Press Conference on Global Migration Trends

23 April 2013

Press Conference on Global Migration Trends

23 April 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on global migration trends


Research, information and balanced discussions would not only illuminate migration’s economical and social benefits to development, but inform policies that addressed its complex challenges, said migration experts at a Headquarters press conference today.

The complex and far-reaching issue of global migratory movement, said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, was the main focus of the Commission on Population and Development’s forty-sixth session.  The week-long session was a unique opportunity for the Commission’s 45 member States, as well as other attendees and observers, to “hear what today’s migration trends means for them”, both the economic and social benefits and the challenges that arose in migratory flows, he said.

International dialogue and cooperation, he emphasized, was crucial to addressing the myriad migration concerns; informed exchanges could then guide policy formulation.  Moreover, the current session was a precursor to the General Assembly’s upcoming high-level dialogue on international migration, which would focus on developing concrete measures aimed at enhancing the benefits and reducing the negative impact of the phenomenon for migrants and countries alike.

Joining Mr. Wilmoth was the Commission’s keynote speaker, Professor Graeme Hugo, Director of the Australian Population and Migration Research Centre at the University of Adelaide, Australia.  “Migration,” he stated, “can be a positive influence on development, not just in destination societies, not just for the migrants themselves, but in the origin community which they leave.”

Although there was a “brain drain” impact on those origin communities, he pointed out that research, in fact, showed that the flows of money from destination to origin were increasingly offsetting deficits, not only of low-income countries, but within those countries, as well.  “It’s spreading out the wealth from large cities into non-metropolitan communities,” he said.

He also noted that migration mobility was much more multifaceted than just permanent displacement; rather, there was a more circular nature between the countries of origin and the countries of destination.  The tendency to think of migration as “part of the numbers game” in population growth or decline obscured its link, and thus, cause and effect, to economic and demographic processes.

Exciting aspects of diaspora communities were also emerging from the research, he said.  The utilization of modern communication technology and cheap transport was allowing for more intimate and intensive relationships with the origin areas of those communities.

“We’re quite excited about the potential to actually harness this to improve the economic and social prospects for people in those origin areas,” stated Professor Hugo, adding that they had just scratched the surface of the role migration played in development.  However, he stressed, that role was not a replacement for good governance or good economic policy, although it could help facilitate development.

Turning to the “likely” impact of climate change on migration, he said that, although environment had been a significant cause of migration in the past, and perhaps in the future, it interacted with a whole range of economic and social forces.  Migration, in fact, could be part of the adaptation to climate change, but it was not the only way societies were going to adapt to that change.

In that regard, Professor Hugo emphasized that the high-level dialogue was incredibly important because policy could strongly influence whether migration’s impact was negative or positive.  It offered an enormous opportunity for Governments to consider the whole range of available policies, or to develop new ones to facilitate the positive dimensions and ameliorate the negative ones.  That, he said, would be an important agenda for the next decade.

Asked for his perspective on the current immigration debate in the United States, the professor said that there were deep, structural reasons why migration was on the rise from low- to high-income countries.  The size of appropriate-aged work force in high-income countries was declining, while increasing in low-income countries.  There were good reasons for migration between those countries.  Refusal to accept that would lead to attempts to stop migration, engender undocumented movement and invite crime.  Research showed that managing migration was a much more feasible alternative than policing it.

On a question about asylum seekers and the role of conflict in migration, he said that forced movement would continue as long as there were political upheavals.  Noting the criticism of the global refugee regime — a system in place for nearly 60 years — he said that regime worked, even in light of the cases where some people had been denied asylum.  In his own country, approximately 750,000 refugees were/had been accepted.

When asked about the impact from the massive population shifts out of Syria into surrounding countries, he said that those substantial movements were significant, not only in terms of the human trauma and tragedy, but on fragile ecological areas resulting from large numbers of people in temporary settlements.

“We have an international regime which is involved in, very effectively, bringing resources to cope with those situations,” he added.  Even with resource constraints amid sudden massive movements, the global system in place to deal with that and environmental disasters was significantly improving.

Asked about the equity of well-resourced countries such as Australia accepting refugees, as compared to some in the Middle East, such as Lebanon or Jordan, he said that it was true that the vast bulk of the world’s refugees were in low-income countries, and most were not settled permanently, but in transit situations.  Countries, such as Australia, the United States or Canada, acted as third countries of permanent settlement.  It was also important to look at those populations, not just as permanent or temporary, but in terms of repatriation.  However, no one was suggesting that high-income countries could not do more to help refugees.

As for a possible outcome of the Commission’s session on refugees, Mr. Wilmoth said there would be a negotiated outcome document, and the Chair’s draft had been the starting point for the Commission’s discussions, but there had not been a lot of attention in that text paid to refugee issues.  He was not sure if the Commission was the forum for resolving such concerns, and he did not know whether countries would insert text on those issues during the week’s session.

Concerning the rise of xenophobia and its effects on future migration, particularly European countries, North America and Australia, Professor Hugo said that anti-migration feelings in many countries were not based on a “sound understanding” of migration.  Any unbalanced discussion of migration’s impact was often based on the reporting of the more sensational and negative dimensions.  However, he reiterated, research showed that migration had a positive impact on economy, with minimal displacement of local workers.

When asked if States that identified as “pure Christian, or Muslim or pure Jewish”, were helpful to society, he said that the benefits of increasing diversity of populations in most societies were apparent.

In a globalizing world, he said, with such substantial economic and information interactions, many barriers between countries were coming down, and not just in those sectors.  Marriage patterns were also changing, where significant numbers of young people were travelling, meeting and falling in love with other young people.  “Perhaps, that’s the way those social changes tend to occur,” and how attitudes become more open, he said.

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