Migration and Development Move Centre Stage

By Jill Helke

It is sometimes startling to think that almost a billion of the World’s 7 billion people are either internal or international migrants. In other words, one out of every seven people alive today is a migrant. But migration affects not only those who move but also those who do not, above all communities of origin and destination.

Migrant remittances – more than $400 billion dollars a year – are four times greater than all the money transferred via global aid every year. Labour markets and social systems have come to depend on the mobility of workers, entrepreneurs, health professionals and researchers.  In short, the movement of people across borders into jobs with higher productivity has been the back story of so much recent economic growth and development. But remittances and economic assets are not the only arguments in favour of migration.   Countries of origin and countries of destination benefit from migrants’ participation and contribution, and not just in financial terms, but in social and cultural areas as well. Diasporas and transnational communities can act as a bridge between countries, and are often able and willing to contribute to business creation, research and science, political transitions and broader development in their countries of origin.

There is growing recognition that migration is a key building block in the development process, one which transforms the lives of countless numbers of people worldwide. IOM is encouraging a wide and deep debate about migration. Because when migration is a choice for individuals and takes place under the right conditions, there is evidence that increased personal opportunities follow as does improved health, education and better economic futures for their families.

The benefits are clear, but conditions are not yet right to maximize those benefits for migrants and societies alike. Far too many migrants suffer from exploitation, abuse of their human rights and discrimination, while in transit or in their countries of destination. For countries of origin, migration can spell a loss of skilled labour, at least temporarily.  When their qualifications are not recognized in the destination country, migrants may experience “deskilling”, something especially prevalent amongst women migrants, simultaneously depriving the destination country of important skills. While migration presents important opportunities to families, it can also be disruptive, especially when migration rules get in the way of family unity.

One of the great challenges of the international community is ensuring the protection of migrants’ human and labour rights. This is one of the big tasks of the international community when international migration and development will be on the radar of the United Nations General Assembly later this year.  

That’s why IOM has made “migrants and development” the theme of its chairmanship   of the Global Migration Group (GMG) which it took over this week. The GMG aims to promote the adoption of more coherent, comprehensive and better coordinated approaches to the issue of international migration for international community as a whole. This includes promoting the human rights of migrants regardless of their status.   

The rights of migrants will again be on the agenda for the 2nd United Nations High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD) being held in New York on 3-4 October. Its marks only the second time in the UN General Assembly’s history that high level delegations will be focusing on international migration.  Key discussions are taking place on what should be built into the UN’s post-2015 development agenda following the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

It would seem fairly evident that migration should be included. But there will be dissenting voices and keen competition among different interest groups for which  issues get to be included. IOM argues that a development agenda that ignores migration risks irrelevance, or will at least seriously jeopardize achievement of its goals if it misses the potential positive and negative links between migration and development. Whatever development policy emerges, it must address the needs of the planet’s billion migrants and recognize that good migration policies can lead to positive outcomes for migrants and their families while creating significant economic and social gains for the countries they originate from and move to.

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Jill Helke is IOM's Director, International Cooperation and Partnerships