European Leaders Urged to Strengthen ‘Minimalist’ Approach to Mediterranean Migration Crisis


The New York Times

migrantsfromafrica04 24 2015
Migrants from Africa, rescued 40 miles off the shore of Libya, arrived in Sicily on Wednesday.CreditLynsey Addario for The New York Times

GENEVA — United Nations officials joined a leading relief agency on Thursday in exhorting European leaders to improve their planned response to the Mediterranean migration crisis and address root causes of the surge of people risking death at sea to reach Europe.

“A tragedy of epic proportions is unfolding in the Mediterranean,” they said in a statement released in Geneva, as European ministers prepared to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in Brussels. “The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach in the 10 Point Plan on Migration.” The European ministers agreed to that plan on Monday.

The statement was issued by António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees; Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, its high commissioner for human rights; Peter Sutherland, its special representative for international migration and development; and William L. Swing, director general of the International Organization for Migration, a 157-member intergovernmental group based in Geneva.

Their plea reflected what one United Nations official called an attempt to influence a debate that appeared to be driven by short-term political expediency at the expense of humanitarian principles. The 10-point plan outlined at the start of the week called for enhanced search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean but put the emphasis on border protection and action against traffickers rather than addressing the causes of the crisis or the plight of migrants.

“As a paramount principle, the safety, protection needs, and human rights of all migrants and refugees should be at the forefront of the E.U. response,” the United Nations and International Organization for Migration officials saidThursday.

April is already the deadliest month on record in terms of migrant deaths. There have been more than 1,300 fatalities in the Mediterranean, bringing the total to more than 1,776 so far this year, the United Nations refugee agency has reported. This is roughly half the number who perished at sea in all of 2014.

“The worry clearly is that the European response doesn’t look as if it will be sufficient by a long way and we will see more deaths,” a United Nations official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. “If you think you can close the gates to people fleeing war and repression, then you are clinging to a fantasy.”

More than 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean seeking entry to Europe in 2014, a record. While the political discourse on migrants labels most as people seeking a better life, the United Nations refugee agency says half of them were fugitives from conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, mayhem in Somalia and an abusive dictatorship in Eritrea.

“It is clear there are push factors as well as pull factors,” Volker Turk, the assistant head of the refugee agency, said earlier this week. “In our assessment, the push factors are much stronger.”

The statement on Thursday called on Europe to begin a “robust, proactive and well-resourced” search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean, to create channels for safe and regular migration and to make a firm commitment to take in significantly higher numbers of refugees.

“These are ideas that have been around for 20 years, but the E.U. isn’t doing them, and politics and xenophobia keep getting in the way,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesmen for Mr. Hussein.


The New York Times 


How To Channel Migrant Remittances To Deliver Growth


Asian Development Blog
By Mayumi Ozaki
17 April 2015

Photos ADB 2011 SGP LL 1090607
Migrant workers from South and Southeast  Asian countries contribute to manpower needs in developed countries, and to their home countries by sending remittances. A laborer works on a construction project in Singapore.

Over the past decade, many developing countries have made substantial progress toward reducing poverty, and remittances sent by migrant workers have hugely contributed to this progress.

In ADB’s developing member countries, remittances nearly tripled from $92 billion in 2005 to $246 billion in 2013. This huge flow of remittances helped reduced poverty levels, mostly through increased spending on food and other essential items, housing, and education. It is estimated that remittances helped reduce the poverty level by 1.5% in Bangladesh, 5% in Indonesia, and 2% in Viet Nam from 2000 to 2005.

The remittances growth is a reflection of high worker migration from developing countries to wealthier economies such as those in the Middle East. Migration and remittances have grown rapidly, however, with little or nosupport from the public sector or from donor agencies which have few projects to directly support migrant workers and remittances.

Moreover, we in fact know little about remittances beyond the headline numbers. How are they transmitted? How exactly do migrant worker households spend that money? How can we better channel remittances to reduce poverty? Have remittances really contributed to inclusive, sustainable economic growth in receiving countries? And above all, how can governments make use of remittances to create more domestic job opportunities, and thus reduce the need for so many workers to leave?  

ADB recently hosted the Forum on Promoting Remittances for Development Finance to find answers to those questions. The discussions covered issues like impact on economic growth, household investments, access to finance and technology innovations, and investments. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Remittances can contribute to economic growth if the receiving household saves or puts the money into the formal financial system which would channel the money into  public and private investments.
  • Households spend most of the remittances they receive. In Bangladesh, 84% of remittances is consumed. Only 14% is saved, mainly due to transaction costs such as fees to open a bank account, lack of trust in financial institutions, regulatory barriers like official identification documents that many poor people lack, a dearth of information and financial literacy, social constraints, and behavior barriers. Studies suggest more financial education helps households to save more.
  • To channel remittances for investments, it is essential to expand access to formal financial services. Digital finance has an enormous potential to capture remittances in the formal financial system. In Bangladesh, only 15% of the population has access to banks, but 60% have mobile phones. “bKash,” the mobile-based banking service offered by the country’s BRAC Bank, has 15 million registered customers and daily transactions worth $26 million. Digital finance can help include poor people in the formal financial sector, and enable them to save and invest in financial assets.
  • Capital market instruments such as diaspora bonds and securitization of future flow of remittances are available to capture remittances for investments on a national level. In Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Kenya raised $400 million, $20 million and $154 million, respectively, through sovereign bond issuances targeting non-resident nationals willing to contribute part of their savings to their home countries. To tap diaspora investments, though, countries should develop the right structure, marketing and distribution channels, and build long-term relationships with the target investors.

So what is the way forward? The forum identified three potential areas for support:

  1. Improving financial education.
  2. Expanding digital finance.
  3. Promoting remittance-linked capital market instruments.

Both the public and the private sector, including donors, must think about concerted assistance in these areas. For example, governments can promote financial education for migrant workers before they go abroad. Donors can support developing financial sector infrastructure IT systems such as core banking system, e-payment and networks to promote digital finance. They can also help develop enabling legal and regulatory frameworks for remittance securitization and diaspora bonds. More essentially, governments and donors must have a vision to leverage remittances to develop viable local industries to generate local employment opportunities, so in the long run workers can find good jobs at home rather than migrate out of necessity.


Asian Development Blog
By Mayumi Ozaki
17 April 2015


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mpd06 22 2015


The Plight of Children of Immigrants in Malaysia


By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Borneo

The children Malaysia does not want

When 13-year-old Karisma wears a purple school uniform and black hijab, she can easily blend in with other Malaysian students. She was born in Malaysia, but the authorities want her to leave.

Her parents are Filipino immigrants working on construction sites in Lahad Datu town in Sabah - Malaysia's easternmost state, on the island of Borneo.

Karisma is one of more than 100,000 children in the country who do not have proper documents.

"A few of them have birth certificates but even the ones with birth certificates will not have access to government schooling here," says Torben Venning, a Danish national who works with children of immigrants in Sabah.

Children of low-skilled immigrants in Malaysia have no access to government-funded schooling

Under Malaysia's immigration rules, low-skilled foreign workers are not allowed to have families. It's one of the ways the government tries to limit the number of immigrants.

So Karisma can only get an education through the learning centre set up by Mr Venning and his wife Rosalyn's charity called PKPKM Sabah.

She is four grades behind her Malaysian peers but still seems affectionate towards her birth place.

"I love Malaysia. It's the best country," says Karisma in fluent Malay, the national language.

Torben Venning and his wife Rosalyn founded a school to cater to 'undocumented' children in Sabah
Difficult future?

However, there are signs that life is about to get tougher for the children of immigrants.

More than a hundred families from the Philippines and Indonesia used to squat in Lobang village near the town centre.

As part of a nationwide campaign to drive illegal immigrants out of Malaysia, the authorities deported many residents who didn't have documents.

Then earlier this year there was a big fire in the village.

The blaze destroyed all of the homes. Only broken wooden planks, charred pieces of clothing and plastic bottles remain on the site.

The BBC cannot confirm who set the fire but foreigners who lost their homes in it - like Jahara binti Sangkola, claim it was done deliberately to send a message that they are not welcome here.

 82904422 jainolandmom
Jainol (R), was born in Malaysia but he hasn't been able to find work

However, Ms Jahara says she has nowhere else to go. She fled from fighting in the southern Philippines three decades ago.

Her son Jainol was born in Malaysia but can't find a job because he says he's not considered to be a Malaysian.

"It's difficult for us as Filipinos to go into any business now," he says.

The government has turned down the BBC's requests for an interview. But it is stated in the 2011-2015 economic plan that the country is overly reliant on cheap, low-skilled foreign labour and this dependency needs to be "gradually reduced".

Key sectors

Official statistics show that the number of low-skilled immigrants has more than doubled over the last 15 years to two million. Human rights groups estimate there are two million more staying illegally.

Most of them are trying to escape from poverty or from conflict and come from neighbouring Indonesia, or Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

They work in the key construction, plantation, and manufacturing sectors - jobs shunned by Malaysians.

Malaysia's Tenth Economic Plan

  • Part of a 30-year plan for Malaysia to achieve 'developed country' status by 2020
  • The plan includes nurturing, attracting and retaining top talent
  • The government is also focusing on key growth areas which include oil and gas, tourism, and agriculture

Economist Yeah Kim Leng says Malaysia's labour intensive industries have benefited from this influx of foreign labour but echoes the government view that there are long term costs.

"Basically it retards wages especially for low income groups and then importantly it is an incentive for industries to continue hiring cheap labour rather than upgrading their technology or their manufacturing processes to move up the value chain," he says.

Yet businesses are resisting.

Small shop owners tell the BBC they do not have the money to mechanise and very few locals want to take up the jobs.

Mr Yeah says the transition will get easier as the economic structure changes under Prime Minister Najib Razak's transformation programme.

Finding balance

Until then, Mr Yeah says the government has been pragmatic by allowing more foreign workers in when the economy expands, and restricting work visas when there is a downturn.

At the same time, the government needs to weigh the economic gains against public xenophobia.

A business owner, who didn't want her identity revealed, tells the BBC that she relies on foreign workers but does not agree that immigrants and their children should have more rights.

"If foreigners have the same rights as us then locals will be pushed out," she says.

 82904424 markdevilleres
Mark Devilleres dreams of becoming a chef

Across town, the PKPKM Sabah charity opens another learning centre for undocumented children.

Mark Devilleres, aged 12, stands up to recite the vowels perfectly. Like all children of immigrants he wants more than his father.

"When I grow up I want to be a chef in Malaysia," he says.

However, there may be limits to his dreams in this country.


By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Borneo


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