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Embracing Cheap Workers, Ignoring Their Welfare
Published on Wednesday, April 5, 2006 by Inter Press Service
Embracing Cheap Workers, Ignoring Their Welfare
by Thalif Deen
 

UNITED NATIONS - The top 10 countries hosting the largest number of international migrants have neither signed nor ratified a 1990 U.N. convention aimed at protecting the rights of migrant workers worldwide.

"It is obvious," says a senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, "that these countries don't want to be held accountable for the welfare of their migrants."

The 10 countries -- the United States, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, France, Saudi Arabia, Canada, India, United Kingdom and Spain -- accounted for over 102 million migrants in 2005, according to a new U.N. report released Tuesday.

The United States was host to 38.4 million migrants last year, followed by Russia (12.1 million), Germany (10.1 million), Ukraine (6.8 million) and France (6.5 million).

The number of international migrants worldwide rose from about 175 million in 2000 to 191 million in 2005. And six out of 10 -- about 115 million -- live in rich countries where they are deprived of basic rights, while seven out of every 100 migrants are refugees.

According to the report, nearly half of all migrants are female, and female migrants outnumber male migrants in developed countries. Additionally, three-quarters of all international migrants are concentrated in just 28 countries -- and one in every five lives in the United States.

The report says the 1990 convention is the third major instrument on migrant workers and establishes "the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms that all migrant workers and members of their families should enjoy".

The convention was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1990 and entered into force in July 2003. But as of last month, it had been ratified by only 34 of the 191 member states.

However, none of the 34 "was a major receiving country" of migrants, says the 48-page report titled 'International Migration and Development.'

The ratifying countries include some of the largest sources for migrant workers, including Mexico, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Philippines, Algeria, Senegal, Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana and Mali.

The study, which addresses the demographic, social and economic aspects of international migration, is being discussed at the current one-week session of the U.N. Commission on Population and Development scheduled to conclude Apr. 7.

In 2004, official migrant remittances amounted to over 226 billion dollars, 160 billion of which went to the world's poorer nations.

The amount of migrant remittances to developing countries is currently larger than official development assistance (ODA) from the rich to the poor, and which has averaged about 55 to 60 billion dollars annually.

The main remittance-receiving countries were India (21.7 billion dollars), China (21.3 billion dollars), Mexico (18.1 billion dollars) and the Philippines (11.6 billion dollars). In some countries, says the report, remittances constitute one-quarter or more of gross domestic product (GDP).

As a proportion of GDP, remittances were also most significant in Tonga (31 percent), Republic of Moldova (27 percent), Lesotho (26 percent) and Haiti (25 percent). Actual remittances, however, could be much larger since these estimates do not include transfers through informal channels.

But the study warns that the emigration of skilled personnel can be detrimental to the development prospects of countries of origin, especially small developing nations, losing high proportions of their skilled citizens to the rich.

"However, skilled migrants who maintain ties with their countries of origin may stimulate the transfer of technology and capital," the report said.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS that the "brain drain" of health workers, for example, from poor to rich nations requires urgent responses from the international community.

"Many developing countries, especially in Africa, are experiencing more severe shortages of doctors, nurses and other health workers, due to the loss of personnel," she said.

This is devastating for countries most affected by HIV/AIDS. Brain drain threatens their ability to meet the development goals of improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS.

To deal with this problem, Obaid argued, receiving countries could direct part of their development assistance towards education and training, particularly for health workers, in countries from which they draw migrants.

She also said that women are playing an increasing role in migration, accounting for about half of all migrants.

"Many of them tend to be concentrated in gender-segregated and unregulated sectors of the economy that put them at greater risk of discrimination, violence and abuse."

Therefore, she said, nations should urgently integrate gender and human rights into migration policies and cooperate to stop trafficking and prosecute traffickers.

© 2006 Inter Press Service

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