Governments urged to use migration, remittances as a positive force

Migration should be seen by governments as a key contributor to development in East and Southeast Asia rather than a problem, according to a report by UN agencies and partners.

"Most migration is occurring irregularly and this then gives rise to social and national security concerns – smuggling, trafficking, concerns about communicable diseases and their spread, and exploitation issues," said Federico Soda, a report coordinator and regional project development officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"The negative stigma of these social and national concerns is actually what's used often at a domestic level to formulate and drive some of the policies. Mostly the policies are reactionary to perceived problems," he added.

"Migration is, at a national level, still very much seen as a problem to be addressed … rather than as a process that needs to be managed."

The report is the first to compile research about migration in the region, and aims to create an in-depth socio-economic perspective on the topic for policy-makers.

''Most migration is occurring irregularly and this then gives rise to social and national security concerns – smuggling, trafficking, concerns about communicable diseases and their spread, and exploitation issues.''

"The main goal was to show governments and society how interconnected the countries are, in economic terms and in the same way, in migration terms," Irena Vojackova-Sollorano, the IOM's representative for Southeast Asia, told IRIN on 20 October.

The report is an initiative of the Regional Thematic Working Group on International Migration including Human Trafficking, which links 16 UN and international agencies and is co-chaired by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the IOM.

The report notes that intra-regional migration is on the rise, spurred on in the past 25 years by an economic boom and rising economic disparities between nations.

Most migration is economic and most migrants are irregular, or not legally registered, in host countries.

Although there are large gaps in migration data, the group said its best "guesstimate" is of 15 to 20 million people moving within the region, including irregular migrants.

Despite the significant numbers of migrants and their crucial contribution to the growth of economies, the report depicts governments as near-sighted in their national migration policies.

Overall, the report calls on governments to formulate domestic migration policies that are internally coherent and in line with national development goals. With migration on the rise, it also urges regional cooperation among nations.

"Migration needs to be discussed in a regional framework. You cannot have … each country having their migration policy disconnected to other countries," said the IOM's Vojackova-Sollorano.

"Governments need to talk to each other about the dynamics and how to manage the dynamics," she said.


Photo: Hugh Macleod/IRIN
Two south-east Asian domestic workers arrive in Syria. According to the World Bank, in 2006 US$50 billion was remitted to East and Southeast Asia countries

Importance of remittances

According to 2007 World Bank figures cited in the report, the volume of remittances received by East and Southeast Asia countries has grown in the past 25 years. The increase since 1990 has been particularly strong, with US$50 billion remitted in 2006, against US$4.2 billion in 1990.

"For a long time, migration has been considered a failure of a government to facilitate enough economic development, or failure to provide the jobs needed for the local people," said Keiko Osaki, chief of the population and social integration section in UNESCAP's Social Development Division.

"The international community now has started seeing that migration can be a development tool if it is guided by the proper policies," she said.

To facilitate this, Osaki said the report recommends that governments improve the financial infrastructure for remittances.

Regularising informal remittance channels, improving regulatory and institutional frameworks and reducing the costs for remittance transactions through market competition are some of the suggestions made in the report.

"States and NGOs should provide prospective migrants and return migrants with advice on financial matters … so as to encourage the best use of remittances for long-term development," the report states.

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