With Intelligent Approach Focused on Positive, Unstoppable Force of Migration Can Be Harnessed for Greater Good, Secretary-General Tells Informal Thematic Debate

19 May 2011

With Intelligent Approach Focused on Positive, Unstoppable Force of Migration Can Be Harnessed for Greater Good, Secretary-General Tells Informal Thematic Debate

19 May 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

With Intelligent Approach Focused on Positive, Unstoppable Force of Migration Can

Be Harnessed for Greater Good, Secretary-General Tells Informal Thematic Debate

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the General Assembly’s informal interactive thematic debate on migration and development, 19 May, in New York:

This is an important gathering on an important issue.  It is also one I have been following closely for years.  In fact, I have attended the Global Forum on Migration and Development three times:  in Brussels, Manila and Athens.  And I have done more than speak out at public meetings.  In private, I constantly advocate for migrants’ rights in my conversations with world leaders.  I am aware of the complexities and sensitivities.  But I am particularly concerned because this involves people, sometimes very vulnerable people.

As we meet, the historic changes in the Arab world are raising high hopes.  But, they also show how difficult it is to protect migrants when a crisis hits.  Thousands are fleeing violence in Libya, they are crossing deserts, taking to the seas on unsafe boats, risking their lives to reach safety.  Many rich countries, neighbouring countries and countries of origin all have shared responsibilities.  From the very beginning, I have urged Governments to keep borders open and not unduly restrict migration.

Around the world, we see a growing business in human trafficking.  Most reprehensible is the sex trade in women and even children.  These victims are among the most vulnerable people on earth.  They have no papers, no protection and no way out.  They need our help.  The global economic crisis has compounded all these problems.  Increasingly, we see extremist politicians targeting migrants and migration to deflect attention from national problems.  This creates more discrimination, more fear and more problems.

We have to fight these trends with reason and common sense.  Let us not forget, entire communities subsist almost entirely on remittances.  Without those flows an even larger percentage of the local population would be forced to emigrate.

Often the debate over migration devolves to loss:  migrants overstretch social safety nets, some say.  Others worry that they will overwhelm education systems and take away jobs.  But statistics show that the economic contribution of migrant workers far outweighs any costs.  Migrants often do the jobs that others will not, the so-called “3D” jobs – jobs that are dirty, dangerous and difficult.

We should also remember that the profile of migrant workers is not always what we imagine.  They are not always low-wage, poorly educated labourers.  To the contrary, in many countries they are the best and the brightest:  doctors, nurses, engineers and other highly educated professionals.  These are a welcome addition to any society.

It is easy to see the negatives but it is much more difficult to appreciate the positives.  And yet those positives ultimately overshadow the negatives.  Nearly two thirds of the world’s 214 million migrants live in wealthy countries.  The remittances they send home total more than $300 billion a year.  That figure dwarfs international aid flows.  Across the developing world, remittances make it possible for families to get health care, send their children to school and start up small businesses.  Remittances underwrite development.  They are a source for stability and social cohesion.

Developing countries are naturally concerned about the consequences of a “brain drain” on their own societies.  But we are learning more about how to make migration work for everyone.  Thanks to advances in transportation and communications, migrants can keep close to people at home.  The days of letters, telexes and money orders are disappearing.  Today, people connect instantly through mobile technology.  In the past, migrants paid as much as a fifth of their earnings in transaction costs.  Sending money home was both expensive and slow.  But today, a new generation of banks and telecommunications companies are competing for their business.  Today, you can wire your wages home in an instant.

We still need to do more — but this is a major start.  To maximize the benefits and address social concerns, we need cooperation.  That is why the Global Forum is so important.  It needs better and more regular funding, however.  I spoke to my Special Representative, Peter Sutherland, about this yesterday.  He has a proposal to guarantee predictable resources.  I urge you to seriously consider it.  Meanwhile, we urgently need a country to step up and chair the Forum next year.

Looking ahead, the 2013 United Nations High-level Dialogue on Migration will be an important opportunity to improve global cooperation.  By then, the Global Forum will have produced an assessment report on lessons learned and the way forward.

Before I conclude, allow me to ask all of you a question:  who here is living outside their country of birth?  Maybe you can raise your hands?  Including myself.  You — and I — are among the 214 million migrants in the world.  All of us, and the vast majority of them, are part of a productive global economy that benefits our world as a whole.

With an intelligent, cooperative approach focused on the positive, we can harness the unstoppable force of migration for the greater good.  I am counting on all of you to help make this happen.  Thank you very much.

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