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Worsening Economy Hardening Views on Migrants

Linus Atarah

HELSINKI, Oct 13 2011 (IPS) - “Since the economic crisis, migrants are increasingly at risk from racism and xenophobia,” president of the United Nations General Assembly Nassir Abdulaiziz Al-Nasser said at a meeting on migration and communication in Helsinki Thursday.

Speaking at the meeting organised jointly by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), the Finnish ministry for foreign affairs and Inter Press Service (IPS) on re-balancing of information flows and dialogue, Nasser said that to consider how to rebalance the public debate about migration “it is necessary to look at the facts and end myths. Today South-South migration has become as widespread as South-North migration. Most migration is taking place over short distances to neighbouring countries and within regions.”

Amidst the outcry about migration from the South to the North, Nasser pointed out that “in Arab states and the Gulf, the migrant population makes more than half of the working age population. And they transfer remittances to families in their countries of origin. In 2010 some 325 billion dollars were remitted. In the last few years cost of remittances has come down, and this has helped lift many families out of poverty.”

International cooperation is necessary, he said, “to ensure that migration takes place in optimal conditions for optimal results. International organisations must make sure that migration benefits the counties of origin of migration.”

These needs and such facts need to be known and understood better, speakers agreed at the meeting. Facts both about the benefits migrants bring to the economies of the countries where they are working, and about the support they give to development in their countries of origin.

This has become urgently needed now given the hostility that ideas about migration can evoke, said William Lacy Swing, director general of the IOM. “There is a wave of anti-migrant sentiment that is sweeping the world. It is necessary we begin to form an accurate view of migration.

More than facts, it is media discourse and public opinion that has been influencing policy, he said. “And that impact is largely very negative. Xenophobia is reappearing in societies. The overwhelmingly positive contributions of the overwhelming majority are quickly forgotten.

There are many common migration myths, Swing said. “We need to de-mythologize migration today.” One common myth is that most migration is taking place across international borders, he said. “Not true. Three times as many migrants are migrating inside their country.” Recent reports showed that 210 million Chinese are migrating inside China, he said. “That is roughly equivalent to 214 million international migrants.”

Given economic imbalances, migration is inevitable, he said. “Migration is one of the oldest poverty reduction strategies. If you cannot make it at home, you move.”

Such needs are often not taken into account. “It is important to remember that many people are suffering from the necessity to flee and to become refugees and to look for decent living and working in another region,” Heidi Hautala, Finnish minister for international development told IPS at the meeting. “We have to be much more aware of the need to protect these people.” Finland, she said, will keep migrants in mind when drafting the new development policy programme.

“I want to emphasise that we need to give special place to the rights of women and children, and (to recognise that) they are at the central stage of all phases of displacement,” she said.

Everyone was agreed that more and better communication is needed on migration. “We are all affected by it, it is happening in our societies,” said Peter Schatzer, IOM chief of staff. “But is the debate always well informed? That is where the role of the media and international organisations comes in.”

The world is recognising increasingly the impact of migration in all sorts of ways, he said. Back in 2000 migration did not figure in the Millennium Development Goals “even though seven of the goals are affected by migration.” The debate is now shifting to include migration more centrally, Schatzer said.

“In the future it will matter more,” said IPS director general Mario Lubetkin. “We need to link migration with the environment, with climate change, with disasters, with water, jobs, human rights, women, children. We will need to communicate more on what happens in the migration scenario.”

 
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