UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 (IPS) - The world's 200 million international
migrants have traditionally been viewed in terms of dollars and cents:
how much hard currency have they remitted to their home countries?
What role did migrants play in the politics or civil wars in their home countries: Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Mozambique, Turkey, Morocco?
In Lebanon, returning migrants used the wealth earned abroad to engage in politics, particularly when new political forces were formed after the 1989 Ta'ef Accord ending the country's longstanding civil war.
"Evidence that emigrants have spurred the improvement of political institutions in their home countries is accumulating," says the 217-page study.
Morocco and Turkey have extended political and economic rights to emigrants and allowed dual citizenships: one with their home countries and the other with their adopted countries.
Mauritius and India have been cited as two countries which have attracted migrants back home - either for political or economic reasons.
Just as migrants enrich the social fabric of their adopted homes, so too they can act as agents of political and social change, if they return home with new values, expectations and ideas shaped by their experiences abroad.
The study singles out two high profile examples: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, who is Africa's first woman head of state, and Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique.
Johnson-Sirleaf, who spent time in the United States as a student, was director of the Regional Bureau for Africa at the New York-based UNDP before she returned home.
Chissano, who studied medicine in Portugal, was an expatriate political activist who represented Mozambique's independence movement Frelimo while living in Paris.
But there is also a downside to the migrant issue.
Although in most cases engagement was constructive, there are migrant groups which have supported civil wars, as in the case of Sri Lanka, notes the study.
Asked if Sri Lankan expatriates have been more constructive or destructive to their homeland, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Palitha Kohona, said Tamil migrants played a central role in the conflict that ravaged the country for over 30 years and caused over 70,000 deaths.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an insurgent group in northern Sri Lanka, fought an unsuccessful three-decade battle for a separate nation state.
The expatriate Tamil community, mostly in Western Europe and Canada, "were the main sources of funding for the LTTE war machine, for the purchase of high explosives, guns and land mines", Kohona told IPS.
The annual collection from expatriate groups, he said, was in the region of an estimated 300 million dollars.
Many were intimidated in to subscribing to the cause, including through compulsory deductions from credit card accounts, he said. Now that the conflict is over, said Kohona, this community has the opportunity to play a genuinely constructive role.
"They could invest the same funds to uplift the people of the North and give the children a better chance in the world," he added, pointing out the potential benefits of expatriate remittances.
According to the U.S. State Department's background briefing on foreign terrorist organisations, some of the funding for the militant Palestinian group Hamas came from Palestinian expatriates.
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA), battling the Algerian government for the creation of an Islamic state, is being partly funded by Algerian expatriates, many of whom reside in Western Europe, according to the State Department.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) raised funds from Irish expatriates in New York and Boston, while the Khalistan Movement, campaigning for a Sikh homeland in India, has been receiving funds from Indian expatriates living in the United States and Canada.
The UNDP study, titled 'Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development', also casts new light on some common misconceptions.
Most migrants do not cross national borders, but instead move within their own country: 740 million people are internal migrants, almost four times the number of international migrants.
Among international migrants, less than 30 percent move from developing to developed countries.
The study also says that remittances to developing countries are expected to decline from 308 billion dollars in 2008 to an estimated 293 billion dollars in 2009 - caused primarily by the spreading financial crisis worldwide.
The world recession has quickly become a jobs crisis, and a jobs crisis is generally bad news for migrants.
In a number of areas, the number of new migrants is down, while some destination countries are taking steps to encourage or compel migrants to leave.
But now is the time for action, the study concludes.
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 (IPS) - The world's 200 million international migrants have traditionally been viewed in terms of dollars and cents: how much hard currency have they remitted to their home countries?But the latest Human Development Report 2009, commissioned by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and released Monday, also focuses on the political side of the equation.
Return to the list <<<<<