Contrary to popular perceptions in the West, most economic migrants aren't heading from poor countries to wealthy ones.
The vast majority move within their own countries, and most of those who move abroad, do so from one developing country to another. The report, "Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development" warns that many economic migrants are at risk of abuse.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Indonesian maid Keni binti Carda; Jeni Klugman, lead author of UNDP report, "Overcoming Barriers - Human Mobility & Development"
KLUGMAN: Well there were several key messages which emerged when we
approached this topic of migration from the perspective of people and
tried to look at broader dimensions of well being beyond income. And
what we found was that people who move and their families and those who
stay at home as well as in destinations, can all benefit from
migration. But there are important underlying inequalities coupled with
restriction which mean that the potential gains are much less than they
could be. So in that context we suggest a policy agenda moving forward.
LAM: And one of the things that you discovered which may surprise many people is that these people actually move frequently to neighbouring countries, it's not always from poor to rich nations?
KLUGMAN: No certainly I think that's one of the surprising facts that we came across. The initial point is that most movement in the world does not happen even between countries, it happens within countries. And so we came up with new I think for the first time internationally comparable estimates of the number of internal migrants based on census data, which numbers around 740 million people who have moved. Whereas the number of people who have moved across borders is to the order of about 200 million.
LAM: So what's the benefit of moving from one poor country to another?
KLUGMAN: Well typically people are moving within continents, within regions to somewhat better off countries. So they're normally moving to countries which we classify in terms of their human development indexes, which is a summary measure of income, education and health achievement. And people are tending to move to countries or areas which offer better opportunity. So for example in Africa towards South Africa, towards Nigeria, towards Kenya in East Africa. In Asia there's significant movement into Thailand, into Malaysia. But they're kind of formally speaking developing countries but still offer much better opportunities. And the differences in expectations can clearly be quite large between someone born for example in Myanmar, and someone born in Thailand.
LAM: And Jeni many of these people of course move legitimately through officially sanctioned channels, but I understand that governments don't always make that easy for them?
KLUGMAN: No, no and so-called paper walls are very significant. These can range from the costs of passports, which can exceed 10 per cent of GDP in a number of countries, which in Australia would be more than $A3,500 for a passport in equivalent terms. A lot of countries require a series of other checks in terms of health, a whole range of administrative requirements. And these can add significantly to the costs of moving so that those can number even a year's worth of expected earnings in the place to which people are going.
LAM: And the paper walls that you mentioned that's obviously driven some people in Asia to turn to people smugglers. What's the UN recommending to counter this problem?
KLUGMAN: Well I think the way to counter it most effectively is through more transparent and simple mechanisms which allow people to move which recognise on the one hand the underlying pressures, but on the other hand the demands for people in terms of filling much needed jobs in a whole range of sectors. So that's with respect to future flows. With respect to people who are already present in a country on an irregular basis, sometimes because they entered on irregular basis, sometimes because they've overstayed or more likely that they've overstayed, what we're recommending is a consideration of different methods of regularisation. The most feasible appears to be something which is known as earned regularisation, which can be conditional on for example a labour market record, no criminal record, whatever requirements the government would like to impose.
LAM: And just briefly Jeni let's end on a positive note, which countries in Asia are doing the right thing to facilitate the legitimate movement of people?
KLUGMAN: Well Thailand is actually quite a good example, it clearly faces large challenges on a number of fronts, but in terms of provision of access to services in particular health services, I think there's a good record. And there's also been an attempt to extend regularisation. In terms of origin countries I think the best known and rightly so is that of the Philippines, which has had a longstanding program, which has a strong emphasis on protecting the rights of its workers abroad which has been quite effective.
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