Channels for internal/international migrants must remain open for South Asians
The UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, stressed the need to mainstream migration into the development strategy of any country, especially those countries where migration plays a large part in the economy, such as Sri Lanka, at the launching ceremony of 2009 Human Development Report (HDR) in Colombo, on 12th October 2009.
Buhne added that addressing mobility issues would accelerate progress of human development at individual, community, national and global levels. He further outlined the core package of policy reform described in the Report. “The reforms stress rights for migrants, ensure benefits for migrants and destination communities alike, making it easier for people to move.”
The Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, S. Sirisena, while delivering the keynote address at the Report launch, provided an overview of the development of labour migration in Sri Lanka. “The Government of Sri Lanka is taking forward the National Labour Migration Policy and has placed a particular emphasis on increasing the migration of skilled workers and reducing the outflow of skilled workers, including women workers who are employed as housemaids.”
According to the HDR launched, migration within and across borders brings many benefits to South Asia, yet opportunities are often lost due to barriers and constraints to movement.
The Report shows that migration can have a significant impact on reducing poverty in a country. This identification is especially true for internal migration, since it is much easier for people from poor families to move within borders than across them. Internal migration far exceeds the number of people who have moved across country borders. There are problems as well; rapid urban growth often associated with internal migration can pose major challenges.
A review of urbanization experiences in South Asia commissioned for the Report finds that a number of governments continue to pursue policies aimed at slowing down internal migration.
Instead of viewing internal migration as a problem, the Report encourages South Asian countries to view it as a possible solution to development needs that can be managed. Many countries including Sri Lanka are linking migration policies to their strategies for reducing poverty.
Many migrant workers especially in Asia rely on commercial agents to organize job offers and make other arrangements such as housing. Overcoming Barriers in the Report, believes that the high fees which middlemen demand can be a problem, especially for low-skilled workers. The Report urges South Asian countries to consider ways to reduce these costs and combat corruption to ensure greater gains from movement.
The gains of migrants are often shared with their families and communities at home. In many instances, it is in the form of cash remittances. Remittances are very significant for several nations in the region, most notably in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where they constitute about 16%, 10% and 8% of the GDP, respectively. In 2007, US$ 2527 million in remittances were sent to Sri Lanka. The average remittances per person were US$ 131 compared with the average for South Asia of US$ 33. The families of migrants may benefit in other ways too.
These ‘social remittances’, as they are called, include reductions in fertility, higher school enrolment rates and the empowerment of women.
The latest Human Development Index (IHDI) is released as part of the 2009 Human Development Report which is an indicator of people’s well-being, combining measures of life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and GDP per capita. The HDI of this year for Sri Lanka is 0.759 and it is ranked in the 102nd place out of 182 countries. Between 1980 and 2007 Sri Lanka’s HDI rose by 0.58% annually from 0.649 to 0.759 today. Sri Lanka is in 59th and 66th place respectively in terms of life expectancy at birth and adult literacy rate.
The event concluded with a panel discussion by experts on migration representing the Government, academia and the UN system. The panelists were Dr. Saman Kelegama of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, Dr. Fredrick Abeyratne of the UNDP, K.O.D.D. Fernando of the Bureau of Foreign Employment, Shantha Kulasekera of Migration Management, Gerald Lodwick of the National Workers Congress, Shyama Salgado of the Youth Employment and Gender Focal Point and Professor Indralal de Silva, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Colombo University.
A range of issues including migrant rights, national policies dealing with migration and contribution of migration towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals were discussed.
- Asian Tribune -