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For International Migrants, It May Be the Worst of Times

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 6 2011 (IPS) - When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently addressed the U.N. General Assembly on the impact of migration on development, he counted himself as one of 214 million international migrants who live outside their home countries.

Nearly two-thirds of the migrant population live in wealthy countries in the north and south – and send home over 300 billion dollars in remittances every year, he said.

“All of us,” he told delegates, “are part of a productive global economy that benefits our world as a whole.”

Still, the current political climate is not the best of times – some would say the worst of times – for migrants worldwide.

As the secretary-general points out, migrants most often do jobs that others will not: the so-called “3D” jobs, “jobs that are dirty, dangerous and difficult.”

And more recently, fears have grown of death by drowning, as hundreds of migrants try unsuccessfully to escape the political chaos in countries such as Libya, Tunisia, Cote d’Ivoire and Somalia.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), told IPS that according to current estimates, the death toll among migrants at sea is around 1,500 – or even higher.

But these migrants, he said, are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa or West Africa.

The negative European response to migrants has been prompted by several factors, including the spreading economic crisis and the rise of right-wing political groups opposed to migration.

In Spain, for example, the construction boom has come to an end followed closely by a recession.

The rate of unemployment among young people in Spain is about 45 percent, said Chauzy, thereby shutting out migrants, especially at a time when the priority is to find jobs for their own nationals.

The economic downturn and right-wing politics have also triggered the spread of xenophobia in Europe prompting violence against migrants.

Joseph Chamie, a former director of the U.N. Population Division, and currently director of research at the Center for Migration Studies, told IPS the first concerns the gap between the public and governments on immigration and the second is the mounting calls for deporting illegal migrants.

Both forces, he said, contribute to the rise of right-wing groups and xenophobia.

Chamie provided a long list of political parties that are opposed to or critical of international migration – whether into Europe or other regions of the world.

These include the Dutch Freedom Party, the German National Democratic Party, the British National Party, the French National Front, the Italian Northern League, the Irish National Party, the Israeli Yisrael Beitenu and the Indian Shiv Sena.

Additionally, he singled out the Sweden Democrats Party, the Danish People’s Party, the Spanish People’s Party, the Norwegian Progress Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Flemish Interest Party, the True Finns Party, the Swiss People’s Party, the Australian First Party and the American Tea Party.

Addressing a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, Ambassador Ositadinma Anaedu of Nigeria called for an investigation into the plight of African migrants caught up in the Arab revolutions in North Africa.

He said migrants have been subject to interdiction, detention, rejection and xenophobia at the borders of some of the European countries.

“The common humanity that binds us under the charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires for them to be treated humanely and with dignity,” he added.

In an article published in YaleGlobal Online, Chamie pointed out that while a handful of countries had policies to lower immigration for permanent settlement, not a single developed nation had policies to lower the immigration of highly skilled workers.

On the contrary, most developed countries are competing globally to recruit and retain talented highly skilled workers, such as scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers and high-tech personnel.

For example, he said, Britain expanded economic immigration with visas for highly skilled economic immigrants to enter the country without a job offer, but simply on the basis of their skills.

Some European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have instituted fast-track visas and Green Card systems, similar to the United States, to attract highly skilled migrants, particularly specialists in information technologies.

In the United States, said Chamie, even local school districts have turned increasingly to overseas recruiting to find skilled teachers. For example, teachers recruited from the Philippines are reported to make up more than 10 percent of the teaching force in the Baltimore Public Schools in the state of Maryland.

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