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2006 ECOSOC High-Level Segment - Geneva, 5 July 2006 Roundtable 3: Globalization and Labour Migration Statement by the Chairperson : Hon. Athauda Seneviratne Minister of Labour Relations and Foreign Employment of Sri Lanka

It is indeed an honour for me to chair this ECOSOC High Level Segment Roundtable on globalization and labour migration.   I thank the organizers of the High Level Segment for arranging what I believe will be a very interesting and relevant discussion and also for the preparation of the comprehensive Issues Note, which will be elaborated by the    Co-Moderators.  I will make only a few introductory remarks at this stage.

Migration is as old as human settlement; it is a natural phenomenon that people will move in search of better prospects, as they have done traditionally in the face of natural or man-made disasters or increasingly today driven by the personal search for a better destiny.


The United Nations has estimated that there are currently about 191 million migrants in the world — people outside their country of birth or citizenship. This is only about 3 per cent of the total world population indicating that the larger majority of people do not migrate – contrary to the popular perception of uncontrollable flows of migration.   It is observed that ‘South-to-South’ migration is as important as ‘South-to-North’ migration.  Women form almost half of the total international migrants in today’s world, migrating mainly of their own accord.


International migration has come to the top of the global agenda this year resulting from major initiatives by the international community in preceding years. We are therefore, much better prepared today to address the diverse challenges posed by globalization and international labour migration. Contrary to some alarmist media speculation, the emerging  global consensus on labour migration is that it is a positive force for development. 


These initiatives are indeed welcome and show some convergence in a number of areas. There is recognition that international  labour migration is on an increasing trajectory into the future, hence the need for managing- not controlling or preventing - migration to create win-win situations for source and destination countries and migrant workers themselves.  There is also convergence of views on migration as being basically development-friendly.  Remittances to developing countries are now more than three times the volume of overseas aid, and close behind the level of global foreign direct investment; for a number of countries, it is the primary and importantly a stable source of  foreign  exchange. Similarly  returning  migrants are assets to their source  countries as they bring back financial and social capital, as well as valuable skills.  The overseas diaspora also represent a development resource for the home country in promoting investments, transfer of skills, and stimulating exports for development, as IOM’s pioneering work in this field has revealed.


The Issues Paper has also highlighted a number of other matters for consideration .  For example policies in developed countries continue to favour the admission of skilled workers rather than low skilled workers who face unemployment and poverty at home. This type of brain drain is something developing countries can ill afford as they experience loss of trained manpower skills affecting the level and quality of services such as in education and health care in the home country. Thus there is room to conclude that the gains from international migration are not equitably distributed. At the same time the protection and treatment of workers overseas leaves much to be desired. There are countless stories of victims of trafficking, female domestic workers in forced labour situations, non-payment of wages, poor conditions of work, growing racism and discrimination.  These situations often turn the dream of a better life abroad into a nightmare.   Women migrant workers are particularly vulnerable and it must not be forgotten that they represent about half of the total global migrant workforce.  One should also not forget the social problems experienced in the families left behind — including children who have to struggle without the security of the normal family life. In some diaspora contexts we have also noted the emergence of illegal activities and extortion of the migrants  for purposes of funding insurgent movements and terrorism  in their home countries.


Clearly there is a need for increasing international cooperation. There is already a robust body of key UN and international Conventions, which spell out the normative framework for the principles and good practices for labour migration including the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which need ratification and enforcement by both source and destination countries. The ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration for example can also serve as a politically binding and valuable guide in formulating and improving, implementing and evaluating policies that respect the rights of migrant workers.


If we are to promote international migration as an instrument of global development, we  also need the participation of all stakeholders — governments,  social partners, civil  society and migrants themselves - in migration policy making. The international community also needs to achieve greater coherence and coordination in their approaches and activities, as well recognized by the GCIM report. I am happy to note that a Global Migration Group has already been formed, under the leadership of the two Co moderators for this session.  The report of the UN Secretary-General goes further in proposing a consultative global migration forum at the UN to promote international cooperation for harnessing the full potential of migration for global development.


The Issues Note poses the question of how the international community can help countries in maximising benefits from migration and minimizing its negative impacts for equitable distribution of such gains.  The GCIM has recommended ‘the international community should support the efforts of states to formulate and implement national migration policies through the contribution of resources, appropriate expertise and training’.   Attention may be focussed on the generation of relevant information and dissemination and exchange of experiences and best practices, appropriate training, documenting migration-development linkages, and promotion of multilateral approaches to build public awareness of the valuable contributions of migrant workers.  The media has an important role to play in this regard.


In conclusion I would like to note that labour migration is only one element of the major development challenges faced by developing countries. It must also be recognized that rapid economic development and creation of decent and rewarding work opportunities is the key to encouraging people to stay in their home countries and also for attracting back migrants. As the GC1M report pointed out “people should migrate by choice and not by necessity”. I would now like to turn to all the participants and ask than to respond to these formidable challenges. Let us use this roundtable discussion to evolve further consensus towards the outcomes that must emerge from the forthcoming UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development taking into consideration that our efforts must be towards creating a win-win situation for source and destination countries as well as for the migrant workers themselves.

 

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