Geneva, 29 July -- Rising unemployment as the global recession worsens is damping flows of migrant workers and many are returning to their home countries, experts said at a one-day meeting on "the contribution of migrants to development."
But steps taken nationally and internationally could stem these economic and personal losses and labour migration could function as a "tool" for recovering from the worldwide financial crisis, high-level officials on migration and economic development issues said.
"The crisis will be impacting quite significantly on the flow of migrants, especially in terms of unemployment," UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi told the opening session of the meeting. He said global unemployment will continue to worsen this year, with an estimated 60 million put out of work by end of 2009. That would bring total unemployment caused by the worldwide recession to an estimated 240 million.
Sectors affected by significant job losses include some that employ numerous migrants, such as construction and manufacturing, Mr. Supachai said. For women, the impact will likely be felt in declining employment in health care, education, and domestic services.
Mr. Supachai said there is a "great need" for multilateral agreements, including through the World Trade Organization General Agreement on Trade in Services, and a need for partnerships and "diaspora networking" not just to regulate migration fairly and humanely but to harness migration for development, and to ensure that knowledge and technology and "circular migration" help to advance the economies of the sending countries, and to avoid the negative effects of the so-called brain drain on such countries.
Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA), said current trends indicate that the total number of international migrants could reach 214 million by 2010. But he said that excluding refugees, there has been a deceleration in the growth of the number of migrants in recent years, and high unemployment will likely dampen future migration flows. It also appears that the growing feminization of the international migrant stock -- a trend apparent over some years -- has ceased, and the proportion of women among migrants has declined slightly.
William Swing, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, said the flow of labour is a "neglected element" of the globalization process. There are many agreements dealing with free flows of money, investment, and goods, he said, "but migration policies haven't kept pace. And migration today is overwhelmingly about labour mobility.
"Legal migration channels are inadequate," Mr. Swing told the meeting, "and that opens doors of opportunity for those who traffic in human beings." Meanwhile, "remittances are falling, jobs are being lost, and we fear that levels of ODA (official development assistance) and FDI (foreign direct investment) may decline. Remittances may drop by 9% in the current year."
And Marielza Oliveira, Associate Director of the Governance Unit of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and Chair of the Global Migration Group, said migration has social, economic, and environmental impacts and affects such concerns as security, social cohesion, and many aspects of human development. There is a "win-win potential" to effectively linking migration and development, she said, "but enhanced dialogue and the sharing of ideas and practices" is vital, especially in times of crisis.
Topics discussed over the course of the day included "migration trends and the impact of the economic crisis;" "trade, investment, and development linkages;" and "policy frameworks to enhance migrants' contributions to development."
The one-day meeting results from decisions at the 2008 UNCTAD XII quadrennial conference that the organization should "conduct research and analysis on the potential benefits and opportunities of trade, investment and developmental links between migrants' countries of origin and their communities abroad;" and that UNCTAD should "analyze the potential of migrants' remittances to contribute to development."