Remarks by Helen Clark: Launch of the 2009 Human Development Report

05 Oct 2009

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator on the occasion of the launch of the 2009 Human Development Report
Overcoming Barriers; Human Mobility and Development
Monday 5 October 2009, Bangkok

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, right, with the Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva
(Photo: UNDP)

Prime Minister of Thailand, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministers,Under-Secretary-General and head of ESCAP, Noeleen Hayser, heads of international agencies based hear, members of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much to the Prime Minister of Thailand for agreeing to come to speak at the launch of the report here in Bangkok and for your government hosting this global launch and also of course our UNDP meetings coming up.

This is my first visit to Asia in my new position as Administrator of UNDP, but Thailand and the region are no strangers to me in my previous capacity. And can I say on behalf of UNDP at the outset that we want to express our condolences to those many people and communities in the region who have suffered such traumatic events in recent days and weeks from earthquake, tsunami, cyclone and flooding. It has been an extremely difficult time for in the region for so many people.

Among the core strengths of the United Nations Development Programme are its near universal presence which it has in developing countries around the globe and the impressive store of knowledge it has accumulated, making UNDP a development partner which truly add value. And part of that, for almost twenty years, has been the UNDP tradition of producing the annual Human Development Reports that help ensure that a range of factors which impact on human development get attention.

The Human Development Report is a flagship publication that has framed debates on some of the most pressing challenges our planet faces – examining issues as diverse as water, human rights, democracy, climate change and this year, as you know, migration.

The reports have helped advance the notion that development is about expanding the choices people have to lead lives which they value.

So this report, Overcoming Barriers: Human mobility and development, is the latest in that tradition.  And it looks at migration, as we saw the video just did, from the perspectives of migrants themselves – the nurses, farm labourers, factory workers, the teachers and so many others who are on the move around the world; and also from the perspectives of the families they leave behind and the communities in which they live and work.

The overriding message of this report is that migration – both across and within national borders – has the potential to greatly improve human welfare, if we get it right.

But the barriers which face many migrants can thwart that potential. And the report argues that governments should take steps which would help migration advance, not thwart human development.

During the international recession, when unemployment has risen, some countries have unfortunately witnessed a backlash against migrants. And in those circumstances the political debate around migration can become rather negative.

So a very important dimension of this year’s report is that it challenges many of the stereotypes which bedevil the debate around migration.

One of those stereotypes was referred to in the video, the stereotype that movement across national borders dominates the flow of people. Yet of the one billion people on the move in our world, over 700 million of them are moving within their own country.

And what immediately comes to mind when reflecting on that is the very large movement of people within a mega-nation such as China, those who leave their farms and villages to travel often over very large distances to work in the factories of the eastern and southern provinces.  Internal migration of this kind is a common pattern in other countries of the region as well.

Migrants who do cross borders generally remain nearby.  The bulk of African migrants, for example, do not go to Europe, but to other countries on the African continent.  The same is true in Asia, where migration within the continent is accounting for nearly twenty per cent of all migration which is taking place worldwide.

This report suggests that fears about migrants taking the jobs or lowering the wages of local people, or placing an unwelcome burden on local services, or costing taxpayers money, are generally exaggerated.

The report asserts rather that receiving societies as a whole benefit from migrants through the rising levels of technical innovation they may bring, all the way through to the building of increasingly diverse cultures.

The report demonstrates that human mobility itself often stems from inequalities.  Put simply, migrants move to seek better lives in other places.

But as we have seen on the video this morning, the journey to those desired new opportunities can be a difficult and risky one.  The vulnerability of people to trafficking is perhaps the most well-known and clear cut example of the dangers which migrants, especially women, can face.

And there are other significant barriers.  The ‘paper walls’ of official documentation which  migrants must climb are high and they can be difficult to overcome.

What is clear from the report is that if legal avenues for migration are overly restrictive, that won’t stop migration, but is more likely to be irregular migration.  And the informal routes many migrants then use to relocate can be very burdensome and very dangerous.

Among the other barriers that migrants face are those for professionals whose qualifications are not recognized in the destination areas. And they may then end up – and often do -- working well below their capacity, which is a loss to them and to the receiving country.

Internal migrants can find their access to basic services such as schooling or the right to vote, curtailed, and, in rather too many countries, the rights of temporary and low-skilled workers in particular are abused.

For many people migration has literally been forced upon them by conflict, repression, or natural disasters which take such a toll on human life around our world.

Much movement in parts of the Middle East and Africa is the result of tghese kinds of pressures.  A number of Asian countries, of which Thailand is one, are home to refugees who flee harsh circumstances at home.

In countries like Bangladesh, millions of people live under the perpetual threat of flooding, compelling many to move elsewhere, at least on a temporary basis.  Climate change is bringing increased threats which have the potential to force whole-scale movements of peoples.  The situations of a number of small island developing states and of delta dwelling people are cases in point.

So this report, Overcoming Barriers, asserts that, despite the costs and difficulties, the act of moving will typically benefit both migrants and their families, and the communities they leave behind, as well as those the communities they join.

The migrants who go from developing to OECD countries will often experience the biggest gains in human welfare.  But so generally do people moving to areas with higher levels of human development than those they left.  For example, migrants from Tajikstan reap large income gains from working in Russia.  Internal migrants in Bolivia moving from rural to urban areas, see a more than fourfold increase in their income.

The benefits flow not only in terms of income.  Access to schooling and healthcare for migrant families is typically higher than it would have been at home.

Human mobility can also help our economies by matching workers with employers who need their services.

Yet if human mobility was simply good news for all concerned, we would not experience heated debate on migration in the media, in parliaments, and sometimes in the streets.  The debate becomes even more shrill in times of economic crisis.

So the question is what kinds of policies are needed to maximize the benefits of migration and minimize the downsides.

And the report puts forward a series of proposals which the authors believe would benefit migrants, the countries from which they come, and the destination societies.

It argues that, when adapted to country-specific contexts these proposals would help to amplify – to expand -- migration’s already substantial contributions to human development.

The proposals range from the need to:

·     Opening up existing entry channels so that more workers can migrate lawfully, including on a seasonal basis;

·     Lowering the transaction costs for migrants;

·     Finding solutions which benefit both destination communities and the migrants they receive;

·     Making it easier for people to move within their own countries;

·     Mainstreaming migration into national development strategies; and

·     Ensuring basic rights for migrants.

This is the range across which the proposals in the report go.

I would like to commend the Government of Thailand for what it has done to provide for registered migrants to access health-care services, including antiretrovirals for HIV/Aids, and the work being done to ensure that the children of migrants can attend local schools.

Different parts of the UN development system work on the issue of migration.

Our own agency, UNDP, working with other UN agencies, leads the implementation of the European Commission-United Nations Joint Migration and Development Initiative, and effort which links civil society organizations and local authorities in sixteen developing countries with counterparts in the European Union.  The aim is to improve both services for migrants and migration-related development policies and programmes.

At the country level in China and in India, we are working to connect internal migrants with improved access to public services.  In the Philippines, we and our partners are helping to integrate gender-sensitive HIV/Aids prevention into pre-departure seminars and programmes for migrant workers.

From Albania, Senegal, and elsewhere, we are helping mobilize those nations’ diasporas to help address priority needs of migrants, such access to health care.

During the international recession, remittance flows have slowed.  Some countries are experiencing a net outflow of migrants, especially from sectors like construction and tourism where many migrants are employed.

But the report reminds us that people have been on the move since time immemorial.  Alas, conflicts and persecution are not about to disappear from our world any time soon.  As well, people’s desire to be reunited with loved ones in distant places will continue – as will the simple and very human desire to move in pursuit of a better life.

Some anticipate that migration will actually increase in the future, driven by both inequalities within and between countries and by the ease of travel. And there is also the pull factor from developed countries, where ageing populations generate increased use for migrant labour, including the low skilled, at the very time when developing countries are seeing a sharp rise in the number of their working-age population.

In conclusion, governments, NGOs, the private sector, UN and other development agencies can all help our world to realize the potential of migration to advance human development.

And this report has been written to inform a wider audience about the opportunities migration can provide, and to counteract the phenomenon of marginalization, abuse, and discrimination which migrants often experience.

By shining a torchlight on these issues, this nineteenth Human Development Report can add value to the ongoing discussion about migration around the world, and ultimately help it work in pursuit of human development.

So with those few words, it is my pleasure now to declare the Human Development Report 2009: Overcoming Barriers: Human mobility and Development, officially launched for the first time in Bangkok.

Thank you very much.