Statement, “The 1st International Forum on New Urbanization, Health and Social Integration of Migrant Population”

Date Publish: 
Thursday, August 24, 2017 - 17:30
Speaker: 
Mr. William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration
Location: 
Beijing, China

H.E. Dr. LI Bin, Minister, National Health and Family Planning Commission

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization

Mr. Nicholas Rosellini, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in China

It is an honour to be with you here today at this important event and from the outset I would like to congratulate the National Health and Family Planning Commission on their initiative to host this first International Forum. The theme for this conference closely reflects IOM’s own vision, namely that migrants and mobile populations benefit from improved levels of physical, mental and social well-being; and that access to health services enable them to contribute substantially to the social and economic development of the communities in which they live.

We live in an era of unprecedented human mobility, a period in which more people are on the move than ever before. Today, there are 244 million international migrants and 750 million internal migrants in the world – one in seven of the global population. This volume of modern migration is in itself an important indicator of the global importance of the health of those moving within and across borders.

Migration is a fact of life and a reality as old as humankind. Nonetheless, large numbers of migrants around the world remain at high risk of social exclusion and exploitation; many lack access to basic health services.   

Migrants and mobile populations do not generally pose a risk to health for hosting communities. Migrants therefore should not be stigmatized or associated with the risk of importing diseases. It is rather the conditions surrounding the migration process that can increase the vulnerability of migrants and communities to ill health. This is particularly the case for those forced to move and those who find themselves in so called ‘irregular’ situations. In that sense, migration can be an important determinant of public health.

This is particularly the case for city dwellers. For the first time in history, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population now live in an urban area. By 2050, 70 per cent of the world’s population is foreseen to live in towns and cities.

China has the largest population in the world. Rapid urbanization is having a profound and lasting impact on local and national public health services. In these circumstances, it is of utmost importance to understand the impact on public health of the trend toward greater urbanization and how to devise national and local solutions. In this connection, I would like to mention China’s “New-Style Urbanization Plan”, launched in March 2014. China’s new urbanization plan clearly demonstrates China’s resolve to place the human dimension at the heart of the country’s urban planning.

Migrants have become the most important demographic element affecting China’s economic and social development. As in many other countries, however, not all migrant workers have access to the full range of public services, including basic health services.

Ensuring access to health services and social inclusion of migrants in our societies requires there fundamental elements. And these are the three points I wish to make in my remarks today.

I. Inclusive Partnerships

Health is an important cross-cutting issue.

To properly address challenges relating to the health and well-being of migrants, we need to work together. Migrant health issues cannot be solved by the health sector alone. Partnerships, health diplomacy, and leadership across all sectors, are required together with multi-sectoral collaboration, involving governors and mayors.

IOM is proud to be a partner with the National Health and Family Planning Commission in today’s event. IOM views this Forum as an open platform for cooperation and sharing of views, a platform on which to promote deeper collaboration between the government, the academic world and migrants themselves.

China has long experience and expertise in health systems. The rest of the world can learn and benefit from China’s experience. In this regard, China has valuable sharing its lessons learned and best practices to share with other countries. This was successfully done for example, under the leadership of H.E. Minister LI Bin, during last week’s meeting with Ministers of Health from countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Turning migration health challenges into opportunities for all will require (1) good migration governance; (2) a broad, durable consensus among a wide constituency; and (3) coherent, coordinated policies among partners, especially in the health sector.

Thus, we need to create more opportunities for migration and health specialists and practitioners in other sectors to meet and consult about how to advance migrant-friendly health policies. Today’s Forum is just such an opportunity.

II. Inclusive Societies

More than ever before in our globalized world, migration is a social determinant of the health of people on the move, and of their host communities. Yet, migrants and mobile populations face many obstacles in accessing essential health care services. These obstacles include (1) irregular immigration status; (2) language barriers; (3) a lack of migrant-inclusive health policies; and, (4) inaccessibility of services. The social isolation of migrants constitutes a health risk for themselves and for their host communities.  Unhealthy migrants make unhealthy communities, while healthy migrants make healthy communities.  

The obvious answer lies in policies to enable migrants to be integrated into the community. It is in the national interest to provide migrants with the opportunity (1) to become productive members of their host societies; (2) to be informed about the range of services available to them; and, (3) to learn how to remain healthy both physically and psycho-socially.

III. Inclusive Global Policies

While much of the work on migrant health is best done at the national level, there is also a global dimension.

Migrants’ health needs and right to health must be mainstreamed into global health and development agendas. This raises awareness of migrants’ important contributions and promotes action plans. The Global Compact on Migration currently under discussion, offers a unique opportunity to mainstream migrant health as an integral part of the Compact and of national health and development agendas.

Today’s Forum is a step in that same direction. Today’s Forum reminds us that in order to create inclusive societies, the attainment of the basic right to health must be possible for all. Migrants like others, have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standards of health. Migration and human mobility can no longer be absent from global health agendas.

More ‘champion countries’ are needed to address the health and well-being of migrants and mobile populations. I am encouraged to hear that NHFPC has carried out pilot projects related to the social integration of migrant workers in some 20 cities. Such initiatives make me hopeful that today’s Forum will be a starting point towards commitment to promote access to basic public services for both domestic and foreign migrants in China.

Conclusion

In conclusion, health is a basic human right. Health is an essential component of sustainable development and, being and staying healthy is a fundamental precondition for migrants to work, to be productive and to contribute to the social and economic development of their communities of origin and destination. We must all stand ready to promote the health of migrants, to ensure social inclusion, and to lead the mainstreaming of migrant health into ‘all policies’. “Migration is not a problem to be solved, but a human reality to be managed.”

In closing, I congratulate the Minister and the National Health and Family Planning Commission for the timely hosting of this important Forum, and for inviting IOM to take part.

I wish the Forum great success.