Press Conference on Migration and Development Seminar Series

29 April 2009

Press Conference on Migration and Development Seminar Series

29 April 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference on migration and development seminar series

If migrants worldwide were suddenly to come together as a community, they would form one of the world’s five most populous countries, whose gross domestic product of $300 billion would surpass that of many developed countries, William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said today.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference where he signed a Comprehensive Framework Agreement with Carlos Lopes, Executive Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Mr. Swing said the memorandum of understanding was emblematic of the Institute’s growing role in the migration field and its ability to develop a more structured partnership between the two organizations.  It was a response to a key demand by Member States for much more action in the field of migration with respect to cooperation and capacity-building.  In short, the Agreement formalized a long-standing partnership between the IOM and UNITAR.

He said the Institute had just concluded a two-day seminar which had considered the diaspora role in peacebuilding.  One in a series initiated by the General Assembly in 2006 and designed to support global dialogue on international migration and development, the seminar’s aim was to deepen the engagement of expatriate networks with the peacebuilding process.  The series and the new Agreement sought to implement, including locally, recommendations emanating from the so-called Manila process, which had focused since 1996 on irregular migration and trafficking.

Taking the floor, Mr. Lopes pointed out that in a world where 4 billion people owned cell phones there was a completely new way of relating and networking, and with that level of connectivity, the role of the diaspora was immense.  As a result of the new partnership between UNITAR and IOM, issues would be tackled in an entirely different way.  The priority need was to understand better the impact of the current financial crisis on migration, and to move from comprehension to policy formulation.

The formal collaboration between UNITAR and IOM was a “gift” to that and other processes, he continued.  In fact, the Institute was enjoying a new lease on life, which included a 50 per cent increase in resources over the past two years.  However, that increase had come on top of a “very low base”.  UNITAR would focus more on training, which already benefited 40,000 people each year.

Asked how the role of the diaspora in peacebuilding applied to stopping the conflict in Sri Lanka, Mr. Lopes said the aim was to hold discussions that resulted in concrete proposals rather than academic debates.  While UNITAR sought to influence the work of the Peacebuilding Commission, migration issues this year would be focused mostly on the financial crisis.

Responding to a question about a controversy over why satellite photographs of the Gaza conflict had been released but none on the fighting in Sri Lanka, Mr. Lopes explained that the Institute’s satellite imagery unit, the UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), produced maps to serve the work of the humanitarian community.  “We are the intermediaries, the researchers” who interpreted the information and delivered it to the “requesters”.

In response to a follow-up question ‑‑ why a map of the situation in Sri Lanka had been made available and then taken down from UNITAR’s website ‑‑ he said there had been a leak of the map, which had appeared briefly; it was time-sensitive for those interested in it.  As for satellite maps showing the situation in Gaza, they had been requested for the Donors’ Conference on reconstruction of the Palestinian enclave.

Asked to define “diaspora”, Mr. Swing said the term referred to those who left their country for another but who retained a relationship with the home country.  They could be doctors or persons on trade and investment missions.

“We are dealing with layers of complexity,” Mr. Lopes said, adding that there was a need to explore ways to reverse the so-called brain drain, among other matters.

Mr. Swing agreed that there had been a near revolution in thinking about migration.  Previously a “big yawn”, it was now a topic of interests to Governments and other entities in today’s era of globalization.  In speaking about globalization, however, the free flow of capital, goods and services attracted the most attention while a commensurate amount of thinking had not gone into the question of free flows of people.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.