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Migration Stirs the Global Pot

Report Highlights Opportunities and Challenges

NEW YORK, OCT. 10, 2005 (Zenit) - How to deal with the world's nearly 200 million migrants was the subject of a report made to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan this Wednesday. The 19-member Global Commission on International Migration, established almost two years ago by Annan and a number of governments, had the task of developing a policy to deal with migration issues.

On receiving the report, Annan said migration poses "one of our most important challenges" in the 21st century. The report, entitled "Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Action," sets out a number of principles to guide action on policies. The principles say:

-- People should be able to migrate out of choice rather than necessity, in a safe and authorized manner and because their skills are valued and needed.

-- The role of migrants in promoting economic growth, development and poverty reduction should be recognized and reinforced; migration must become an integral part of global development strategies.

-- States, exercising their sovereign right to decide who enters their territory, should cooperate with each other in an effort to stem irregular migration, while fully respecting the rights of migrants and refugees and readmitting those citizens who return to their home country.

-- Long-term and authorized migrants should be effectively integrated in the societies where they settle, so as to accommodate social diversity and foster social cohesion; migrants must be aware of their rights and respect their legal obligations.

-- The human rights framework affecting international migrants should be implemented more effectively, so as to improve the protection and labor standards available to migrants.

-- Migration policies should be enhanced by improved coherence and strengthened capacity at the national level, by greater cooperation at the regional level, and more effective dialogue and consultation among governments and between international organizations.

Positive and negative

The report argued that migration "makes a large but largely unrecognized contribution to the global economy." Moreover, given the low birthrates in many industrialized countries, the continued economic prosperity of these nations will depend in part on international migration. And, for their countries of origin, the money sent back by migrants amounts to some $150 billion a year -- three times the value of official development assistance.

Regarding the economic effects of immigration, the report noted tensions in recent years between governments and businesses. Faced with restrictions on immigration, some companies seek an easing of policies, on occasions threatening to move a part of their operations overseas where they can more easily find the people they need.

The report also dealt with other problems associated with migration, such as illegal, or "irregular," migration. This phenomenon, especially when it involves smuggling, poses problems both for the host countries and the migrants themselves. States have a right to defend their borders, but their ability to control the flow of persons is limited, and in the process the rights of migrants and refugees can be endangered.

And within countries that receive migrants the report observed that some are fearful of the new arrivals, a fear sometimes worsened by politicians and the media. A related problem is that of security. Recent incidents involving violence committed by migrants have led to a perception that there is a close connection between migration and terrorism, the report comments. And the growth in irregular migration is regarded as a serious security threat.

The report so far has received little media attention. One commentary, published Thursday in the Financial Times, a British newspaper, criticized some aspects. According to Jagdish Bhagwati, a professor at Columbia University, where he directs the program on "Migration: Economics, Ethics and Law," the report falls short due to the commission being made up of "activists, politicians and retired international bureaucrats."

Bhagwati lamented that the report did not call on any world-class scholars. He also argued that the report failed to distinguish with more precision the different cases of skilled and unskilled migration.

Immigration reform

Migration and the difficulties immigrants face is a theme of concern to the Church as well. On May 10 the U.S. Catholic bishops, along with a number of organizations, launched an initiative entitled "Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope. The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform."

According to the press release issued by the U.S. bishops' conference, the aim of the campaign is a comprehensive reform of immigration. In part it seeks to educate Catholics and others about the benefits of education, and to thus influence public opinion on the issue. It will also pressure for reforms in immigration laws and improve the services offered by Catholic groups to assist immigrants.

More recently, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, California, testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, arguing that the country's immigration system is "morally unacceptable," according to a July 27 press release by the episcopal conference.

"The current immigration system, which can lead to family separation, suffering, and even death, is morally unacceptable and must be reformed," he said. The bishop suggested that Congress consider an economic package to help the sectors of the Mexican economy that employ low-skilled workers. He also called for a program of legalization of immigrants that would help keep families together and improve wages and working conditions for all workers.

In Europe, six Church and Christian organizations sent a letter, dated June 14, to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Council, regarding their concerns on some aspects of the immigration policies of the European Union.

In the letter they welcomed efforts to establish a common EU migration policy and asylum system. But they stressed it must "be centered on the inalienable dignity of each human being and thus respect human rights."

Don't criminalize migrants

The letter also asked that the phenomenon of illegal immigration be acknowledged and that in any immigration policy the need for both qualified and unqualified labor be taken into account. The organizations also asked that EU legislation not criminalize migrants in irregular situations. And, given that migration has a considerable impact on the countries where immigrants to Europe come from, they recommended that cooperation between the European Union and these nations be improved.

In Australia, Catholic bishops have been critical of aspects of the federal government's immigration policies, particularly regarding the treatment of illegal immigrants. On June 20 Bishop Joseph Grech, chairman of the bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees, welcomed changes to the detention system announced by Prime Minister John Howard.

Bishop Grech said he particularly welcomed the announcement that families with children would be placed in community housing rather than behind razor wire in detention centers while their claims are being assessed.

And on the move to speed up processing of asylum claims, Bishop Grech noted the concern among Australians over the long time that people had been spending in detention. The improvements appear to be a step in the right direction, he added. Many more steps will be needed.


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