UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on countries battered by the financial crisis to keep their doors open to foreign workers, stressing that migration could be used to help lift them out of economic gloom.
Ban said the world's 200 million migrants had become vulnerable in the face of the crisis, which, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), could lead to some 20 million job losses worldwide by 2009.
"Today, we face a cascade of national financial crises throughout the world. Almost none of our economies is insulated," Ban told delegates to the Global Forum on Migration and Development [see: www.gfmd2008.org] in Manila on 29 October. "Global growth is slowing, unemployment is rising, personal hardship is spreading and anxiety is increasing. Many countries have slipped into recession.
"It would be naive to think the current crisis will have no effect on the movement of people across borders, and on how our publics perceive migration and the migrants in their midst," Ban said, noting that migration flows were already reversing.
"In several instances, we are seeing a net outflow from countries facing economic crises, especially from badly affected sectors such as construction and tourism, where many migrants are employed," Ban said. "There is also mounting evidence of a significant slowdown in remittance flows."
The Philippines has more than eight million labour migrants abroad, remitting a record US$14.4 billion in 2007 or about 10 percent of GDP.
And while the world’s fourth-largest source of migrant workers has yet to feel an impact, it is still bracing for a drop in remittances by early next year.
Ban said "human mobility" could help address "enormous imbalances" that have led to harsh inequalities, which he said was "one of the most dangerous realities we need to confront. And with or without an economic crisis, the underlying forces that have led 200 million people to cross international borders in pursuit of a better life will not disappear," Ban said.
Risk of discrimination
William Lacy Swing, director-general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), separately warned that there remained a risk that migrants "will be singled out and stigmatised" amid the financial crisis and governments should make sure their rights remained protected.
"We need to make a concerted effort to prevent this and ensure that public perceptions of migrants are fair and balanced," Swing said. "True, the demand for migrant labour may decline in some contexts and remittance levels fall. Yet the fundamental need for labour migration in certain countries and sectors will continue to be the dominant trend in the long-term due to persistent economic and demographic realities."
He said labour policies "need to remain flexible and responsive. Let us not be short-sighted, lose sight of fundamentals nor allow migrants to become targets of xenophobia or racism," he said.
"As responses to cushion the impact of economic downturn are developed, let's ensure that migrant needs are specifically considered in the solutions and that the impact for them of both the downturn and resulting remedial measures is well understood."