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At global conference, UN official highlights role of migration in promoting development

Special Representative for International Migration and Development Peter Sutherland (left) with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Special Representative for International Migration and Development Peter Sutherland (left) with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

At global conference, UN official highlights role of migration in promoting development

Addressing a global summit on international migration today, the top United Nations official on the matter called on world leaders to target achieving “real results” on a series of migration-related challenges when the UN General Assembly holds a key meeting on cross-border movements next year.

“Now is the time to commit to action on a range of practical measures,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Migration and Development, Peter Sutherland, said of the Assembly’s upcoming second High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

“I challenge each of you to come to the Dialogue with concrete proposals, and I pledge to bring my own practical suggestions so that we can achieve real results,” Mr. Sutherland told delegates gathered in Reduit, Mauritius, on the opening day of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

The two-day summit marks the sixth annual meeting of the GFMD, which is a government-led initiative focused on what it calls the “growing importance of the linkages between migration and development.”

Gatherings have been attended by representatives of around 160 UN Member and Observer States, as well as more than 30 international organizations, while between 200 and 400 interest groups have participated in the Forum’s related Civil Society Days meetings, which this year met in Mauritius on 19 and 20 November.

“You have not gathered in Mauritius to dwell on your accomplishments over the past six years,” Mr. Sutherland said during his address. “You are here because this is a new, decisive moment in addressing this issue.”

He called on delegates to bear in mind that the Forum was taking place this year as world governments, through the UN, were forging a global development agenda to succeed that set in 2000. In that year, world leaders and institutions agreed on a series of so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that had a 2015 deadline for achieving poverty reduction and other landmark development targets.

“With the right policies, migration can promote development,” Mr. Sutherland said.

The Special Representative, named to the post in 2006, cited a need for global focus on such issues such as pensions and skills transfers, entrepreneurial and training opportunities for immigrants, and measures aimed at facilitating legal migration.

“The benefits of migration are much higher when it occurs in a safe, orderly and legal fashion,” Mr. Sutherland said. “The price of irregular movements is far too high, especially for women and children.”

The Special Representative said that developing countries increasingly understood the “power and potential” of their emigrant populations.

“Governments are encouraging their migrant communities to invest in their home countries – and to return so they can bring back their talents,” he said. He added that many migrants who don’t return contribute to their homelands by sending back money in the form of “remittances.”

“Last year, more than $350 billion was sent to developing countries by migrants,” Mr. Sutherland stated, though he said the costs of returning funds were “still too high.”

“Migrants may work for hours just to earn pennies,” he added. “Through hard living and painful savings, they send money back home. That money feeds families, keeps children in school, and improves health. It should not be subject to exorbitant fees.”

Mr. Sutherland also lamented that only three countries had ratified the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention on Domestic Workers, which he described as a “new treaty to help improve the rights of millions of migrant workers, especially women.”

Adopted at the ILO annual conference last year, the Convention describes domestic workers as comprising mainly women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities, and who are “particularly vulnerable” to workplace discrimination and other human rights abuses.

Uruguay, Philippines and Mauritius have ratified the document, which will enter into force next year, since only two ratifications were necessary for that step. The ratifying countries are bound by the Convention, which includes rights to a minimum wage and rest times.