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As the World Migrates

6/21/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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Church Outlines Principles on a Growing Phenomenon

NEW YORK, JUNE 21, 2004 (Zenit) - How to cope with ever-increasing numbers of migrants is a topic being examined both by international organizations and the Church. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Last Dec. 9 established a Global Commission on International Migration. The 18-member panel is undertaking investigations and will submit a report to the secretary-general by midsummer 2005.

The commission's Web page explains that a combination of contemporary of forces -- conflict and instability, global demographic and economic trends, facilitated travel and communication -- create powerful incentives for people to move. Although each country's migration policies are formulated primarily on the basis of national interest, their impact has repercussions on other states. As a result, nations are increasingly trying to improve cooperation in this area.

Precise information on the numbers of migrants in the world is difficult to obtain. A widely cited number comes from the U.N. document "International Migration 2002," which calculated that by 2000, around 175 million people, or 3% of the world's population, were residing outside their country of birth or citizenship.

Migration was also one of the themes examined by the annual conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO), held June 1-17. A press release issued Wednesday announced that the meeting had adopted a new plan aimed at guaranteeing decent working conditions for migrant workers in the global economy.

"Migration is one of the most contentious issues facing the world today," said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. The ILO plan of action calls for establishing guidelines on matters such as promoting "managed migration" for employment purposes; licensing and supervision of recruitment and contracting agencies for migrant workers; and preventing abusive practices, migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons.

The ILO plan also aims to promote measures to ensure that migrant workers benefit from the provisions of all relevant international labor standards. It further introduces measures to ensure that all migrant workers are covered by national labor legislation and applicable social laws.

Pros and cons

According to an ILO report published May 21, "Towards a Fair Deal for Migrant Workers in the Global Economy," the number of migrants increased by some 6 million a year during the 1990s.

The report noted that not all countries monitor or report on labor migration flows. But it is estimated that there are today more than 86 million economically active migrants the world over, including some 32 million in the developing regions. This figure is likely to be an underestimate, the report observed.

For receiving countries, the economic effects of immigration are mainly beneficial. The newcomers rejuvenate populations and stimulate growth without inflation. By contrast, the countries of origin may experience a brain drain due to the emigration of skilled people.

According to the ILO, nearly 400,000 scientists and engineers from developing countries are working on research and development in industrial countries. For example, Jamaica and Ghana have more of their locally trained doctors outside their countries than inside them.

But migrants do bring substantial economic benefits for their home nations, due to the flow of remittances sent back to their families. Data from the World Bank put this flow at around $80 billion in 2002 alone.

A problem highlighted in the ILO report is the estimated 10% to 15% of irregular migrants. The report notes that working conditions for these migrants are often marked by exploitation, discrimination and xenophobia.

Refugee numbers down

A problem related to migration is the matter of refugees. This week saw some good news with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announcing on Thursday that the global number of refugees and persons of concern dropped to 17.1 million in 2003, the lowest in at least a decade.

According to provisional year-end statistics for 2003 released by UNHCR, this is an 18% drop from 2002. The new figure includes 9.7 million refugees (down by 10%); 1.1 million returned refugees; 4.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs); 233,000 returned IDPs; 995,000 asylum seekers; and 912,000 others, including stateless people.

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers attributed the sharp decline to several factors, including increased international efforts to find solutions for millions of uprooted people and ongoing work by UNHCR and its partners to resolve "protracted" refugee situations that have gone on for years or even decades.

In particular, noted Lubbers, there has been an unprecedented level of voluntary repatriation over ...

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