Panel on International Migration and the Millennium Development Goals

27 Sep 2005

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you this morning to our High-Level Panel on International Migration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Issues of migration are not new to us. Every day, thousands of people leave their countries in search of better lives. There are as many types of migrants as there are people and their individual lives and stories vary tremendously. One of the most difficult aspects of being a migrant is being away from one's family; especially women away from their children. And we know that the journey is most treacherous for irregular immigrants—who put their lives at risk for a chance to improve them. In the worst cases, a migrant’s quest ends not with a better life, but with no life at all.

Our gathering today is very timely. Two weeks ago, world leaders met here at the United Nations to reaffirm their commitment to achieving the MDGs and making the world "free from want" and "free from fear". Next week, the Global Commission on International Migration will present to the Secretary-General a report that will provide a framework for the formulation of a coherent, comprehensive and global response to migration issues. The much-anticipated report is expected to present recommendations on how to strengthen national, regional and global governance of international migration.

Against this background, in May of this year, UNFPA convened an Expert Group Meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, on International Migration and the Millennium Development Goals. Participants looked at migration and its effects on key MDGs, including the goals on poverty reduction; gender equality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and developing global partnerships for development. The experts addressed the complexity and diversity of migration, and showed how it affects not only migrants themselves, but also sending and receiving countries and their ability to reach MDG targets.

Today, I am very pleased to launch the report of this important meeting, which is available at the back of the room. The report is a compilation of selected papers presented in Marrakech, together with a synthesis of the discussions. Since the relationship between migration and the MDGs has just started to be explored, the report is meant to spur the debate further by suggesting possibilities for programmatic activities in the important areas of data and research, capacity development, policy formulation and dialogue, and advocacy for migrants’ human rights.

As the report makes clear, when it comes to international migration and the achievement of the MDGs, the picture is mixed. Although migration can certainly serve as a constraint, it can also contribute to the realization of the goals, if properly managed.

When we look at the goal of poverty reduction, we see that the remittances sent by migrants certainly help reduce poverty in their families back home. Last year, migrants sent home at least $124 billion in remittances – a significant amount more than the $60 billion those countries received in development assistance, and more than many countries received from foreign direct investment. However, remittances cannot be seen as a general panacea to poverty because we need to look at the root causes of migration, which include lack of economic opportunities and the many facets of poverty and inequality.

Today, it is clear that the growing inequity among and within countries affects migration patterns, thus the need to address the growing poverty and demographic divide between rich and poor countries. Also, the emigration of skilled labour is a brain drain and constitutes a major loss of investment of human resources to home countries.

In terms of gender equality, the growing participation of women in migration has raised both prospects and pains. To many of us, a migrant face is a man; however, for more than 40 years, the number of female migrants has been nearly equal to the number of men who migrate. The UNFPA report points out that migration can contribute to the empowerment of women by providing women migrants and women whose husbands have migrated with income and the status, autonomy and self-esteem that it brings. A large number of women who have migrated or are left behind by their migrant husbands have experienced positive economic and social empowerment. But migration can also put women in a more disadvantaged and vulnerable position and leave them subject to discrimination, exploitation and abuse, including human trafficking. The concentration of women in vulnerable and exploitative service sectors has generated much debate and valid concern. Both domestic work and entertainment are not covered by labour laws in many countries; hence, women's working and living conditions are very much at the mercy of their employers.

Today, far too many women who migrate in search of better lives find themselves trapped in the webs of human traffickers. They are exposed to sexual violence and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, while they have no access to medical or legal services. Experts tell us that the value of the global trade in human trafficking is estimated to be between $8 billion and $12 billion annually. The growing trade in women is a highly profitable enterprise, with relatively low risk, compared to trade in drugs or arms. Women are trafficked to, from and through every region of the world.

When it comes to the health-related MDGs on improving maternal health, reducing child mortality and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, the experts found that migration has both positive and negative effects. Women who seek employment abroad can benefit from increased resources that they can then spend on health care for themselves and their children. Increased income from remittances may translate into access to better health services. But migration can also have a negative impact on health; since migrants often find language and cultural barriers to accessing adequate health services. Also migration itself can facilitate the spread of infectious disease. It is also true that out-migration robs countries of skilled health professionals. As one paper points out, with many African countries’ health services under pressure and many health workers being seduced by offers from the developed countries, “migration can become the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

On the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability, there appears to be a strong link between environmental sustainability and the movement of people. In times of crises, large numbers of refugees can cross borders in a matter of a few days, straining local infrastructure, services and natural resources in countries least able to address these challenges. However, it is also true that the out-migration of persons from densely populated areas serves to alleviate the burden on natural resources and the surrounding environment.

When we look at developing a global partnership for development, it is critical to look at migration as one area for such global partnership. Because migration is a cross-border phenomenon, governments have to cooperate to manage the flow of people. Alongside the movement of capital, goods and information, migration is one of the key elements of the process of globalization. Yet, capital, goods and information flow much more freely and are protected much more forcefully than human beings on the move. Today, trade, patent and property laws are enforced with more vigour than laws to protect human rights, and this is especially true for migrants who often lack legal status. The global instruments emanating from the ministerial conferences of the World Trade Organization, including at Doha, as well as the General Agreement on Trade in Services, directly affect migration.

International Migration and Human Rights

Overall, it is clear that the size and diversity of the movement of people have resulted in growing international attention to such complex issues as xenophobia, discrimination, racism, human trafficking, the human rights of migrants and, most recently, terrorism and national security.

The protection of the human rights of migrants and the particular vulnerabilities faced by migrants, especially women, continue to be a major concern. Facilitating and managing regular migration and protecting their human and labour rights are important steps in reducing trafficking in people.

Immigrants make significant contributions to societies, which should not be overlooked or underestimated. Their contributions need to be acknowledged. Managing migration properly and protecting the human rights of immigrants can create a win-win situation for all countries, thus contributing to development.


It gives me great pleasure to moderate this panel today and to introduce to you our four distinguished panellists. They come from the four corners of the world to share their insights on the role of international migration in achieving the MDGs.

  • Professor Graeme Hugo of the University of Adelaide, Australia, will focus on the interface between international migration and development.
  • Professor Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye, of the Nigeria Institute of Social and Economic Research, will address the gender dimensions of international migration.
  • Dr. Jorge Bustamante, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, will focus on international migration and human rights.
  • And last but not least, Dr. Nasra Shah, Professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Behavioral Sciences at Kuwait University, will discuss the situation of women migrant workers in the Gulf countries and focus on some important health issues that they face.

Thank you very much for joining us. I very much look forward to your presentations and to the discussions that will follow.

It gives me great pleasure to invite Professor Graeme Hugo to take the floor.

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