Keynote Speech, Launch of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diaspora, Development and Migration (APPGDDM)

Date Publish: 
Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 00:00
Ms. Laura Thompson, Deputy Director General, International Organization for Migration
House of Commons, London
It is a great honour to be here at the House of Commons today at the launch of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diaspora, Development and Migration.

As I am sure you are aware, 2015, is a critical year for all of us who are interested in enhancing the benefits of migration for development. This year the international community will agree on a new global development framework to succeed the MDGs. There is a historic opportunity to ensure that migration is integrated into the new development framework. The international community has an opportunity to set targets and agree on indicators which will maximise the benefits of migration for development.  Why does this matter? Why include migration in the post-2015 development framework?

Today, the number of international migrants in the world is estimated to be 232 million. This figure jumps to roughly one billion people if you include those who move within their own countries. This means that one in every seven people in the world today is a migrant. That is one billion people whose basic human rights must be respected; one billion people who deserve access to basic public goods like health and education; one billion people who will contribute to the economic and social development of their home and host societies. This number is expected to increase over the lifetime of the post-2015 development framework, driven by persistent demographic, economic, environmental, social and political factors. 

Fifteen years ago, the Millennium Development Goals made no mention of migration or its links to development. There was also little recognition of the enormous contributions that diasporas make to development. We have come a long way since then. Today more than 110 countries in the world have special government units which seek to facilitate diaspora contributions to development.

There are many good reasons for doing so. For example, the amount of money migrant diasporas send back to developing countries – 400 billion USD in 2013 – dwarfs foreign aid, exceeds foreign direct investments and has proven to be far more stable in times of economic crisis. These financial contributions constitute a lifeline for many, allowing families back home to spend more on health and education, be more resilient in times of crisis, access formal financial services and information and communication technologies.

Currently, according to the World Bank, the global average cost of transferring remittances is over 8 per cent, and in some parts of the world such as Africa costs can be as high as 20 per cent.  Lowering remittance transaction costs to an average of 5 per cent could release an extra USD 16 billion a year. If we were able to go further and reduce the costs migrants pay to send remittances to 1% that would generate USD 30 billion savings yearly, according to World Bank estimates. This is greater than the current foreign aid budget for the whole of Africa.

Although remittances are private funds generated by individuals and sent to countries of origin for private consumption, their direct and indirect impact in human development is undeniable and cannot be undermined.

The non-financial contributions made by diaspora are also significant. Diaspora members are investors, entrepreneurs, philanthropists: they invest in businesses in their countries of origin and build trade networks between countries of origin and destination, with great benefit to both. They facilitate the flow of knowledge and skills, establishing transnational scientific networks and contributing to the diffusion of technology across countries.

These benefits have been increasingly recognised by the international community in a range of high-level meetings on migration and development.

During the last decade there has been a momentous shift in the way in which the international community discusses migration and development. In the past, migration was usually seen as a problem resulting from a lack of development. Today, there is much more emphasis on how more effective policies can maximize the developmental benefits of migration for migrants, their families, and for societies at large. There is greater recognition that the current state of governance and policy development on migration tends to breed vulnerabilities and prevents migrants and states from reaping its full benefits.

This new dialogue on migration and development is reflected in the discussions of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). Each year since 2007, governments and civil society organizations have come together within the framework of the GFMD, to discuss ways in which to harness the benefits of migration for development. This approach has also been endorsed at two UN High-Level Dialogues on International Migration and Development in 2006 and even more clearly in 2013.

On other occasions I have called this a “momentous shift” in the migration and development debate. The High Level Dialogues have demonstrated that the international community acknowledges the linkages between migration, human rights, environmental, peace and security issues. This has in turn increased the focus on migration in national, regional and global development agendas.

There has not only been a significant change in the way we talk about migration and development. We have also seen a great deal of action on the ground. Across the world governments and diaspora organizations have been experimenting with a whole host of new initiatives designed to enhance diaspora contributions to development.

IOM together with the Migration Policy Institute, recently published a handbook – “Developing a Road Map for Engaging Diasporas in Development which provides a detailed guidance to national governments, local authorities and other groups on how to reach out to diaspora communities.

Increasingly, policymakers and practitioners in both countries of origin and destination share a common goal: to strengthen diasporas contributions to development. Countries of origin wish to attract diasporas` talents and resources, while countries of destination hope to increase the effectiveness of their development assistance.

It is important to keep in mind that diaspora policies can target either the diasporas living in the host country or a country’s own diaspora living abroad.  But at the same time, diaspora associations get organised spontaneously in the countries of destination.  The United Kingdom is an example of a country where several diaspora associations exist and are very active in working on migration issues. 

On the other hand, let us not forget that with some 5 million Britons abroad, the UK diaspora is the eighth largest in the world. The UK too might wish to think more about how to tap into the benefits of its own diaspora!

Many diaspora programmes are implemented by international organizations including IOM, so let me say a few words about our own programme experience. IOM has been implementing return-of-talent programmes globally, starting off in Latin America nearly 50 years ago and in Africa and Asia for the last 30 years.

Many of our interventions have been in countries recovering from crisis and conflict where certain sectors such as the health and education sectors have become depleted. Programmes identify suitable candidates for predetermined key posts in the public and private sectors in the country of origin, whose profiles then have to be screened and accepted by their employers. The professions involved are wide-ranging and include medicine, engineering, sciences, education, economics, and computer science.

IOM’s Migration for Development in Africa Programme (MIDA) aims to utilise skills acquired by members of the African diaspora abroad, and facilitates temporary assignments for them, sometimes through “virtual” mentoring and support, in their countries of origin.  One of the most valuable lessons learned from past MIDA projects is that cooperation among all relevant stakeholders is of the utmost importance. 

IOM has developed a 3Es strategic framework for working with diaspora communities, designed to maximise the diaspora’s willingness to Engage by Empowering them through MIDA and other programmes, and by providing an Enabling environment that ensures that these communities are sufficiently protected and integrated to be of benefit to both their origin countries and the countries that they are settled in. 

Given IOM’s international experience in building the capacity of countries to engage with their own diasporas – and more generally incorporate or “mainstream” migration into their development policies – let me mention a few fundamental “lessons learned” on how countries can successfully link up with their diasporas for development.

First of all, governments need to get to know their own diaspora and understand its potential for development. This starts by knowing where the diaspora is, what its skills and capacities are, and how willing it is to engage in development back home. Only then can governments establish a mutually agreed set of goals to work towards, and establish diaspora institutions, which can be at different levels of government, from the ministerial to the local level, depending on local priorities.  

Second, governments should focus on building capacity. Engaging diasporas effectively requires countries to dedicate adequate funding, building technical know-how, looking for partners and financial resources. Countries need to adopt an inclusive approach: members of the diaspora and organizations representing them need to be brought at the discussion table. Building trust between national institutions and diaspora members and organisations is critical to the success of diaspora engagement policies and programmes.

A third fundamental step is to identify the areas where diaspora engagement and policy should focus. These could be some of those I already mentioned: such remittances, direct investments, and the transfer of skills or knowledge; but there are other areas such as philanthropic contributions, investment in capital markets, and the promotion of diaspora tourism. Diaspora institutions and communities need to select those with the potentially greatest impact.

To do so – and I come to the fourth and last point – governments need to devote resources to monitoring and evaluation of their diaspora engagement policies and programmes. Not all of these are successful just because they exist: some approaches are more successful than others, or most efficient, depending on a range of context-specific and evolving factors. Monitoring and evaluating the impact of diaspora policies allow countries to adjust their activities and focus resources on those which are most likely to achieve the desired results.

Assessing and measuring the results and impact of migration programmes on development is an increasingly important priority for IOM. We are most grateful to the UK Government for having recently seconded an official to IOM to help us strengthen this area of our work.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that the UK has for many years been a leader in the migration and development arena. As early as 2004, the House of Commons Select Committee on Development, produced a ground-breaking report entitled “Migration and Development: How to make migration work for Poverty Reduction” which already highlighted many of the contributions of diasporas to development.

The UK Government’s, Department for International Development (DFID), was one of the first development agencies in the world to create a special migration team. In 2007 DFID published a migration and development strategy paper, Moving out of Poverty – Making Migration Work Better for Poor People.

The UK Government has also contributed a great deal to enhancing the migration and development evidence base, by sponsoring the creation of new centres for research on migration and development, such as the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation, and Poverty at the University of Sussex, and more recently the “Migrating Out of Poverty” Research Consortium in Sussex.

But also civil society organisations are fundamental partners in bettering the public perception of migrants and migration; enhancing the protection of the Human Rights of migrants; assisting governments in mainstreaming migration into development plans at the national and regional levels; and providing concrete evidence and recommendations for the inclusion of migrants and migration in the post-2015 UN Development Agenda.

Diaspora associations and civil society organisations in general, as leaders of, and actors within communities, are well placed to generate and promote a dialogue on migration that is better informed. They can inform and educate their communities about the realities of migration – that migrants’ skills are needed, and that historically, migration has been overwhelmingly beneficial. 

But above all, they have a fundamental role in promoting the centrality of the Human Rights of migrants and the fact that the respect for rights needs to take a centre stage, both as an end and as a condition, for harnessing the benefits of migration for the development of migrants and societies.

Let me conclude by seeking your support as parliamentarians in working together to achieve better migration governance and the integration of migration into development policies at all levels. As parliamentarians, you are crucial to this dialogue; you can connect your constituencies with the global policy discussions; you can channel local debates to the global level and vice versa. In doing so, you can help generate a dialogue on migration that is better informed, more inclusive, that addresses legitimate concerns and combats harmful myths which hinder integration.  

As parliamentarians you are continuously confronted with a wide spectrum of policy issues. Migration cuts across many policy domains – labour markets, development, health and social policy, foreign relations, trade and law enforcement, to mention a few. The problem is: there is no point in having great policies on one aspect of migration if policies in other areas contradict or undermine them. There must be a coherent and integrated policy approach, with mechanisms to ensure all relevant government ministries and departments can have a say in policies on or affecting migration and your work is crucial to achieve this.

Ministries are often restricted by their policy silos from linking the various elements of policy that are important for good migration governance; on the other hand, you as parliamentarians are in a position to ask the hard questions: can we truly expect to attract more highly skilled migrants, if at the same time we don’t make it easier for their spouses and children to access professional and educational opportunities? If we want to encourage migrants to circulate between their home and host countries to transfer skills and resources, would it not be important to reduce the costs of mobility, for example by promoting multiple entry visas and the portability of benefits?

We need voices and leaders who will challenge those who pretend we can ignore the role and relevance of migration in all our societies. I welcome the creation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diaspora, Development and Migration and thank you and AFFORD as its Secretariat for your invitation. I hope that the fruitful discussions you will have will resonate globally.

Thank you for your attention.

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