When rights are protected, migration benefits all

Owen Shumba, Team Leader, Livelihoods and Economic Recovery, UNDP

Publication date

Friday, December 16, 2016 - 12:00

Today, we have over 244 million international migrants globally – this is the highest number ever recorded. Immigration is benefitting migrants themselves, countries of origin, transit and destination countries. However, it’s important to note that the greatest benefit comes when migrants’ rights are protected properly. 

Let’s agree upfront that there are obviously pros and cons for migration. Pressure on public services, rising unemployment, falling wages, difficulties in integration and brain drain are touted as negatives for migration. Still, I would argue that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages across countries of origin and destinations. Economic growth, remittances, services to an aging population, skills gap replenishment, new innovation, cultural diversity, remittances and tourism are just some of the positives of migration.

Consider financial remittances for example. Even though sending costs (about 7 percent of amount sent) are still relatively high, remittances continue to grow. In 2015, financial remittances amounted to about US$601 billion globally. Developing countries benefitted the most. According to the International Organization for Migration, in Tajikistan, remittances constituted over 40 percent of GDP last year.

I, myself, send a little money on a monthly basis to my relatives back home for their upkeep. Added to other incomes, remittances have become a lifeline for Zimbabwe. So, growing remittances are emerging as my country’s Foreign Direct Investment alternative. Zimbabwe received a total of $830 million in remittances in the first half of 2016. This may even reach approximately $1.5 billion by the end of the year.

Whether in the United States, Brazil, Jamaica, Tunisia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Serbia, Bangladesh, the Philippines etc., we must celebrate International Migrants Day. We must give the respect migrants deserve but also think about their sacrifices and their tribulations in many parts of the world.

At UNDP, we celebrate this day through our work, as our support to local and national governments on migration and displacement is building resilient societies, helping migrants achieve their aspirations, as well as country of origin and destination.

Together with our partner, IOM and with generous funding from the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, we are working with governments of Bangladesh, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Morocco, Serbia and Tunisia to integrate migration into national development plans – for the benefit of migrants themselves, countries of origin and destination.

We celebrate International Migrants Day by observing UNDP’s work in Lebanon. UNDP’s Lebanon Host Communities Support Project is a comprehensive, coordinated and durable response to the impacts of the Syrian crisis in Lebanon. It is building capacities of municipalities, increasing stability, alleviating tensions and preventing conflict through the creation of job opportunities and improving basic service delivery. So far, over 1.1 million Lebanese and more than 332,000 Syrian refugees have benefitted from the project. The rehabilitation of community infrastructure addressed the needs of more than 680,000 host community members and almost 500,000 Syrians; and access to energy was improved for more than 20,000 Lebanese and 20,000 Syrians.

UNDP manages the United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), a regional anti-human trafficking project in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam) and beyond. We celebrate International Migrants Day by working to counter human trafficking in all its forms. UN-ACT builds the capacities of government agencies, civil society actors and academic institutions, and facilitates a coordinated approach among relevant stakeholders, including UN agencies.

The international community should focus on fully protecting the rights of migrants wherever they are. Since time immemorial, humans have been on the move, discovering places, making new places their homes, some integrating and others staying in these places and returning to places of origin when that appropriate time comes.

Migration is in fact inevitable. Let’s not try to prevent it and force it underground and into the shadows. Instead we must work with migrants, countries of origin, transit and destination to ensure that benefits accrue to humanity as a whole. In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we have an excellent framework that can help us achieve this aim.

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