September 2005 UN Report on Global Migration Facility
September 2005 UN Report on Global Migration Facility

In the last 20 years, the number of international migrants around the world has increased 200 percent from 100 to 200 million per year. Migrants have more difficulty than permanent residents, in the country of destination, accessing services such as health, housing, and education, and are often the target of unfair policies and discrimination by local citizens.

To better target the needs of this increasing sector of the world population, the UN argues that it is necessary to create a body devoted to migrants. In September 2005 the UN Commission on International Migration issued a Report recommending the creation of an Inter-Agency Global Migration Facility to oversee and normalize the handling of migrants around the world. The Report focused on migrants in or from developing regions.

The reasons the UN suggests such a body is necessary are economic, political, demographic, and humanitarian. Developing countries are unable to cope with the high level of demographic growth and are unable to create enough jobs for the number of people entering the labor market. According to paper written by Phillip Martin, a professor at the University of California, Davis, the global labor market will grow an average of 40 million people per year until 2010 (38 million in the developing world and 2 million in the developed).1

In developed countries, the low birth rate and the increasingly aging populations mean that for continued economic prosperity and the ability to care for the needs of the aging, a steady labor flow from other countries will be necessary. Political reasons producing migration include a desire to leave states with low levels of human security, high levels of corruption, human rights violations and armed conflicts.

The 19-person Commission consulted with international media, governments, and NGOs, and has held five hearings since its creation in December 2003 on the recommendation of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The purpose as stated in the introduction to the report was to “more effectively realize” the “economic, social and cultural benefits of international migration” and to address “the negative consequences of cross-border movement.” Trends such as south-south (from and to developing countries) migration were also addressed.

Countries and regions have different needs and problems associated with migration. In some countries, such as India, it is common for young people to leave for work in big cities or abroad and return years later with accrued expertise. In China, people are documented as “citizens” of their city; so migrant workers cannot freely move to other parts of the country and cannot gain access to housing, education or other services if they do not move.

In the Former Soviet Union, people who have not moved, nonetheless have new nationalities because of shifting borders. Also there are whole different subsets of migrants in the FSU, formerly deported people (those who were relocated during the Stalin regime); ecological migrants (those who were forced to leave because of ecological disasters); and involuntarily relocated persons (those who had to leave because their lives were in danger). In many countries, false documents are common recourse.

In response to the findings of the Commission—most states are overwhelmed by the phenomenon of migration, and have at best insufficient, at worst abusive policies for the handling of migrants—the Report lists six “principles for action.” These principles emphasize the impact of migrant workers on the global economy, the responsibility of states and civil society to treat migrants humanely, to create equitable laws, and to cooperate with other nations to do so.

The 96-page report also gives an overview of the wide variety of factors that motivate migration, condemns the frequent, prejudiced linkage of migrants and crime, and presents various anecdotes, definitions, and demographical information and background to provide readers with evidence of the wide variety of migrant worker experiences.

Some observers of the Commission disapprove of the Commission Report methodology and conclusion. Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University and Mark Turner of the Financial Times criticize the final report as weak and agenda-driven. Bhagwati says, in an October 6 Financial Times editorial, that the Report avoids scholarship for activism and ignores important distinctions such as those between skilled and unskilled immigrants.

Bhagwati also highlights the controversy regarding remittances and taxation of migrants. (Remittances are money sent back from the host country to the home country – a large source of income for developing countries). While the Report takes the “pro- migrant, libertarian” stand by classifying remittances as “private” money not to be taxed, Bhagwati points out that migrants often earn more than compatriots in their country of origin, and recommends that nations expand their definition of citizenship—not just to be able to tax citizens abroad, but also to confer on them rights across borders—as does the United States, for example.

Turner, like Bhagwati, says the final recommendation of an Inter-Agency Migration Facility, would simple create a mere bureaucratic body to assess the adequacy of standards for treatment of migrants, rather than a World Migration Organization that would create the standards itself.

There is little disagreement that global migration requires more attention and governance. The impact migrant workers have on the global economy is impossible to ignore because they are numerous, employers need their labor, and civil society decides whether and how to integrate them. As globalization spreads, international governance will play an increasingly important role in addressing the migration of people.

For more information, please read:
UN Global Commission on International Migration Report (2005),

Bhagwati, Jagdish. “A Deeply Flawed Report on Global Migration,” Financial Times, October 6, 2005.

Turner, Mark, and Williams, Frances. “UN ‘Must Form Migration Body,” The Financial Express, October 18, 2005.

1 Martin, Phillip “Migrants in the Global Labour Market” Global Commission on International Migration: This paper was written for the UN Global Commission on Migration as supporting evidence for the report.

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