International Community Must Address Deepening Links between Migration, Development, Acting General Assembly President Tells Special Event

25 June 2013
GA/11387

International Community Must Address Deepening Links between Migration, Development, Acting General Assembly President Tells Special Event

25 June 2013
General Assembly
GA/11387
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Panel Discussion (AM & PM)

International Community Must Address Deepening Links between Migration,

 

Development, Acting General Assembly President Tells Special Event

 

Panel Discussions Spotlight Labour Mobility, Protection of Migrants’ Rights

The increasingly complex nature of migration, coupled with the fact that more people were on the move than ever before, required the international community to address the deepening relationship linking international migration and development, Acting General Assembly President Rodney Charles ( Trinidad and Tobago), said today.

Speaking during a General Assembly special event on migration and development, he said people migrated for different reasons, some for employment or to reunite with family members, others to escape poverty, violence and conflict, and still others in the aftermath of disasters or environmental changes.  Previously, migration had typically been viewed as a problem to be solved, as if zero migration were the goal.

The emigration of highly skilled migrants had often been characterized as a “brain drain”, he said, noting that, while that kind of migration continued to pose a challenge for small developing countries, the international community recognized its development potential in the consequent diaspora of entrepreneurs, inventors or investors.  Although there had been improved cooperation between various agencies of the United Nations system and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), greater regional engagement was needed, he said, emphasizing also that, while it was important to discuss migrants, it was critical to hear directly from them.

Sonia Nazario, a journalist and writer, described migration as one of the “biggest social and economic issues of our time”, pointing out that the economy of the United States had been boosted by a workforce prepared to carry out jobs that others would not, and for lower wages.  While that helped businesses stay afloat and keep prices low, however, it also resulted in wage depression and reduced job opportunities for poorly educated non-migrants.  Children left behind by emigrating parents were called “mobility orphans”, and a Harvard University study had found that they often felt abandoned and resented their parents, with a larger number turning to gangs or falling pregnant, and many suffering from depression, performing poorly at school and becoming drug addicts.

She said the so-called mobility orphans also often fled countries like El Salvador and Honduras, which had the world’s highest murder rates, running a gauntlet of rapists, robbers, gangsters and police as they travelled through highly dangerous circumstances.  Approximately 100,000 such children had attempted migration on their own in 2012, and that number was expected to double this year, she said.  Migrants would not leave if they could feed and educate their children, she said, calling for resources to tackle the problem at its source.  The United States must see migration as an international development issue, and policy should focus on providing microloans, as well as on promoting education and family planning for women and girls, while working to help redistribute wealth.

Jesús Pérez Mendez, Executive Director for the City University of New York Working Task Force on Strengthening Educational Opportunities for the Mexican and Mexican-American Community, recounted his migration from a small town in Mexico to New York City in the 1970s, describing the South Bronx as resembling a battlefield full of gangs and drug addicts.  It all boiled down to development, education and opportunity, he said, recalling how he had approached City University 13 years ago about a programme to promote higher education among immigrant communities.  He had been doing that ever since, and his story demonstrated that it was possible to have “a structured and orderly migration”, whereby one took the best of both worlds and created a different, bi-national citizenship, wishing the best for both one’s homeland and for the country one had grown to call home.

The Assembly also held three panel discussions, the first titled “Migration and development:  Drivers and impacts”, the second “Facilitating labour mobility:  Protecting migrant rights”, and the third “Towards the 2013 high-level dialogue and beyond”.

The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 June, for it’s a thematic debate on entrepreneurship for development.

Opening Remarks

RODNEY CHARLES ( Trinidad and Tobago), Acting President of the General Assembly, addressing the complex relationship linking international migration and development, pointed out that the number of international migrants had never been greater and affected all countries.  Migration patterns had become multifaceted, with some people moving permanently, and others going back and forth for temporary or seasonal employment.  As well, some migrated for jobs or to reunite with family members, while others moved to escape poverty, violence and conflict, or in the aftermath of natural disasters or environmental changes.

In short, he said, more people were not only on the move, they were moving more often and over greater distances.  Previously, migration had typically been viewed as a problem to be solved, as if the goal was zero migration.  He noted that emigration of highly skilled migrants was often characterized as a “brain drain”.  While that kind of migration continued to pose a challenge for small developing countries, the international community recognized the development potential in a diaspora of entrepreneurs, inventors or investors.

He went on to note that, although there had been improved cooperation between various agencies of the United Nations system and the International Organization for Migration, a greater engagement was needed at the regional level.  It was important to talk about migrants, but it was critical, he said, to hear directly from them.  The panels, in that regard, which were balanced in terms of migration experiences and gender, would be sharing views that were uncommon, out-of-the-box, and even provocative.

Keynote Address

SONIA NAZARIO, a journalist and writer, offered two examples of people’s desperation that would make them so willing to travel thousands of miles for their families, first describing the life of a house cleaner living in Los Angeles who had left her children behind in Guatemala, and then the experience of a child who had migrated from Central America to the United States, where he had hoped to find his mother.

She said that children left behind were called “mobility orphans”.  Approximately 100,000 in 2012 had attempted migration on their own.  That number was expected to double this year.  They often fled countries like El Salvador and Honduras, which had the world’s highest murder rates and ran a gauntlet of rapists, robbers, gangsters and the police as they travelled through highly dangerous circumstance.  Many suffered life-changing injuries in their journey.

To help readers understand the desperation, she said, she re-enacted the journey herself.  Though she was the child of migrants, it was only when she visited Honduras that she understood the desperation that would cause such choices.  Calling migration one of the “biggest social and economic issues of our time”, she described its positive and negative impacts, pointing out that the United States economy was boosted by a workforce prepared to do jobs others would not, and for lower wages.

While that helped businesses stay afloat and keep prices low, she said it also resulted in wage depression and reduced job opportunities for poorly educated non-migrants.  The so-called “mobility orphans” left behind, were seen by a Harvard University study to feel abandoned and to resent their parents, with a larger number turning to gangs or falling pregnant, and many suffering from depression, poor education and drug addiction.

Migrants would not leave if they could feed and educate their children, she stated, and she called for resources to tackle the problem at its source.  The United States needed to see migration as an international development issue.  Policy should focus on providing microloans, promoting education and family planning for women and girls, as well as working to help redistribute wealth.  Such efforts would help to tackle poverty and increase opportunities at home, while simultaneously helping to reduce migration better than a border fence.

Panel Discussion I

Moderated by Susan Martin, Professor, Georgetown University, the first panel addressed “Migration and development:  Drivers and impacts”.  Panellists included Douglas Massey, Director of the Office of Population and Research, Princeton University; Devesh Kapur, Professor, University of Pennsylvania; and Jean-Christophe Dumont, Head, International Migration Division, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Mr. MASSEY, calling migration “part and parcel” in the process of development, said that the fundamental driver of international migration was the ongoing globalization of the world economy and the transformation of agrarian societies to market societies, an event not new to the world’s stage.  Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, millions in Europe, during the process of urbanization, moved from the country to the city.  However, many, unable to be adsorbed by the city, migrated internationally.  That was happening again in current times, but on a much larger scale.  The policy challenge, therefore, was to come up with ways to not stop the migration movement, which was bound to occur, but to manage it in ways both beneficial to sending and receiving societies.  Countries needed to move away from a concept of migration blockage and towards a philosophy of migration management.  Ironically, militarizing borders and spending billions of dollars on border patrol, as in the case of the United States at its border with Mexico, accelerated growth of the migrant population because such policies prevented out-migration.

Mr. KAPUR stressed that remittances by themselves were not a transformative driver of economic growth.  Money sent back was undoubtedly helpful, but there was no evidence that remittances fostered financial institutions necessary to sustain developing economies.  It was important to see markets as social institutions that facilitated social exchange.  Noting the cases of China and India, he said that until those Governments had changed domestic policy, diasporas played a limited role.  When people migrated abroad they acquired new skills, whether in construction or agriculture.  Yet, when they returned, those skills often were wasted due to a lack of local markets.  Emphasizing the need to diversify where migrants go in order “to get a bigger bang for your buck”, he said if migrants only travelled to countries where they had strong linkages, the marginal impact of new information and experience gained would be limited.  Furthermore, Governments must also reflect on why people were leaving and whether migrants left for positive or negative reasons as the “former will leverage while the latter will haemorrhage”.

Mr. DUMONT said migration prejudices were mostly based on migrant misconceptions, such as “do migrants steal jobs?” and “do they bring wages down?”  However, in the long run the impact of migration on wages was positive.  With 16 years of data examining migration in the United States, the statistics showed that the impact of migration on unemployment was very small, almost negligible.  Evidence on the fiscal impact was also quite contentious, he pointed out.  Foreign-born migrants in OECD countries generally paid more in taxes and other contributions, but received less in support.  On many levels, migrants filled skill-vacuums as modern-day migrants were increasingly highly educated.  In the past decade, migration had made a key contribution to employment growth in developed countries.  Emphasizing that migrants were advancing into highly educated occupations, such as engineering, health, and education, he said more needed to be done to utilize migrants’ skills and increase the positive impact of migration.  An informed public debate was also important to dispel misleading conceptions on the issue.

In an ensuing interactive exchange, several delegates expressed concern about the discrepancy between the global discussion on migration and the sensitivity of migration at the national level.  The representative of Switzerland recounted that one quarter of her country’s workforce was foreign-born, which cultivated a public discourse which continued to see migration as a “menace”.  She asked the panel how all stakeholders — international leaders, the private sector, civil society and journalists — could contribute to a shift in the pubic conception of migrants.  Mr. DUMONT said it was not only important to confront public opinion with evidence, but also praise the contribution of migrants at the appropriate times.  Mr. MASSEY said that it was easy to scapegoat foreigners and to blame them for the ills of society; therefore, it was critical to have the political courage to stand up and reveal “scapegoating for the sham that it is”.

The representative of Bangladesh said in her country remittances were six times what it received in official development assistance (ODA) and that 13 per cent receiving households were below the poverty line versus 34 per cent of non-remittance households.  Following on that, Mr. KAPUR said that development through remittance could be fostered only through the creation of financial institutions that promoted savings, which in turn would increase investment rates.  Mexico’s delegate emphasized the need to cultivate local opportunities so that migration was a choice rather than a means of survival.

Also participating in today’s discussion were the representative of Peru, China, and the United States.

A representative of the United Methodist Women’s organization also participated in the exchange.

Panel Discussion II

Moderating the second panel — “Facilitating labour mobility:  Protecting migrant rights” — was Demetrios Papademetriou, President and Co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute.  Panellists included Stefano Manservisi, Director-General, Home Affairs, European Commission; Randel Johnson, Senior Vice-President, United States Chamber of Commerce; and, participating by video, François Crépau, United Nations Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

Introducing the panel, Mr. PAPADEMETRIOU said that if migration was to be fully realized as a tool for international development, facilitating labour mobility and protecting migrant rights needed to be seen as two sides of the same coin.

Mr. MANSERVISI, stating that both the European Union and the European Commission wanted to get migration policy “right”, emphasized that it was sound economics to ensure proper allocation of all resources, including human resources.  Labour bottlenecks were not microproblems and needed to be addressed at the highest level.  Because much of migration was not forced but a choice, mobility then was a priority issue.  International rules were needed to ensure enhanced freedom, particularly given that the world was not borderless.  In turn, those rules could help fight exploitation and trafficking.  European integration meant that mobility had reached a stage where movement around the European Union was no longer considered “migration”.  Although that could not be achieved on a international stage, better regional integration could contribute to improving global mobility.  Legal migration from countries outside the European Union was vital to the European Union’s development, boosting sustainable and competitive economic growth.  Migration also needed to be well-managed; that required inclusiveness and dialogue.  To that end, migrants needed to be involved, as well as “third countries”, in building an agenda aimed at a better future for everyone.

Mr. JOHNSON said the United States Congress was about to pass major immigration reforms.  Most decision makers had by now bought into the idea that increased migration should also include mechanisms and pathways for migrants to achieve legal status, permanent residency and citizenship.  The employer community had engaged with trades unions and Congress on the matter of temporary workers programmes.  He pointed to highly skilled, college-educated workers, stating that it did not make sense to educate immigrants and then send them home.  In agricultural work, there was a recognition that most Americans did not wish to work in the sector.  The country was reliant on migrant labour that included many undocumented workers.  For lower-skilled workers, employers were working with unions on proposals that balanced their respective needs.  It was important to protect both migrants and American workers, because undercutting of Americans needed to be stopped.  He described some of the political difficulties at work despite agreements on the economics between the various parties.

Mr. CRÉPAU, discussing his hopes and expectations for the 2013 High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, stressed the importance of mainstreaming human rights in the debate.  Noting that there would be a round table on human rights, he underlined the need for those rights to inform all discussions.  Migrants needed to be viewed as human beings, not just agents for potential economic boosts.  Another round table would discuss trafficking and irregular migration.  He emphasized the need not to criminalize irregular migration and migrants, noting that trafficking and smuggling were distinct.  Terminology was important to keeping humans the central concern of policy.  He also urged delegates not to use the term “illegal immigration” because it contributed to persistent negative perceptions and stereotypes.  The tenets of human rights covenants needed to be applied just as strongly to migrants as they were to citizens, particularly given migrants’ increased vulnerability.

In an interactive discussion that followed, Mr. MANSERVISI said he agreed with Mr. Crépau on the need to use appropriate terminology, noting that the European Union prohibited use of the term “criminal” and had brought about national-level legislation changes, to help ensure migrants’ protection.  He agreed with the representative of the Republic of Moldova that modern migration was a two-way process with rights and duties on both sides, but sharing a common level playing field.

Replying to a question by a representative of Save the Children, Mr. JOHNSON said the Senate bill referred to favoured family reunification and eliminated the counting of visas for spouses and children against the caps.  That made it much easier for migrants to enter the country as families.  He ended with a call to delegates to remember to involve the employer community as they sought to integrate migrants.  It was important not to think in “silos”, but to account for all stakeholders.

Representatives of the Russian Federation and Mexico also took part.

The Assembly then heard from a participant who shared his personal experience as a migrant.

JESÚS PÉREZ MENDEZ, Executive Director, City University of New York Working Task Force on Strengthening Educational Opportunities for the Mexican and Mexican American Community, said the fact that migrants were rarely invited to participate in talks on migration was “like having chicken broth without any chicken”.  Recounting migration from a small town in the mountains of Mexico to New York City in the 1970s, he described it as “leaving a paradise to come to hell”.  The South Bronx looked like a battlefield, with all gangs and drug addicts.  But that experience had also taught him first hand that migration was a catalyst for development.  Thirty-five years later, he said, he remained in New York, and what had helped was the support he had received from the Governments of both Mexico and the United States.

He recalled that his parents had instilled in him from a young age the belief that education was the key to a better life.  With that in mind, he had attended college, and education had inspired him to travel back to Mexico and study why people migrated in the first place.  It all boiled down to development, education, and opportunity, he said, recalling that 13 years ago, he had approached the City University of New York about a programme to promote higher education among immigrant communities and had been doing that ever since.  He said that his story demonstrated that it was possible to have “a structured and orderly migration” whereby one could take the best of both worlds and create a different citizenship, a bi-national citizen, who wished the best for both his homeland and the country he had grown to call home.

Panel Discussion III

The third panel, “Towards the 2013 high-level dialogue and beyond”, featured Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on International Migration and Development; Eva Akerman-Borje, Ambassador, Swedish Chairmanship of the Global Forum on Migration and Development; John Bingham, Chair, Commission on Sustainable Development Steering Committee; William Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM); and Amr Nour, Director, Regional Commissions New York Office.

Moderator John Wilmoth, Director, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, posed six questions to the panellists.

Mr. BINGHAM, asked to describe the main achievements in the area of international migration and development since the first high-level meeting in 2006, said it was the ability of Governments and civil society to “come together and stay together” on issues relating to human rights.

Ms. AKERMAN-BORJE, recalling that there had been no global platform for dialogue and the exchange of practices in 2006, said there had been polarization and lack of trust instead.  Today there was a successful global forum and a “healthy process” that brought civil society and partners from around the globe together on important issues.

Mr. SUTHERLAND recalled the lack of trust between developed and developing countries before 2006, emphasizing that the absence of trust had meant no proper dialogue.

Mr. SWING said the biggest accomplishment was the growing recognition that large-scale migration was a “mega-trend” of the twentieth century, the equally growing recognition that migration and development were intrinsically linked and that multilateral engagement in governance was needed.

Mr. NOUR said major stakeholders could now agree that international migration was not a problem to be stopped, but something that could be managed.  Highlighting legislative changes in the way that countries dealt with migration, he cited South-East Asia, where national ministries had been created to deal specifically with migration.

Ms. AKERMAN-BORJE, asked what major challenges the international community faced in terms of international development and migration, said they included the high transaction costs of remittances and the vulnerability of migrant populations.

Mr. SUTHERLAND said that the fundamental challenge was changing how people viewed migration.  Promoting an inclusive view of migrants was radically different from the nationalist and xenophobic views becoming increasingly prevalent even in some of the most inclusive societies, he added, stressing that migration was absolutely necessary, even in societies fighting it.  Employers and religious leaders from all sects must stand up and speak up, to prevent a clash of civilizations.

Mr. SWING said the biggest challenge was changing public perception about the inevitability, necessity and desirability of migration.  More people were on the move than ever before, yet there was a counter-cyclical response by some Governments, which thought the migrant problem could be solved by building more walls or by sending migrants home.  It was also critical to address the notion that “too much” migration was taking place due to traffickers and smugglers using unsafe channels.

Mr. NOUR expressed concern that migrants still suffered from a lack of human rights.  There was need for evidence-based data on age and gender, at both the national and regional levels.

Mr. BINGHAM emphasized the role of local authorities, saying integration was as intensely local as it was national.  With trust and consensus on so many issues, it was time to attract engagement on issues, he said, adding that safe and orderly migration was also a challenge.

The Moderator asked what two or three main lessons the international community had learned about international migration and development since the last high-level dialogue.

Mr. SUTHERLAND said it was important to recognize that Governments were not well organized to deal with migration issues because ministries tended to operate in “silos”.  Leadership in linking migration and development must come from civil society groups, and politicians must stop linking migration to their electoral success, he stressed.

Mr. SWING called for a more comprehensive approach, including at the regional level, emphasizing that the focus should remain on the migrant — the human being.  Cross-border human links must be recognized and the multilateral, informal approach offered by the Global Forum on Migration and Development provided solutions to problems that could not be solved bilaterally.  Policymaking must be more evidence-based, he said, stressing the need for more research into the links between migration and development.

Mr. NOUR, noting that linking migration and development led to better policymaking, stressed that protecting migrant workers would be to the fore of migration policies, particularly the protection of women.

Mr. BINGHAM, urging delegates not to fight “yesterday’s war”, pointed to changes in labour-market mobility and the “rise of the diaspora”, saying he was happy to see the diaspora community represented in recent discussions.

Ms. AKERMAN-BORJE remarked that the Global Forum was dedicated to sharing lessons learned to the extent that “learning by sharing” could be its motto.

Mr. NOUR, responding to an intervention by the representative of Switzerland, who stressed the need for intergovernmental interactions in various forums, said he was committed to promoting coherence within the Global Migration Group, which had gone a long way towards approving concrete reforms and would move forward with mainstreaming migration into development strategies.

The Moderator asked about the two or three main outcomes for which panellists hoped from the High-Level Dialogue.

Mr. SWING said he hoped for a “positive and substantive” outcome from the upcoming High-Level Dialogue, with advances sought in improving public perceptions of migrants, factoring migration into development planning and the sustainable development goals, protecting human rights, more effective management of migrants in crisis situations, enhanced building of evidence and policy coherence, and the development of institutions.  He said he also hoped to see a strong signal of support for the Global Forum, for regional dialogues, and for the Global Migration Group, which would be housed in IOM and which would focus on substantial issues like policy, rather than procedural matters.

Mr. NOUR stressed the need for greater advocacy for the human rights of migrants and support for building investments in data and a wider knowledge base.

Mr. BINGHAM said civil society only wanted to see a five-year action plan for collaboration between itself and other stakeholders.

Ms. AKERMAN-BORJE said she hoped for more nurturing of the constructive approach to migration that had emerged within the Global Forum in recent years, and for improved partnerships to help build responsiveness.  She hoped the outcome would recognize the Global Forum’s contribution, and that the High-Level Dialogue would not witness a breakdown in the good relations built over the last six years.

Mr. SUTHERLAND, echoing the call for concrete results rather than more rhetoric, said he did not want “formalized speeches repeating the banal observations”.  It was possible to go into specifics on how to integrate migration into the post-2015 development agenda, and on how to promote human rights for migrants.  As well as a chance to give perspectives on the future of international cooperation, the High-Level Dialogue would also offer a chance to improve the Global Forum, which was already a great success, he said.

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and the Russian Federation also participated in the interactive discussion, as did a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Moderator asked what the major objectives were on international migration and development, and what main steps could be taken to achieve them.

Mr. NOUR said he prioritized the drive to ratify and implement international human rights instruments relating to international migration in order to boost migrant protection and the inclusion of migration in the post-2015 development agenda.

Mr. BINGHAM said he wished to talk not only about migrants in crises like disasters, but also about women and children routinely having to go through horrific migration experiences.  The steps to achieving improvement were “collaboration, collaboration, collaboration”.

Ms. AKERMAN-BORJE said she would continue to strengthen intergovernmental dialogue through the Global Forum.  Another important objective was ensuring policy coherence between migration and development through its inclusion in the post-2015 agenda.  Five years down the line, she hoped for a formal international assessment to see how integration could make a difference.

Mr. SUTHERLAND said a major objective was to ensure that States understood that protecting the rights of migrants was the best way to amplify the development effects of migration while also building healthier societies.  He added that he hoped for ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention, saying it was an outrage that terrible abuses continued.

Mr. SWING said the first result should be a resounding endorsement of the Global Forum.  He also hoped that the inclusion of migration in the post-2015 development agenda would be accompanied by a practical focus on migrants themselves, as well as their rights and well-being.  He added that he hoped to see a commitment by participants in the High-Level Dialogue to addressing misconceptions and stereotypes about migrants.

Mr. SUTHERLAND, responding to a question about the criminalization of migrants globally, said there could never be a justification for migrants losing their lives or being imprisoned for violating migration laws.

Ms. AKERMAN-BORJE added that, although there had been discussions about integrating migration into development policies, there had been none on integrating development into migration policies.  Such policies, including efforts against criminalization of migration, could ultimately lead to a shift in perceptions about migrants and migration, she said.

Also participating were representatives of Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Closing Remarks

THOMAS STELZER, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, welcomed the opportunity to hear from and engage with such distinguished people in the migration and development debate, saying he expected the opportunity would enrich future discussions.  There had been system-wide efforts under the guidance of IOM and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), he said, adding that the Global Migration Group had improved inter-agency cooperation on migration, though more could still be done to enhance inter-agency coherence.  Leadership was needed both nationally and internationally, especially from Member States, he said.  Armed with better understanding of migration, elected leaders must stand up against xenophobia.  Going forward, there was a need for a practical, action-oriented approach, he said.  Despite differences, agreement was strong on many issues, and the Global Forum had helped to foster that.  He called for more efforts to reduce remittance costs, recognition of foreign workers’ educational qualifications, and the pension portability.  Migration must be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda, and a global action plan must be developed to that end, underpinned by a strong evidence base.

* *** *

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