World moving from era of migration to era of mobility, UN official says

6 April 2006

With people moving back and forth between countries instead of simply immigrating or emigrating, the United Nations’ top migration official said that the world was entering an “era of mobility” in which international cooperation would be more effective than restrictive laws.

“I come from a country with a long history of providing migrants to the rest of the world, which has now become a country of destination,” Peter Sutherland, born in Ireland and now Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special representative on migration, told the annual session of the Commission on Population and Development, which is focussing on the issue this year.

“For years, we condemned countries that would not allow their people to leave,” he said, adding that, now that movement was possible, there was a need for “coordination instead of control, both nationally and internationally.”

He said that priorities in this new era remain the protection of migrant rights while ensuring the maintenance of the right of countries to determine who should cross their borders, with certain exceptions.

In addition, he said a cooperative dialogue must begin between developed and developing countries, both bilaterally and regionally, such as the dialogue between the European Union and Africa.

Business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and trade unions should “all at the table of the debate,” since all have a stake in managing effectively migration flows, which had multiple ramifications for the economy, labour, employment and education.

The benefits of migration were well known, said Mr. Sutherland, suggesting that an expanded dialogue could “find out ways to compensate who loses out,” be they local workers having to compete with immigrants or countries losing skilled professionals.

Throughout the week-long population meeting, which opened on Monday, UN officials have stressed that, with 200 million people living outside their home countries, more than any time in history, partnerships must be created between countries that receive migrants and their countries of origin.


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