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UN report: Economic gains from migration remain ignored

  • Published at 06:59 pm March 6th, 2016
UN report: Economic gains from migration remain ignored

Migrants from countries like Bangladesh play a key role in driving up the economic growth in their countries of origin and destination, but the benefits of migration remain under-acknowledged, according to a new United Nations report.

The Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2015 released last week shows that many migrant workers not only benefit from their migration, but they also contribute to the development of their countries of origin and destination through their work and the remittances they send home.

In contrast, they (migrants) also face hardships and abuses, so action needs to be taken to maximise these benefits by ensuring that migration is orderly, safe, regular and responsible.

Drawing on evidence gathered from across the region, the report says worldwide, over 95 million migrants came from countries in the Asia Pacific region; a rise of almost 50% over the past two decades. The report indicated that the trend is set to continue.

In 2013, there were more than 213 million migrants worldwide with over 59 million living in the Asia Pacific region, marking a growing trend since 1990.

Hongjoo Hahm, deputy executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), said the scale of migration is only likely to increase in Asia and the Pacific, but that the outcome of the trend is in the hands of the region’s countries.

“Business-as-usual risks heightening inequality, holding back advances in productivity and facilitating human rights abuses,” he said. 

Each year, some two million Filipinos depart for work overseas. More than half a million workers leave Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Pakistan annually.

Key destination countries for many include Brunei Darussalam, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives, the Russian Federation, Singapore and Thailand.

But restrictions imposed on migrant workers in some host countries impact migrant rights and limit their access to social protections. The UN report says such restrictions are often economically unjustified and are harmful to human rights.

Some restrictions lead to irregular migration and informal employment, where the rights of migrant workers can easily be violated.

When national workers find themselves in competition with these migrant workers who are often exploited by unscrupulous employers who pay less than legal minimum wages, and force them to work longer hours in unsafe conditions, a race to the bottom in terms of wages and labour standards ensues.

Under this scenario migrants contribute to overall economic development, but their benefit to the economy is reduced, and distributed unequally while the migrants themselves are put at unnecessary risk.

UNESCAP’s Hongjoo said issues such as migrants’ direct impact on local wages and inequality was also found to be quite small.

“What we do find on the other hand is the impact on wages, on inequality and employment is mostly predominantly determined and is a function of government policies – not on migrants,” stated Hongjoo.

“When you provide migrants with decent work, when you treat migrants as your own, assimilate them into your economy and treat them as national labor – it really benefits your national economy.”