director of the DESA Population Division, brief the press on the achievements of the first meeting of the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Belgium, and the expectations for its next meeting in the Philippines (44 minutes)

25 years of commitment to women’s equality25 years of commitment to women’s equality

CEDAW starts 2008 with a move to the human rights office in Geneva

For 25 years, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, established under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, has been serviced by the Division for the Advancement of Women in DESA. As of the first of January 2008, responsibility for servicing the Committee will be transferred to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. Looking back, both the Committee and DAW find good reason to celebrate their years of commitment to achieving equality between women and men.

The Convention, which entered into force in 1981, is a landmark in setting out the global normative standards of gender equality. It provides for the practical realization of the principle of equality of women and men, and for women’s full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in civil, political, economic, social and cultural fields. It also requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in both the public and private spheres. To date, 185 States – over 95 per cent of the Member States of the United Nations – are party to the Convention.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a 23-person expert body, started its work in 1982, monitoring implementation of the Convention at the national level, through a process of reviewing reports that all States parties are obliged to present regularly to the Committee. The result of the constructive dialogue between the Committee and the representatives of the State party are recommendations for action – the Committee’s ‘concluding comments’ – which the State party is expected to implement and to disseminate widely within the country to different stakeholders.

The Committee also elaborates general recommendations on specific articles or issues covered by the Convention. These general recommendations further clarify the content of the obligations assumed by States parties to the Convention. Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which entered into force in 2000, the Committee considers individual complaints, provided that certain admissibility criteria have been met. It also has the power to initiate inquiries into grave or systematic violations of rights enshrined in the Convention.

Over the past 25 years, the Committee has held 39 sessions. It has examined 401 reports, submitted by 154 States parties, and has elaborated 25 general recommendations. Under the Optional Protocol, the Committee has registered 16 communications, of which is has decided five on the merits and declared five inadmissible. The Committee has carried out one inquiry.

Building blocks to fight discrimination

At a commemorative event this year in celebration of the Committee’s 25th anniversary, Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized the important role of the Committee’s general recommendations. Ms. Arbour pointed out that “the Committee’s general recommendation on female circumcision was the first by a UN treaty body on that practice” and that the Committee was also the first to adopt a general recommendation on HIV/AIDS.  She stressed that the Committee’s general recommendation on violence against women was “a crucial building block in the recognition of gender-based violence as a violation of human rights,” and provided the impetus for adoption, by the General Assembly, of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, in 1993, the establishment, by the Commission on Human Rights, of a Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, in 1994, and various regional human rights instruments. Likewise, the Committee’s general recommendations on equality in marriage and family relations, women in political and public life, and health, have been, in her view, widely influential.

The Convention’s impact on the legal and socio-political development in States parties is without doubt. Such an impact is visible in the strengthening of constitutional provisions guaranteeing equality between women and men and providing a constitutional basis for the protection of women’s rights; reforms to bring legislation into conformity with Convention principles and obligations; improvements in the capacity and authority of national institutions to guarantee equality between women and men; and increasing use of the Convention by national courts.

Evidence of the Convention’s influence can be found, for example, in the South African and Ugandan Constitutions which contain significant provisions guaranteeing women’s equality. Nepal’s Supreme Court relied on the Convention in directing the Government to address discriminatory laws. Canada’s Supreme Court drew on the Convention and the Committee’s general recommendation no.19 on violence against women in considering a case of alleged sexual assault. The Constitutional Court of Guatemala also referred to the Convention in upholding a challenge to provisions in the penal code, which treated men and women differently.

The Division for the Advancement of Women in DESA has supported the Committee in all aspects of its work. It has also assisted States parties in the implementation of the Convention and the Committee’s concluding comments, and has thus contributed to enhancing the impact of the Convention and the Committee’s work at the country level. The Division has regularly undertaken technical assistance activities at regional, sub-regional and national levels to strengthen the capacity of countries to fulfill their obligations under the Convention, and to support comprehensive follow-up to the Committee’s concluding comments.

An area of particular focus in recent years has been the DESA’s support to countries emerging from conflict, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Haiti, in their efforts to promote gender equality and women’s enjoyment of their human rights. Activities have included high-level consultations, and training and capacity-building workshops on the Convention, including the reporting procedure. According to Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, “By supporting such countries in the preparation of their initial reports, the Division for the Advancement of Women assists in creating the basis for the Committee’s constructive dialogue with the State party and the establishment of a baseline for the Committee’s future monitoring of progress in implementation.”

New chapter, new challenges

After the achievements of these twenty-five years, what are the challenges ahead for the Committee? The current Committee Chairperson, Dubravka Šimonović, stressed, at the celebration of the Committee’s 25th anniversary that, “In too many countries discrimination against women even in the law persists. In too few countries, the Convention is directly applicable in courts, and too few judges know about the Convention and use it for the benefit of women.” Sadly, “De facto discrimination against women remains universal.” The Committee also remains concerned about the significant number of reservations to the Convention, the lack of compliance with the reporting obligation by a number of States parties and the significant delays in submitting those reports by many States parties.

From next year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will support the Committee in meeting these challenges. But as a 25-year chapter closes in the Division for the Advancement of Women, it should be recalled, in the words of Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President of the General Assembly’s 61st session, that “the Committee’s effective monitoring work and guidance have significantly enhanced the accountability of States for women’s enjoyment of their human rights and shaped the progress of women worldwide.”

For more information:

The employment imperative: Job creation has not kept pace with economic growth

The employment imperative: Job creation has not kept pace with economic growth

The 2007 Report on the World Social Situation was launched on 28 November. According to Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, employment and decent work need to be seen as central objectives of development strategies, and not as by-products of economic policy. Workers with low education and low skills have been hit particularly hard.

Webcast: (28 minutes)
Audio summary : (1 minute)