Contributors, not troublemakers – stereotypes of migrants need to change

“I’m the CEO of 734 and I hire people who need jobs,” said Manyang Reath Kher, winning a burst of applause from the room. A Sudanese refugee, Mr. Kher came to the United States at age 17 and launched the successful coffee brand called 734. Earlier this month, he spoke at a UN briefing on migration, where he advocated for a change of negative stereotypes about migrants and refugees, who can contribute to various aspects of their host communities.

The Briefing, organized on 19 April by the NGO Relations Unit of the United Nations Department of Public Information, discussed the theme of “Migration’s Contributions to Prosperity, Development and International Unity.” The meeting highlighted challenges and benefits brought by migration, aiming to change negative narratives around migrants and refugees.

Migration is a catalyst for global economic growth. There are 150 million migrant workers worldwide, the International Labour Organization estimates. The McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that although accounting for only 3.4 per cent of the world population, migrants contribute around 6.7 trillion to the global economy, or 9.4 per cent of the total Gross Domestic Product. The remittances sent back by migrants to developing countries are estimated at around US$450 billion each year. This large sum helps to equip more people in developing countries with better education and medical care.

The benefits for developed countries are also significant. According to Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section at UN DESA, the dependency rate in Europe, North America and Latin America will increase due to a decline in birth rates. That means there will be more non-working-age people for every person of working age in these regions. For those countries, accepting migrants can fill labour shortages and mitigate the ageing problem.

“Many migrants in our country have the drive to become more skilled, and we give them that opportunity,” said María del Carmen Domínguez Álvarez, Deputy Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations. She said that Chile entitles migrants to basic benefits, giving them a chance to contribute to the society with their own work. In agriculture, forestry, logging and fishery, which play important roles in Chile’s economy, skilled migrant workers take jobs Chileans cannot fill helping the country’s sustainable development.

But migrants and refugees create much more than just economic value to their host societies. Manal Kahi, Co-Founder and CEO of Eat OffBeat, a food startup hiring talented refugee chefs to provide authentic food of their home countries, offered some examples. “They cook food the same way they cook at home,” she said. “They not only pay taxes, but also create new things for us and many people are grateful that we have them settled in our society.”

The meeting also addressed the challenges brought by migration, such as security concerns. To solve the safety issues, Kevin Appleby, Director of International Policy of the Scalabrini International Migration Network and the Centre for Migration Studies of New York, recommended a regularization program, under which migrants register with the government and can be better managed.

However, to better manage migration and maximize its benefits for all, we need to know more about it. “To develop policies for Global Compact for Safe and Orderly Migration, we need better data,” said Mr. Hovy. UN DESA has recently organized the Sixteenth Coordination Meeting on International Migration and the United Nations Forum On Population. These were important venues to discuss research and policies on migration, as well as other population issues.

Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

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