Migrants spur economic growth, but treated harshly


  • World
  • Thursday, 06 Oct 2005

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Nearly 200 million international migrants fuel their home countries' economy by $240 billion a year and spend more than $2 trillion in their host nation, but suffer exploitation and abuse, a U.N.-backed report says. 

The Global Commission on International Migration, a 19-member independent panel, says most governments have a haphazard, uncoordinated approach to immigrants and rarely think further than putting more controls on borders. 

The panel's 88-page report released on Wednesday said rich countries failed to recognize how much they benefited from low-cost or highly valued labor while developing nations did little to encourage their citizens to return home. 

Despite many governments having signed U.N. human rights treaties, implementation is rare "with the result that many migrants continue to experience exploitation, discrimination and abuse," the report said. 

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2002 called for a review of international migration problems in hopes of putting the issue on the world agenda. The 191-member U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to discuss it next year. 

"In the 21st century, one of our most important challenges is to find ways to manage migration for the benefit of all -- of sending countries, receiving countries, transit countries, and migrants themselves," Annan said at the launch of the report. 

"I agree with the commission that we are not rising to this challenge yet. But I am convinced we must do so," Annan said. 

The commission's main recommendation was to create a new grouping with the task of bringing together heads of organizations involved in migration, such as the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization of Migration, and coordinating worldwide immigration policies. 

TEMPORARY MIGRATION PROGRAMS 

Another proposal was for rich and poor nations to develop temporary fixed-term migration programs for foreign workers under agreed conditions. Even though this might appear as second-class status for the immigrants, it would make more sense than the current uncoordinated approach, the report said. 

Manphele Ramphele, a former World Bank official and co-chair of the commission, told a news conference that debt relief and fairer trade policies would make staying home more attractive so people "need not jump into the Mediterranean to get better job opportunities." 

But the sensitivity of the subject was apparent in the report, which gave few detailed examples of how governments handled or mistreated migrants. 

The report noted that the economies of many industrial countries, especially those with a low birth rate, would collapse without foreign nurses, computer engineers or farm workers. 

"If information percolated throughout economies, people would stop moaning about migrants taking away work," said Ramphele, a South African. 

According to the World Bank, migrants remit some $240 billion to their home countries, about triple the amount of foreign aid from governments. Ramphele estimated the migrants contributed about $2 trillion to the economies of the countries where they work. 

Mexico receives $16 billion a year from migrant workers, India $9.9 billion, and the Philippines $8.5 billion. 

The money comes from the United States, which has some 35 million migrants, at $28 billion a year; Saudi Arabia at $15 billion, and Belgium, Germany and Switzerland at a combined $8 billion, the report said. 

While people have immigrated for centuries, cheap air transport and better communications have generated a new wave of migration. Nearly 200 million people now live and work outside their own country, double the number of 25 years ago, according to the U.N. Population Division. 

But the report says that financial need was not the only reason for migration. "The human race has always been curious, and eager to visit difference places, gain new experiences and encounter unfamiliar cultures, " it said. 

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