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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lobby Groups Pin Hopes on Global Migration Talks

By Isagani dela Paz

FIFTEEN down, 15 organizations more to go, and the global conference on migration and development organizers remain optimistic these advocates can use the conference to lobby for greater protection for migrant workers."We're aiming to come up with recommendations na mapipilitan ang gobyerno na ma-consider [to pressure the government to consider] such recommendations", Second Global Forum on Migration and Development organizer Ildefonso Bagasao told the OFW Journalism Consortium.

There are now 15 groups representing the island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao for the second global forum that began in Brussels, Belgium last year.

There are 30 slots reserved for the Philippine civil society sector to the forum in October where they would join an expected 200 people representing CSOs around the world.

The POC subcommittee would choose nine more groups during the national consultation of nonprofit groups early October. Bagasao, who represents his group in the six-member group GFMD Philippine Organizing Committee sub-committee, is banking on the lobby strength of these groups to come up with "honest to goodness serious reform, especially for government to give more protection to migrant workers".

That is hoping against hope as it seems since a foreign affairs official has said in a press briefing there are "no negotiated outcomes" expected from the forum of government representatives.
"The approach is not to focus on remuneration of rights but on best practices; to identify what are the concerns," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban B. Conejos Jr. told reporters last May.

Conejos added they "expect countries to at least raise awareness [on migration and development]."

Conejos's candor reflects the GFMD framework that is based on the United Nations from which the forum's idea came from.The GFMD, to note, stemmed from a proposal for such venue by the UN Secretary General two years ago.

GFMD was formed, according to conference documents, solely "to address, in a transparent manner, the multi-dimensional aspects, opportunities and challenges related to international migration and its inter-linkages with development, to bring together government expertise from all regions, to enhance dialogue and cooperation and partnership and to foster practical and action-oriented outcomes at the national, regional and global levels."

GFMD is "voluntary, inter-governmental, non-binding, and informal consultative process open to all States Members and Observers of the UN."

While UN agencies and other international and regional bodies may be invited as observers, the forum "does not form part of the UN system."

The Philippines would be the first country in Asia to host such a forum. The archipelago would also be the first to allow a two-day consultation among CSOs, according to Guillermo Luz of the Ayala Foundation.

GFMD is a four-day event beginning with the CSO consultation October 27-28, then government officials October 29-30. Over-150 states are expected to have delegates to the inter-governmental event like the one held last year in Brussels.

Ayala Foundation heads the forum steering committee for the CSOs' participation; a task noted only in the Belgium forum last year as "appropriate arrangements".

According to documents from another Philippine Working Group on GFMD (PWG-GFMD), the forum "has become one of the principal international spaces in which governments discuss migration and development policy."

The PWG-GFMD says it is a coalition of CSOs in the Philippines that aims "to provide (an) avenue to engage in a genuine multi-stakeholder process to discuss the issues and challenges on the discourse of migration and development".

PWG-GFMD, which groups 25 organizations, also alleges that the forum is easing out other CSOs.

The GFMD, the group said, "has been very restrictive to participation by civil society".
"The GFMD is taking the course of examining migration policy only through the lens of economic development, without concern for the impact policies have on migrants."

Notably, the PWG-GFMD claims its convenor Migrant Forum in Asia initiated the island consultations where the nominees for Philippine participants will be made.

Luz denied the accusation that Ayala Foundation is excluding other groups.

"We're not easing out anybody; we're trying to make the process as inclusive as possible."
Luz explained that aside from maintaining a geographical balance, "we're also making sure we balance it [representation] among the major sectors concerned."

Bagasao said they are aware "there should be representation from as much as possible."
"All sectors –women, NGOs, unions, religious, seafarers' wives– we ensured were consulted and being consulted."

Luz added they are aware of a conference of CSOs parallel to the official civil society days programmed into the GFMD.

The PWG-GFMD described the official consultations October 27-28 as "very restrictive and will not allow the participation of a large number or range of civil society groups".

At last year's GFMD, more than 200 CSO representatives attended the Civil Society Day July 9 prior to the government-level discussions July 10 and 11.

"We're even encouraging such parallel consultation," Luz said.

Bagasao told the OFW Journalism Consortium the subcommittee is proposing allotting a time so that leaders of the parallel conference and the government discussion could meet.
"It's still in the drawing board but we're looking at something informal; like a solidarity night of sorts."

The forum comes at a time when migrant workers' money continue to make several economies, especially in developing countries, afloat as oil prices rampage and a credit crunch in the United States squeeze the money pipeline.

According to Dilip Ratha and Zhimei Xu of the World Bank, the flowing money could be even higher than official estimates.

"The true size of remittances, including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels, is believed to be larger," the two said in their Migration and Remittances Factbook".

This year's GFMD, to note, considers remittances as just one of the assets of migrant workers that organizers deem should be tapped for development.

The last nine CSOs would be selected during the National Capital Region consultation on August 27 at the San Carlos Seminary. Meanwhile, six other Philippine CSO delegates will be chosen by the CSO Days Philippine Organizing Committee after the August 27 event.

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