Press Releases

    POP/946
    7 April 2006

    International Migration One of Great Challenges of 21st Century, Special Representative Tells Population Commission

    Says Commission's Contribution to High-Level Dialogue Must Help Move Debate beyond Fractious Discussion of Past Issues

    NEW YORK, 6 April (UN Headquarters) -- International migration was one of the great pieces of unfinished business of the multilateral system and one of the great challenges of the century, and it was a test of the United Nations and the Commission on Population and Development to meet that challenge, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on International Migration and Development told the Commission this morning.

    In a keynote address to the Commission, which is set to wrap up its week-long session tomorrow, Peter Sutherland said the Commission's putting together a resolution as a precursor for the General Assembly's High-Level Dialogue on International Migration in September that did more than repeat what had already been agreed was the beginning of that test.  If Member States failed to meet the challenge, the debate would be a fractious circle of discussion of past issues.  Multilateralism would itself be challenged on the issue, and it would become a question as to whether the future would be that of unilateral or bilateral discussion, interregional or international discussion, or no discussion at all.  The challenge was to the multilateral system and to the United Nations.

    The world was moving from an era of migration to one of mobility, and there was an increasing capacity in the developing world to harness the benefits of migration, he added.  With countries no longer divided strictly into sending and receiving countries and regional markets a more powerful force in shaping migration flows, the stakeholders in the migration debate were multiplying.  If other stakeholders had a substantive interest in the issue and were "at the table", the United Nations also had to be there.  The High-Level Dialogue would provide an opportunity to frame the issues in a way that would allow the international community to move forward.

    The representative of the Netherlands stressed the need for the upcoming High-Level Dialogue to achieve concrete results and said he would welcome a clear focus on issues of common interest, such as "circular migration", strengthening capacity-building on migration management and stopping human trafficking and smuggling.  To achieve that, it was important to start preparations in Geneva and New York now.  The days were over when immigration and development policies were seen as different worlds.  Increasingly, Governments realized that both immigration and emigration had an effect on development -- sometimes positive, and sometimes negative.  In the Netherlands, work was being done towards a comprehensive Government approach, which ensured that migration and development policies reinforced each other.

    While migration was good for development, the development impact of migration could be much stronger, Sweden's representative said.  For that, greater policy and programme coherence was needed.  To maximize its development impact, migration must contribute to improved labour standards and better wages, and not the opposite.  That required regulated migration, supported by international human rights frameworks that protected migrants, especially women and children.  Irregular migration must be reduced.  If high-income countries needed labour, they should be ready to pay for it.  It was not only about managing migration -- it was about human rights and values.

    Offering an example of managed migration in another keynote address, the Secretary of Labour and Employment of the Philippines noted that more than 200 million people -- equivalent to the size of Brazil -- lived in countries other than their land of birth.  It was in that context that the Philippines in the early 1970s, had opted for managed migration.  In the past 30 years, out-migration had largely been contract migration or migration for temporary work.  More than 6,000 foreign employers hired about 1 million overseas Filipino workers annually.  Some 99 per cent of overseas Filipino workers left under a contract that had been submitted to the Philippine Government.

    Detailing the process, she noted that today, there were more than 200 labour officers around the world who specifically assisted overseas Filipino workers.  Managed migration had made it possible for the Philippines to calibrate its responses to the changing nature of national and international labour demand.  In the end, that was what managed migration was all about -- continuing vigilance about the kinds of problems that migration outflows/inflows brought and a will to address those issues as they arose, so that migration became not just a link to the development of a place or a society, but also of the individuals that make up the policy.

    Raising the issue of women migrant workers, Nicaragua's representative stressed the need to address the "invisible" needs of migrant workers, namely the children and families women left behind when they took overseas employment.  The feminization of migration required that the issue of gender equality be included in policy formulation and follow-up at all levels, he said.

    Also today, the Commission concluded its consideration of the agenda item on programme implementation and the future programme of work of the Secretariat, with representatives of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) making statements.

    In other business, the Commission took up a review of its working methods.  The representatives of Austria (on behalf of the European Union) and Switzerland participated in the discussion.  Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, opened the discussion on that item.

    The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. Friday, 7 April, to conclude its current session.

    Background

    The Commission for Population and Development met this morning to continue its consideration of follow-up actions to the recommendations of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and to continue its general debate on national experience in population matters.  It was expected to hear two keynote addresses.  (For further information on the Commission's session, which is due to conclude tomorrow, see Press Release POP/942 of 30 March.)

    Address by Special Representative on International Migration and Development

    PETER SUTHERLAND, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on International Migration and Development, said he had held the position for a short time -- only six months.  The Secretary-General had expressed the view that the migration issue was one of the great pieces of unfinished business of the multilateral system and a test of the Organization as to whether it could contribute to one of the great challenges of the century.  That challenge also faced the Commission today.  Putting together a resolution as a precursor for the High-Level Dialogue in September that did more than repeat what had already been agreed was the beginning of the test of whether the dialogue could have any meaning and whether multilateralism had any part to play.  If Member States did not take up the challenge, the debate would be a fractious circle of discussion of past issues.  Multilateralism would itself be challenged on the issue, and it would become a question as to whether the future would be that of unilateral or bilateral discussion, interregional or international discussion, or no discussion at all.  The challenge was to the multilateral system and to the United Nations.

    Noting that he himself came from a country with a long history of providing immigrants to other parts of the world, he said Ireland had only recently become a country of destination and not origin.  For him, the debate reflected a long history of concern for the individuals who made up the world's migrant community, and recognition of the increasingly important economic dimension of the debate.  He exhorted the international community to engage seriously and with purpose in preparing for the Dialogue, which would not be an end in itself, but the beginning of a dialogue of great importance to the international community and of additional relevance to the United Nations itself.

    The world was moving from an era of migration to one of mobility, he said.  Countries were no longer divided strictly into sending and receiving countries, but were increasingly sending, receiving and even transit countries.  There was now a more integrated global economy, and regional markets were also becoming a more powerful force in shaping migration flows.  The stakeholders in the migration debate were also changing and multiplying.  There was an increasing capacity in the developing world to govern well and to harness the benefits of migration.  Migration flows were no longer controlled solely by national Governments.  Other stakeholders were also asserting themselves, above all, individuals.

    International migration could not only be looked at from the point of view of homeland security, he added.  Migration involved all sectors of Government administration.  That was one of the problems, as there was often inadequate internal coherence between various ministries.  There was an increasing capacity in the developing world to harness the benefits of migration.  Other stakeholders had a substantive interest in the issue and were "at the table", including unions and non-governmental organizations.  Was the United Nations not to be at the table also?  The international community was becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to build the capacity to manage migration flows.  That required holistic thinking that was difficult to achieve.  Rather than trying to maintain control, coordination was needed internationally and nationally.

    Knowledge of the effects of migration was growing rapidly, he said.  That knowledge must be harvested and put to the use of Member States.  There were certain aspects of migration that were the foundation for any future cooperation, including that the decision on whether to emigrate was one made by individuals, not by States, the need to protect migrants' human rights, and the sovereign right of a State to determine who crossed its borders.  If the rights of individuals were respected, there would be a basis for moving forward.  The Dialogue would not be real unless it was based on cooperation and not adversarial debate.  In other words, Member States would have to look for the positive and constructive, rather than the negative and critical.

    The High-Level Dialogue provided an opportunity to frame the issues in a way that would allow the international community to move forward, he added.  The goal of the September Dialogue was to discover areas on which to agree and to build capacity.  The question was, what would the international community say after the Dialogue?  A gradual approach was necessary.  It was also important not to raise expectations so high, only to see them collapse.  It was still early on international cooperation on migration, but there were regional processes that could be followed, such as the European Union.  The discussion should focus on economic migration as being a "positive".  While the discussion might agree on a code of conduct or policies, many countries were only in the process of creating migration and development policies.  For now, the goal was to pool knowledge and gain common understanding of the various aspects of migration.

    Stressing the need to create the means to share knowledge and move the conversation from theory to pragmatic policy, he said it was necessary to establish a safe place in which to exchange views and develop common solutions.  Enhanced cooperation would allow the international community to safeguard the rights of migrants, find mutually beneficial forms of cooperation and ways to compensate those who might lose out, be they domestic workers or countries.  It was also crucial to determine how diasporas might be involved in the process and how to deal with the issue of remittances.

    Concluding, he said it was known that mobility and return could succeed.  That had happened in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.  It was happening in Somalia and other countries today, when emigrants returned with knowledge, networks and social and financial capital.  Those were all positive ends to a debate that would allow the international community to synthesize existing knowledge on the subject.  He called on regional arrangements to contribute to the debate using their experience.  And he implored the Commission to engage in the process by finding a meaningful conclusion to its own work.

    In a brief interactive discussion that followed, the representatives of Mexico, Canada, France, Kenya, Italy and China participated.

    Additional General Debate Statements

    CHARLOTTE SVENSSON, Deputy Minister for Migration and Asylum, Sweden, said that migration was good for development, but the development impact of migration could be much stronger.  For that, greater policy and programme coherence was needed.  Sweden had been the first country in the world to have adopted a common policy for global development for the Government as a whole -- for all policy areas.  That had been endorsed by the Parliament and regularly reviewed with annual progress reports, this year, with migration as one of five focus areas.  The European Union was now preparing the first coherence report.

    She said that remittances were concrete evidence of the potential development impact of migration.  Those provided relief to poor individuals, families and communities.  Also, more indirectly, remittances could support a more vibrant economy by expanding job markets.  But, that was also an area where more coherence was needed.  Too much money was lost on the way.  The transaction costs should be reduced and the flows should be facilitated to enhance the development effects of remittances.  Human mobility was contributing to global development in other ways.  A hundred years ago, more than 1 million Swedes left the country for America.  Every fourth person returned home and made an important contribution to development in both Sweden and America.  It should be made easier for people to move -- and to move back home.  Circulation boosted development.

    Also, to maximize the development impact, it must be ensured that migration contributed to improved labour standards and better wages, and not the opposite, she said.  To attain that required regulated migration, supported by international human rights frameworks that protected migrants, especially women and children.  Irregular migration must be reduced.  If high-income countries needed labour, they should be ready to pay for it.  It was not only about managing migration, but about what kind of society the world wanted to live in -- it was about human rights and values.  Every country had the right and obligation to decide who could enter and stay in its territory and under what conditions.  Such decisions should be laid down in all countries' legal frameworks.  Every person who legally resided within a country should have the same rights and obligations as the citizens of that country.  That was an important basic principle of Sweden's migration policy.

    ARJAN P. HAMBURGER (Netherlands) said that the upcoming High-Level Dialogue on international migration should achieve concrete results.  He would welcome a clear focus on issues of common interest, such as "circular migration", strengthening capacity-building on migration management and stopping human trafficking and smuggling.  To achieve that, it was important to start preparations in Geneva and New York now.  The days were over when immigration and development policies were seen as different worlds.  Increasingly, Governments realized that both immigration and emigration had an effect on development -- sometimes positive, and sometimes negative.  In the Netherlands, work was being done towards a comprehensive Government approach, which ensured that migration and development policies reinforced each other.

    He said that policy coherence on migration and development started at home.  Since 2004, the Netherlands had striven for an integrated policy.  The Minister for Development Cooperation and the Minister for Immigration and Integration had formulated a common policy on migration and development.  As part of that shared endeavour, they recently visited Kenya together, where they discussed refugee protection, human trafficking and capacity-building for migration management.  International migration, if managed well, could contribute to reducing the number of people living in poverty.  Development policies, in turn, could improve migration management.  With those aims in mind, the Netherlands supported capacity-building for migration management and projects that stimulated migrants to become involved in the development of their country of origin.

    The High-Level Dialogue should also discuss the various consequences of the "brain drain" and the movement of labour in general, for the effectiveness of the health and other sectors, he said.  He favoured developing international measures to reduce the negative effects of brain drain.  The Netherlands attached particular importance to the position of female migrants and the special risks they faced, such as trafficking and sexual abuse.  It was very important for that group of women to have adequate access to sexual and reproductive health services, which was too often not the case.  He understood that the discussions this week, and at the Dialogue in September, would not focus on refugees and internally displaced persons.  Those groups and their important link with migration, however, should not be forgotten.

    Keynote Address

    Secretary of Labour and Employment of the Philippines PATRICIA A. STO. TOMAS said that, throughout history, people had moved for adventure and news experiences, and recent events had not contributed to easing migration tensions.  Today, more than 200 million people -- equivalent to the size of Brazil -- live in countries other than their land of birth.  That movement would be pursued sometimes beyond what was considered legal or regular.  It was in that context, in the early 1970s, that the Philippines opted for managed migration.  Many Filipinos had become permanent settlers in other countries, but in the past 30 years, out-migration had largely been contract migration or migration for temporary work.  That movement had been characterized by the following:  driven by demand in a destination country; contract-based and detailing terms and conditions of work approved by the Philippine Government; mindful of cultural and regulatory restrictions of both the Philippines and the destination country; and covered by protection mechanisms and structures set up by the Philippine Government.

    She said there were more than 6,000 foreign employers who hired about 1 million overseas Filipino workers annually.  Detailing that process, she added that, today, there were more than 200 labour officers around the world who specifically assisted overseas Filipino workers.  Some of those officers were lawyers, others were doctors, social workers and trained welfare officers.  They sought to help the Filipino workers sort out employer-employee problems by offering counselling, legal assistance, repatriation, health and psychological support.  In addition, the Philippines had 10 labour agreements, 11 social security agreements, and 38 recognitions of credentials/certificates by the destination countries.  In any given year, discussions were held between the Philippines and the 10 destination countries with the highest concentration of Filipinos in their territories.

    While about 1 per cent of those who left annually under irregular conditions, 99 per cent of overseas Filipino workers left under a contract that had been submitted to the Philippine Government, she said.  The movement of Filipinos to overseas worksites was wired to a "national nervous system", and the overseas workers were insured against death, disabilities and health hazards.  The overseas workers were also organized into family circles and were extended assistance by family welfare officers.  Dependents became eligible for secondary and collegiate scholarships, and small and medium-scale businesses were encouraged through loans for those "left behind".  While many workers sought to re-contract after the expiration of their initial contracts, reintegration would eventually occur and preparations must be undertaken for that eventuality.

    For the moment, she said, "We seem to have met with some success in mitigating problems of migration and building on the positives that it has engendered."  Managed migration had made it possible for her country to calibrate its responses to the changing nature of national and international labour demand.  In the end, that was what managed migration was all about -- continuing vigilance about the kinds of problems that migration outflows/inflows brought and a will to address those issues as they arose, so that migration became not just a link to the development of a place or a society, but also of the individuals that make up the polity.  The protection of workers was the best marketing tool for countries where workers migrated temporarily.  When host countries saw that countries cared about their nationals, it became easier for them to see the merit of employing them, because they made for better, more productive workers.

    The representatives of Kenya, Cape Verde, Colombia, Canada, Indonesia, China, and Ghana took part in a brief discussion following the address.

    MAURICIO A. SOLORZANO (Nicaragua) noted that the phenomenon of international migration had affected his country, particularly its women emigrants.  Most migrants were women who left their home countries to work in often unregulated forms of labour, particularly domestic work.  Migrants were also most often exposed to gender-based violence, abuse and discrimination.  The feminization of migration required that the issue of gender equality be included in policy formulation and follow-up at all levels, including the need for access to legal and health services.

    Many women migrants, he added, were forced to leave their offspring behind with grandparents or other family members.   That was a growing phenomenon in Nicaragua, where many women were migrating to Costa Rica and the United States.  The children of those migrant workers were often exposed to risk, including higher school dropout rates and abuse.  Such "invisible" effects of migration must be considered when addressing the issue of international migration.  The United Nations system must include in its programmes for least developed countries strategies to reduce the risks among the youngest migrant workers.  Countries of origin must try to prevent the breaking of family ties, and destination countries must adopt policies and strategies to help women support the children and families remaining in their home countries, he said.

    Future Work of Secretariat in Population Field

    ANDRES VIKAT, Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), said most countries had entered or were soon entering into a new demographic regime characterized by population ageing and decline, low or very low fertility, and migration pressures.  Those characteristics were expected to shape developments in the region for many years and they required informed policy response.  The Population Activities Unit of the ECE secretariat was also carrying out statistical work in the population field.  The Demographic and Social Statistics Section maintained the online Gender Database that provided timely and harmonized statistics for gender policy analysis, carried out methodological work on gender and migration statistics and coordinated the preparation of recommendations for the 2010 round of population and housing censuses.

    He noted that demographic phenomena such as below-replacement fertility in most of the ECE region and very low fertility in large parts of it, increasing age at family formation and decreasing stability of co-residential partnerships had important repercussions for the countries in the region.  European policymakers were asking, among other things, whether changes in the family were amendable to policy interventions.  To answer such questions, the ECE secretariat, with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), had launched the Generations and Gender Programme for developing policies related to family and fertility.  The methodological instruments of the Generations and Gender Programme had been completed and published.  At the end of 2006, 14 countries had completed data collection in the first panel wave and preparations were under way in several other countries.  The ECE secretariat was now focusing on setting up the central data archive that was expected to boost comparative studies in a number of countries in programme implementation.

    BATOOL SHAKOORI, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said that the overall mission of the Commission's Population and Development Team was to enhance capacities of ESCWA member States to integrate population concerns into development policies, programmes and plans at the regional and national levels, as well as to promote the commitment of Arab countries to the common population and development goals stemming from global and regional conferences, including the 1994 Cairo Conference.  The ESCWA followed a multifaceted strategy for accomplishing its aims and it became increasingly involved with regional demographic centres, national population councils and concerned ministries.

    She said that ESCWA's strategies revolved around the following concerns:  monitoring the progress made by Arab countries in the implementation of the 1994 Programme of Action; strengthening national capacities in the formulation of population policies and integrating population issues with socio-economic development plans and programmes; raising awareness on the importance of demographic changes and increasing the understanding of the linkages between demographic changes, economic growth and poverty alleviation; disseminating and exchanging information on population and development issues; and alerting member States on the challenges imposed by emerging issues, such as international migration and HIV/AIDS.

    ISRAEL SEMBAJWE, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said population analysis formed an important component of the ECA's work programme focused on policy analysis and advocacy, as well as the provision of technical and advisory services to member States.  The ECA addressed population issues in a variety of ways.  In a more focused form, population activities were conducted under the Sustainable Development Division and were coordinated by a team of experts on population and social development.  Population issues were streamlined in several areas of the Commission's work.  Activities were also conducted in partnership with regional and international organizations working on population and related issues in Africa.

    Outlining the Commission's activities since April 2005, he said the ECA had supported the ECA-hosted Commission for HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa with population data and analysis.  It had also provided advisory services to Member States and regional bodies on policies and programmes aimed at achieving internationally agreed upon development goals and coordinated a Commission-wide strategic partnership document with the UNFPA on population and development concerns.  Planned activities for 2006-2007 included completing the report on international migration and development in Africa, providing training courses aimed at emphasizing the nexus issues of population, environment and development, and continuing to work on the issues of migration and development in Africa.

    DIRK JASPERS FAIJER, of the Population Division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), outlined that Commission's activities, noting that two subregional meetings had been held on the issue of ageing as part of the follow-up to the Madrid Plan of Action.  It had provided technical assistance to countries of the region and support for specific activities to facilitate cooperation on the issue of ageing on the public agenda.  At a meeting two weeks ago, participants had agreed to hold a regional intergovernmental conference in the framework of Madrid + 5.  On the issue of indigenous peoples and other ethnic groups, ECLAC had carried out many activities last year, including studies on social demographic characteristics.

    He said another area of activity was human resources training on population and development.  Training activities included internships and remote support studies for research and technical missions.  The ECLAC had provided training also in the area of special distribution data and international and domestic migration.  Progress had been made in the formulation of a regional strategy in training for human resources in Latin America and the Caribbean.  On the use of population censuses, ECLAC had focused on evaluating the 2005 round and had started looking to the 2010 round.  The ECLAC had also worked with other bodies in preparing a document on social protection.  The ECLAC had significantly increased its visibility and influence by means of innovative dissemination, including a web page.

    Review of Working Methods

    HANIA ZLOTNIK, Director, Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, recalled that, at its thirty-eighth session, the Commission had requested its Bureau to seek the views of Member States on the following issues regarding its working methods:  the nature of the Commission's outcomes; the inclusion of new and emerging issues on its agenda; the organization of a multi-year work programme and its possible organization into a series of two-year cycles; and the Commission's contribution to the work of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

    She provided a detailed response and then summed up the replies as follows:  the consultations held on the methods of work of the Commission indicated that this was work in progress and the topic would continue to be revisited.

    Statements by Delegations

    On the Commission's working methods, THOMAS NADER, Director, Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Austria, on behalf of the European Union, said that the Commission's reform should be seen in the larger context of the reform of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and General Assembly resolution 57/270 B.  At the same time, while reviewing the Commission's working methods, the body's scope and the review and appraisal of implementation of the Cairo action plan should be kept in mind.  The Commission identified progress, constraints and lessons learned in the implementation of the ICPD and decided on measures and policies to overcome obstacles.  In improving its working methods, those aims should always be born in mind.

    He said that the goal of reforming the Population Commission should be a more streamlined and focused Commission, and reform should involve the organization of work around a special annual theme and based on a two-year work programme.  In that regard, a cross-cutting issue approach could be discussed.  Improving inputs to ECOSOC and, through ECOSOC, to other forums, when a connection was useful, should also be considered, such as this year, when the discussion on migration would contribute to the High-Level Dialogue in September.  More time should be allocated to expert-led discussions, as well as round tables on national and regional experiences with the involvement of stakeholders.  The Commission should also debate new or emerging issues related to its mandate.  He also sought more frequent Bureau meetings, preferably in New York, and a closer cooperation between the Population Division and the UNFPA.

    WERNER HAUG (Switzerland) said that the ongoing reform of other processes made it difficult to decide far-reaching changes to the Commission's working methods.  Nevertheless, it was necessary to overcome any divide between the work carried out and the inputs provided in the Commission by demographers, on the one hand, and by development specialists, on the other.  The Commission should maintain its excellent scientific expertise and offer itself as a forum where demographers felt at ease and useful, while responding to its new "Cairo mandate" through specific competencies in the field of development.  He, therefore, called for a report by the Secretary-General on approaches to improving the collaboration between the Population Division and the UNFPA in servicing the Commission, including proposals on the division of labour between the two entities.

    Regarding the multi-year work programme and the selection of themes, he said it would be helpful to aim at a longer planning horizon than two years, taking into account that there were only six sessions left until 2014 (assuming the decision for the themes to be discussed in 2007 and 2008 were accepted).  Concerning the Bureau, he believed that a major step had been made towards increasing its effectiveness by electing members at the end of each session.  To further improve the Bureau's work and sustain the engagement of Member States, Bureau members should meet on a regular basis before the session.

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