Why Migration Matters More Post 2015

By Andrew Bruce

This Op-Ed was Published in the Bangkok Post on 29 May 2013

There can be no doubt that the MDGs have lifted millions out of chronic poverty, empowered women and given greater access to better education and healthcare. But we must now look at how development happens, and not dodge the complex question of migration.

Removing barriers to human mobility – of which ASEAN 2015 is a tentative first step – continues the MDG momentum towards social equity. In that light, we contend, and we believe that we are part of an influential body of opinion, that human mobility is crucial to prosperity and peace.

This tenet will be debated and tested at the UN General Assembly High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in New York this October. Closer in time and closer to home, this week in Bangkok IOM will play its part in shaping the post 2015 development landscape at the Asian preparatory meeting for that HLD.

We want to see migration in the post 2015 agenda, and we are convinced that the coming of age of ASEAN will advance prosperity and harmony in the region. But recalling our mandate, we also believe that ASEAN 2015 moves us, albeit cautiously, towards a global system of well-managed human mobility which protects migrants’ rights, removes opportunities for the human slave traders, and plans for the consequences and opportunities of migration. Towards a future where nations value the health of a citizen and a migrant equally as both an enabler and indicator of sustainable development.

Looking outside of ASEAN for a moment we remind ourselves that one in seven people on the planet is a migrant. No one in our interconnected world can say their lives are not touched by migration, as billions more count on remittances to save them from poverty or move them up the developmental ladder. Furthermore, everything from the cars we drive to the chips in our mobile phones to the healthcare we enjoy has been designed, manufactured or delivered by a migrant somewhere along the line.

That is why we call migration a megatrend of the 21st century, and why we seek to stress that it is to be viewed as natural to the human condition: neither inherently bad nor inherently good but with the potential to do great things, for economies, for individuals and for communities.

Even though they may feel pain, families make the choice to separate as they know it boosts their opportunities. In Bangladesh just 13 per cent of remittance-receiving households are below the poverty line, compared to 34 per cent of those who get no money from abroad. In rural Pakistan remittances mean higher school enrollment, particularly for girls. Evidence from other part of Asia, form Latin America and from Africa points to the same result.

When we consider that remittance flows through official channels to developing countries topped $448 billion in 2012 – three times total aid flows from OECD donors in 2011 – we can justifiably say that migration is the leading poverty reduction strategy in today’s world. And that is even with tight regulations on migration. Initial research shows that even small increased in freedom of movement for migrants from developing countries could exceed combined global profits from eliminating remaining barriers to movement of goods and capital.

We also need to consider the effect of migration on strong but ageing economies. When we think of “greying populations” we tend to think of Western states, but increasingly, Asian countries, including China, are looking with concern at their demographics.

Migration is not only about moving to find work nor to fill labour gaps. Migration will impact on development as environmental factors play a larger role. Indeed migration to cities, where half of us now live, means that 13 per cent of the world’s population now lives in low elevation coastal zones, at risk of sea level rise as well as more frequent and stronger storms.

For all these reasons we believe it imperative that the next-generation development agenda must include migration as part of the policy mix, and it must permeate whatever replaces the MDGs.

It is only on such a foundation that development initiatives can be built to release the development potential of migration, and the resources of migrant diasporas can find their full expression, beginning with benefits accruing to the migrants and their families.

Or, as UN Special Representative for Migration Peter Sutherland puts it: “making migration part of the world’s development strategy will have a meaningful impact on the lives of migrants, affording them greater access to rights and to the fruits of their labour. Perhaps even more important, it could change public perception of migrants, so they are viewed as a blessing rather than a scourge”.

May 2013


Andrew Bruce is the Director of IOM’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.