Migrants Rights International

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oral Statement on Segment 2 Presented at the Informal Interactive Hearings

Challenges for Social and Economic Policies in Sending & Receiving Countries:
Empowering Migrants and Ensuring Rights-Based, People-Centered Development

Oral Statement on Segment 2 Presented at the Informal Interactive Hearings
on International Migration and Development
12 July 2006, New York

Asian Migrant Centre (AMC) and Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)

Distinguished delegates and guests:

I make this statement on behalf of the Asian Migrant Centre (AMC), an Asian regional research and training NGO promoting the human rights and empowerment of Asian migrant workers and their families. I am also speaking on behalf of the Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), the biggest migrants’ rights advocacy network in Asia representing over 260 migrant organizations, unions and civil society groups in Asia.

Migrants as Primary Stakeholders in Development

Responding to the abuses, violations of human rights, discrimination, and the intersecting racial, class and gender vulnerabilities of migrants, we were among the pioneers since the 1980s, and we continue to be at the forefront, of campaigns for protection of migrants’ rights. We are part of the international advocacy, since the 1990s, for the universal ratification of the U.N. Migrant Workers Convention, and the adoption and effective implementation of the core human rights standards of the UN and ILO.

Recognising that migrants are not all helpless victims, but are – more importantly – women, workers, and human beings who have multiple capacities, skills, strengths and the will to overcome the dangers and difficulties of overseas work, we pioneered since the late 1980s, the unionization and self-organisation of migrants, especially women; community organizing in the home and host communities; and the advocacy for the representation and participation of migrants in policy-making in the host and home countries.

Emphasizing that “migrants” is not a homogeneous population, we highlight the need to ensure particular measures to ensure participation of the various categories of migrants – migrant workers, families of migrants, women migrants, youth migrants, undocumented migrants, indigenous peoples migrating overseas, as well as refugees displaced by conflicts or development/ecological disasters.

Asserting the enormous economic power and potential of migrants, we started the advocacy in Asia in the 1990s, on migration and development and the strategic role of migrants in the development process. Therefore, we initiated the “migrant savings and alternative investments” (MSAI) strategy to emphasize that migrants and their families are primary stakeholders in any people-centered, rights-based, gender-fair and social justice-oriented development process. Their “modern day heroism” is not simply because they remit billions of dollars back home; it is because migrants can help shape and propel the development process, by utilizing their social and economic assets in order to address poverty, development problems, and the root causes that compelled millions of migrants to work abroad.

“Migrant Savings & Alternative Investments” (MSAI) and other Civil Society Strategies on Development

The MSAI strategy promotes the central role of migrants and their families by: (a) helping migrants economically prepare for their eventual return/reintegration to their home countries (the bulk of migrants in Asia are denied residency rights in the host countries being temporary, contract-based, or undocumented workers); and (b) helping mobilize and build migrants’ assets – their organizations, skills, networks, knowledge, savings, remittances – for social entrepreneurship, productive investments, and community and national development. Such development-oriented investments are guided by the principles of economic sustainability, gender-fairness, social justice, ecological sustainability, and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of migrants.

The MSAI strategy further asserts that the central responsibility in providing enabling policy and operational conditions to promote social and economic development is the government’s. People-centered development is also necessarily multi-stakeholder, thus the importance of intermediary (support) role of the private sector. Relevant UN or intergovernmental bodies in Asia, e.g. ILO, UNIFEM, UNDP, have been supporting the building up of this strategy.

Recently, the migrant community has firmed up links with the decades-long cooperatives, rural development, microfinance and microenterprise movements in Asia. We are trying to build upon our mutual strengths and expertise so that migrants’ savings, remittance and economic resources are best used for rural and community development.

Additionally, various diaspora philanthropy strategies, including the “3-for-1” strategy pioneered by Mexican migrants and immigrants, are also being built up and promoted in order to contribute to social development. Therefore, the migrant, diaspora and civil society sectors have ongoing, vibrant efforts in helping build sustainable and people-oriented development.

The Challenge: Realizing People-Centered Development and The Right to Development

However, the main challenges and difficulties they are facing, both in the host and home countries, are: (a) the lack or absence of enabling policies and operational conditions to sustain and scale up development efforts;
(b) the marginalization and exclusion of migrants from policy and decision-making, especially in national economic development planning;
(c) restrictive, repressive or discriminatory policies in the host countries that deny or severely limit migrants’ rights/capacity especially in terms of organizing, accessing the banking and financial systems, and undertaking economic and entrepreneurial activities; and,
(d) the lack of comprehensive, people-centered and rights-based development frameworks or policies at the national and international levels.

The absence, at the international level, of a binding international convention or instrument on rights-based, people-centered development is a critical gap that prevents the flowering of migrants’ efforts on social development. Substantive, multi-stakeholder, cross-country development collaboration among migrants, civil society and governments is difficult to pursue without a common guiding framework which spells the rights and accountabilities of the various stakeholders. Supportive and enabling national policies are hard to discuss and formulate in the absence of international standards on the right to development.

The UN has a long-standing “Declaration on the Right to Development” – adopted by the General Assembly in 1986, and subsequently reaffirmed in the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the 2000 Millennium Declaration, and the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. These declarations affirm the ‘Right to Development’ as a universal and inalienable human right, with the following basic components:

a) comprehensive concept of development – defines development as comprehensive and multi-faceted with social, cultural, political and economic elements;
b) people-centered – places the human person at the centre of development;
c) respect for all human rights – development process should respect all basic human rights; failure to observe these rights constitute an obstacle to development;
d) participation – requires that States and the international community formulate appropriate development policies in a participative manner, and ensure participation of women;
e) social justice – the development process should promote social justice, equality of opportunity for all, access to basic resources and services, and the eradication of social injustices;
f) international cooperation – development requires not only appropriate national policies, but also proper international policies and cooperation.
g) self-determination – affirms the right of peoples to self-determination.

We therefore call on all governments to adhere and commit to the 1986 Declaration and subsequent affirmations, as a common framework to guide migration and development efforts.

We note with regret that the Report by the Secretary General on migration and development emphasizes “co-development” that highlights the flow of migrants and remittances, but does make any reference to the Right to Development Declaration, and hardly references the Migrant Workers Convention and the core UN and ILO human rights frameworks as a basis for development. We urge the Secretary-General to reiterate the rights-based approach, the core human rights principles and instruments, and the Right to Development declaration as overarching principles guiding the migration and development agenda.

We also note the overemphasis on remittances as a beneficial facet of international migration. We reiterate that remittance does not necessarily imply or lead to people-centered development. Indeed, divorced from a rights-based and the right to development framework, the singular agenda of ‘maximising remittances’ can result to acceleration in the mass export of labour, the primacy of profit-seeking motives especially by money-transfer companies, and the failure of governments to confront and address national economic and financial problems (e.g. chronic budget deficits, huge foreign debt, continued reduction of budget for social services and community development).

Remittance should not be made the substitute to the governments’ responsibility of putting up funds for national development – through the national budget, overseas development aid (ODA), or FDI. Migrants should not be made to finance development; instead, sending countries have to properly allocate funds from the national budget; developed countries should fulfill their MDG commitment of allocating 0.7% of their GNP for ODA. Since migrants and their families, are usually the ‘unbankable’ sectors in the home country – i.e. with limited or no access to credit or banking channels – the enormous remittance of migrants can end up in the credit portfolio of local elites and big companies – i.e. further deepening the wealth gap in the home countries.

Moving Forward

We commend the convening by the Secretary-General of this informal hearing on migration and development, and the forthcoming High Level Dialogue in September 2006. These are positive initial steps in building multi-stakeholder and international understanding on migration and development.

We support the proposal of the Secretary General for a subsequent follow-up forum. However, we believe that all these are not enough to push the momentum forward. We propose that there should be continuing forums or dialogues organized by the United Nations, with substantive participation by migrants and civil society in order to build consensus and encourage collaboration on people-centered development. Such discussions need to be organized at the national, regional and international levels.

We call for the ratification, adoption and effective implementation by all member states of all the core UN and ILO human rights instruments, particularly the Migrant Workers Convention. We further urge the United Nations to promote the Right to Development Declaration. These core standards and frameworks should be the basis in building collaboration and pursuing local and international “migration and development” agendas.

We call on the UN and members states to support, provide enabling policies, help scale up people-oriented development strategies spearheaded by migrants and civil society groups, e.g. MSAI.

We urge the individual member states to dialogue and explore areas of consensus and collaboration with migrant groups and advocates, towards building national migration and development agendas based on the rights-based approach, social justice and people-centered development.

Submitted by: Rex Varona
Asian Migrant Centre / Migrant Forum in Asia
12 July 2006


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