The United Nations has dropped another ball. Faced with
a key issue which touches almost every country, the Global
Commission on International Migration, established by Kofi Annan two
years ago, has produced a 96-page report heavy on sanitized waffle
and politically correct phraseology.
report has received token media coverage, much of it focused on its
predictable call for further expansion of the UN bureaucracy by the
"immediate establishment of a high-level inter-institutional group
to define the functions and modalities of, and pave the way for, an
Inter-agency Global Migration Facility."
This is a pity because
buried within the report itself and in the supporting documents
available on the commission's Web site are some hard truths that
should be thrown in the face of governments.
Migration takes many
different forms in different countries. Common policies are
difficult enough on a regional basis, impossible on a global one.
But recognition of facts is needed everywhere.
For one thing, the
notion that illegal migration can be stopped by laws or barbed wire
is an illusion. Migration is a natural response to demographic as
much as income disparities, so countries with low birth rates and
aging populations need to do something soon about their demographics
or accept that foreigners will arrive to fill the local labor market
vacuum. (The report declines to use "illegal," preferring the
euphemisms "irregular" and "undocumented".) The number of migrants
worldwide is now nearly 200 million and has doubled in 20 years.
The demographic divide
is likely to increase so that even if other factors, such as changes
in global manufacturing systems, cease to influence migration, the
process is likely to continue unabated. By declining to offend any
member state, the UN report avoids specifics and naming names.
That's a pity, because specifics could, for example, show why an EU
failure to admit Turkey, a country with relatively favorable
demographics, would probably lead to an increase in illegal
migration from other sources.
Rather than admit that
their announced migration policies - which are mostly anti-migration
policies - are a failure, governments turn a blind eye to what is
going on. This may be viewed as "realism" but is not merely
hypocritical. It provides cover for migration agencies and employers
to flout employment laws and trash the human rights that these
developed countries claim to protect.
Some countries with a
high degree of control over their citizens keep illegal migration to
a minimum but tolerate restrictions on movement of imported workers,
impose discriminatory taxation or make no effort to enforce
minimum-wage laws and other legislation that protects workers. Hong
Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand could be cited for endemic
abuse of basic human rights and/or failure to implement their laws.
In these places, many migrant workers from nearby countries exist in
conditions not much different from those of indentured laborers in
colonial times or the bonded laborers still found in South Asia.
Governments of migrant
providers, for their part, are often more interested in maximizing
the numbers of people they send abroad, and hence the amount of
money that will be remitted, than in protecting their nationals.
Connivance between diplomats and exploitative labor agencies is rife
- just ask an Indonesian domestic helper in Asia.
Labor remittance is by
far the most important form of resource transfer from rich to poorer
countries. By comparison, official transfers, of which rich
countries often boast, are of minimal importance. The UN report
wisely advises against taxing remittances, which are at least as
likely to be spent sensibly as official aid.
The media in recipient
countries has an appalling record of prejudice, ignorance and
stirring up populist sentiment against migrants. But why does the UN
report not name names?
These are just a few of
the points from the report that should have hit the headlines.
Instead, the report has endless verbiage on its buzz words
"capacity, coherence, cooperation."
entrepreneurship are characteristics of migrants everywhere. They
have little in common with a UN panel of diplomatically sensitive
experts. But it is not too late for Kofi Annan to give the migration
ball to someone who can run with it and risk offending governments