Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Special International Conference of Developing Countries with Substantial International Migrant Flows
Lima, 16 May 2006

I come on behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General to join you at this Special Ministerial-level Conference of Developing Countries with Substantial International Migrant Flows. I bring to you his appreciation for your invitation—and, especially, for your efforts to contribute to the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, to be conducted by the UN General Assembly this September, and to build a better world for migrants worldwide.

As the Lima Declaration that you have just approved indicates, the high mobility of goods, capital, information and ideas that characterizes the current globalization contrasts sharply with the significant barriers that continue to restrict the mobility of labour, particularly of low-skilled labour. Nonetheless, international migration is an essential component of our contemporary reality.

According to United Nations estimates, there are 191 million international migrants in the world, about half of them women. Although about two out of every five migrants live in developing countries, the number of these migrants has hardly changed since 1990, as a result of major return flows, particularly of repatriating refuges. At the same time, the number of migrants from developing countries to developed countries has been rising, making international migration increasingly—but not exclusively—a flow from developing to industrial countries. Existing trends indicate that the need for migrant workers will continue, if not increase, in the coming years, particularly in high-income countries, due to the rapid aging of their populations.

Myths about migrants persist in many countries. More and more, however, the world is coming to regard migrants and migration from a development perspective—and one that reveals a largely positive picture.

Migrants indeed bring to recipient countries hard work and a willingness to take risks in order to succeed. And migrant entrepreneurs contribute to investment and employment in the countries that receive them. We also see the growing importance of workers’ remittances and the contribution of expatriate communities to their countries of origin through solidarity support, as well as networks of knowledge, trade and investment. All this makes international migration one of the ingredients that enable the global economic system to perform better.

Beyond improving economic outcomes, migration also forms part of the glue that binds societies together and that exposes the “us” to the “them”, making us all, migrants and natives, aware of what that unites us all in our diversity as human beings. Although the process of mutual adaptation between host societies and migrants may not always proceed smoothly, migration enriches the social and cultural fabric of both sending and receiving societies.

So our real subject here is international migration and global development, not only of economies but of societies.

The time is ripe for a sober, frank and constructive discussion on international migration and its contribution to development for all, taking into account the interests of all stakeholders and seeking to promote greater collaboration among all the key actors. Hence the call by the General Assembly for the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development—and for contributions to its preparatory process, such as this Special Ministerial Conference.

I would like to discuss with you the principles that the Secretary-General has suggested should guide our approach to the Dialogue. These principles, as you will see, are in harmony with those featured in the Lima Declaration, which calls for the international community to approach the analysis of migration from the perspective of mutual benefit and mutual commitment. Let me highlight some of the key principles.

First, the economic, social and cultural benefits of migration depend crucially on safeguarding and ensuring respect for the rights of migrants and their families. Indeed, to the extent that migrants can be exploited or abused with impunity, everyone loses: the migrants, the native workers that cannot compete with those who are paid exploitative wages, and the society that is tarnished by such exploitation and must confront the problems of marginalized populations. The success of migration hinges on respect by States and by migrants of their respective obligations and of the rule of law. And it requires the unequivocal commitment of Governments to defend every person from the scourges of racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia.

Second, there is much to gain from collaboration of countries of origin and destination to forge partnerships that foster the positive effects of migration and that promote migration through legal channels. This collaboration is all the more urgent because, as I already pointed out, migration takes place today in a context of large economic and demographic disparities. And such collaboration should be understood as promoting co-development, that is, the coordinated or concerted improvement of economic and social conditions at both origin and destination based on their complementarities.

One strategy, widely recognized for ensuring that migration contributes to the development of communities of origin, is to reduce the cost and to leverage the impact of remittances by providing access to financial services so that the families of migrants can secure credit to invest. We should also keep experimenting with the variety of other strategies being tried, such as: direct and financial investment by migrants in their countries of origin; support by associations of migrants to their communities of origin; the transfer of knowledge and technological and productive know-how to countries of origin through networks of highly trained professionals; the growth of trade in ethnic goods that are consumed by communities of migrants living abroad; and the additional supply of human resources generated by return and circular migration flows.

Third, this brings us back to a major challenge related to migration today: the high mobility of the highly educated or skilled. Given the high mobility and indeed the greater facility for the movement of skilled labour, the needs of developing countries in this area will probably require a global approach to the formation of human capital, based on the fundamental principle of solidarity. This is critical in particular areas, such as in the health, education and ICT sectors. Collaborative arrangements and partnerships to train required skilled personnel and to improve working conditions in home countries are urgently needed. Otherwise, the brain drain may continue to have an adverse effect on development in several developing countries in the coming decades.

Fourth, the integration of migrants into the societies that receive them needs to be addressed from the perspective of the mutual adaptation of both migrants and receiving societies. In some places, a sense that migrant communities have difficulty integrating and are not experiencing upward socio-economic mobility has led to antagonism from others in society. This in turn can be reflected in increasing support for political parties with anti-migrant and even racist and xenophobic stances.

Such situations can be exacerbated by the fact and public perceptions of irregular migration, the flows of which are very difficult to measure. By some estimates, half of all migrants who enter countries clandestinely do so through smuggling and trafficking. This points up additional and fundamental concerns: transnational crimes related to migration and the vulnerabilities of migrants and potential migrants and their families. An encouraging development on this front has been the entry into force in 2004 of the Protocols on Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking of Persons just a few years after their adoption, indicating the high priority that many countries accord to preventing and combating these crimes.

These principles and policy implications are pulled together in the body of migration-related agreements and goals produced by the major UN conferences and summits and their follow-up processes. These include in particular the migration-related goals agreed by the International Conference on Population and Development at Cairo, as well as by conferences at Copenhagen on social development, at Beijing on women and at Durban on racism. These guiding principles and policy implications were underscored and advanced this past week by the United Nations Commission on Population and Development.

Also part of this normative framework are the array of human rights instruments recalled in the Lima Declaration, as well as the ILO Conventions on labour migration and the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. While all these Conventions have become international standards, they have yet to be ratified by a significant number of major migrant-receiving countries.

The achievement of the migration-related goals depends, in the first instance, on Member States’ summoning the political will to keep these commitments and to implement comprehensive and coherent national policies. Yet, as I have suggested to you today, another essential ingredient is sustained international dialogue to share experiences, to discuss ways and means to further synergistically these goals, and to develop effective modalities for the much needed bilateral, regional and international cooperation, in order, as the Lima Declaration urges, to maximize the benefits of migration to all those concerned.

The United Nations provides a unique venue for just this sort of dialogue and action at the global level. And we are heartened by the forthright approach shared by all the developing countries gathered here in Peru. In the name of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I thank you for your efforts, and for the major contribution that the Lima Declaration will make to the success of the High Level Dialogue in September.