In case you missed it Vol 22, No. - March 2018

Life-saving numbers: how solid data can protect refugees and migrants

Judging by media reports alone, we might be led to believe that migration is the defining challenge of the 21st century; that it is an unprecedented strain on the social services of states and a threat to their values. Yet, recent UN DESA data shows that 96.6 per cent of all people live in the country of their birth. More than that, research confirms the multiple benefits that migrants bring to receiving and origin countries alike.

On 15-16 February, UN DESA’s Population Division gathered top experts from around the world for the Sixteenth Coordination Meeting on International Migration to find ways of bridging the yawning data gap and to help counter the overwhelming negative narrative about migrants with solid evidence.

“We believe that knowing the facts about global migration trends, and about the contributions of migrants to both destination and origin countries, can help dispel myths and misperceptions about migrants and migration,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division, in his opening statement delivered on behalf of UN DESA’s head Liu Zhenmin.

Perhaps the most persisting misconception is that migration is a problem, a negative phenomenon that should be curbed or even stopped. The available data on the contributions of migrants to global development contradicts this myth. The truth is that international migrants augment the gross domestic product, introduce new ideas and add to cultural diversity of their destination countries, while bringing investment, skills, knowledge and technologies back to their places of origin.

In fact, at the meeting, experts such as Ronnie Goldberg, Senior Counsel of United States Council for International Business identified this “global skills mobility” as an important tool for global development. In 2016, migrants from developing countries sent home an estimated U.S. $413 billion in remittances, evaluated by the World Bank. However, such data are scarce and rarely make the headlines, overshadowed by more eye-catching negative stories.

“The challenges in data collection look difficult to surmount,” admitted Mr. Wilmoth in his closing remarks. Most countries are making progress, but much remains to be done. For example, 17 per cent of African countries still have no information on the number of international migrants since their 2000 censuses.

Filling this data gap is a global urgency, not only because of xenophobia and negative stereotypes surrounding migration, but to address much more immediate concerns. In a Facebook Live interview streamed by UN DESA on 15 February, Professor Ellen Percy Kraly of Colgate University explained how robust data can help to save lives on the ground.

“For [international] agencies and organizations to effectively use their resources, they need to know numbers,” she said. “It sounds forensic, but it will help that mother and her child if an organization knows how many people they need to serve and what their characteristics are.”

“Most refugees actually return to their own country,” added Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section of UN DESA’s Population Division. “Having a good demographic profile at the moment of displacement is very important, not only for the logistics of moving people back to their country, but also in terms of their reintegration and development.”

The Sixteenth Coordination Meeting discussed the current data needs and improving methodologies, shared some of the latest findings in the area and the results of pilot studies. These debates will help inform the ongoing negotiations of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Set to be adopted in December this year, the Compact will lay down internationally agreed guidance for well-managed migration in a way that protects the human rights of people on the move and makes better use of their contribution to sustainable development.

For more information: Sixteenth Coordination Meeting on International Migration

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