The Daily News
CAIRO: While the distribution of opportunities worldwide is “extremely unequal,” it is the “key driver to human movement which [presents] a huge potential for improving human development,” said the UN’s Human Development Report 2009 released Sunday.
However, the report added, “Sometimes the movement is not an expression of choice but due to constraints.”
The report gave an example of Juan, a Mexican boy who drops out of school at the age of 12 and six years later, follows his uncle to Canada. Juan moves in pursuit of higher wages and better opportunities as well as the fact that life expectancy in Canada is five years higher than in Mexico and incomes are three times greater.
The Human Development Report 2009, titled “Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development,” is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and launched at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.
“We are happy to launch this report from the League of Arab States to provide a real opportunity for dialogue on matters of human mobility in the Arab region between experts in this area and relevant decision makers,” said Sima Bahouth, Arab League assistant secretary general for social affairs.
The report, part of a series on global human development, proposes reforms that center on six areas, according to Eva Jespersen, deputy director and head of NHDR Unit of the UNDP.
These include opening up existing entry channels so that more workers can emigrate; ensuring basic rights for migrants; finding solutions that benefit both destination communities and the migrants they receive; making it easier for people to move within their own countries; and mainstreaming migration into national development strategies.
Migration does not exist only between developed and developing nations but also internally within each country. “Approximately 740 million people are internal migrants, almost four times as many as those who have moved internationally,” said Jepersen.
Just over a third of migrants move from a developing to a developed country, or roughly 70 million people. Most of the world’s 200 million international migrants moved from one developing country to another or between developed countries.
Approximately 14 million refugees live outside their country of citizenship, but most remain near the country they fled. This number is compared to the 26 million that have been internally displaced.
“Large gains to human development can be achieved by lowering the barriers to movement and improving the treatment of movers,” the report read. Barriers to mobility are especially high for unskilled labor, despite the demand.
“Both developed and developing countries favor skilled labor,” Jepersen said, resulting in a brain drain.
According to the report, governments tend to be more ambivalent with respect to low-skilled workers, whose status and treatment often leave much to be desired.
The report continued, “Governments often try to rotate less educated people in and out of the country, sometimes treating temporary and irregular workers like water from a tap that can be turned on and off at a will.”
When it comes to human mobility, the Arab region is one of the most affected parts of the world due to migration within the region or to other parts of the world.
The percentage of migrants in the Arab region has risen rapidly over the past 50 years, with the highest share recorded in the Gulf states; including 63 percent in Qatar, 56 percent in the UAE and 47 percent in Kuwait.
Due to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the region faces a flock of protracted conflict refugees that make up around 17 million, of which 17 percent are found in Jordan and 14 percent in Syria.
“This clearly means that one out of three refugees [from this conflict] lives in those two countries,” said Mona Hamam, deputy director of the regional UNDP office.
“We also expect an increase in the number of migrants due to the climate change,” added Bahouth.
According to the report, research in Arab states found that the abusive and exploitative conditions sometimes associated with domestic workers coupled with the lack of redress mechanisms can trap migrant women in a vicious circle of poverty and HIV vulnerability.
As for working in the Arab region, the report discuss the mandatory kafala (or sponsorship visas), describing them as restrictive on several counts, including family reunification. Human rights abuses — including non-payment of wages and sexual exploitation of domestic workers are also documented.
The report discusses different improvements in Arab countries considering kafala, for example in Saudi Arabia, which facilitated the transfer of workers employed by companies providing services to government departments.
Other initiatives have also been implemented to monitor the living and working conditions of foreign migrants. In the UAE for example a hotline was set up to receive complaints from the general public.
Bahouth argued that despite the improvements cited in the report, the Arab League disagrees with the cases of workers abuse the report mentions. “Part of these comments are built on information that might not be credible enough,” she said.
With the increase in human mobility, she said, the Arab League is looking to study its economic effects.
Moving forward, the report will be discussed by an expert symposium that will work to develop recommendations for developing national and regional policies.
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