06/2008: Esteban B. Conejos

JUNE 2008

H.E. Esteban B. Conejos
Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs, Department
of Foreign Affairs, the Philippines; Chair of the Second Global
Forum on Migration and Development


‘Key objectives and possible outcomes of the second session
of the Global Forum on Migration and Development’


Ü Eurasylum: The Government of the Philippines will host, under your chairmanship, the second session of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, in October 2008 in Manila. The first session of the GFMD, hosted by the Government of Belgium on 9-11 July 2007, which marked the start of a new global process designed to promote a more consistent policy approach, and cooperative links among Governments and other actors, in the field of migration and development, had led to the adoption of a series of recommendations for short, medium and longer term actions by governments, international organisations, the civil society, academics and the private sector. Can you sum up and discuss, briefly, some of these recommendations and outline any measures currently under way to support their implementation?

Ü Esteban B. Conejos: The Brussels Global Forum meeting was quite prolific in its outcomes. The thematic roundtables yielded some 50 recommendations for immediate and longer term actions by governments and other players across the migration and development spectrum. Of these, 12 actions are being implemented in the lead-up to the Manila meeting in October 2008, all of them intended to move the migration-development debate a step further towards more effective, coherent and linked-up policy-making. Reflecting the interactivity of the roundtables, these projects engage governments in joint planning, funding and implementation of the activities.

The follow-up projects most closely dovetailing with the Manila roundtables include a compendium of best practices in bilateral temporary labor movements, which a European and an African government are compiling. This draws its major evidence from a survey among the Forum member governments, a Handbook on labor migration recently published by OSCE, IOM and ILO, and relevant research by these and other international expert agencies. A feasibility study will be implemented by an Asian government of market-based approaches to reducing the opportunity costs of migration for persons from low income countries. The European Commission and an African government are jointly organizing an inter-governmental workshop on circular migration to facilitate partnerships within the intention of the EC’s 2007 Communication on Circular Migration and Mobility Partnerships. An EU country is taking the lead in organizing working groups on research priorities and data gathering/sharing, and a report on key policy lessons from current research. Assessments will be undertaken of the effectiveness of international codes of ethical recruitment of health workers; and of the developmental impacts of diaspora-oriented programs such as MIDA and TOKTEN. A follow-up survey will be undertaken by an EU government of good practices/lessons learned by Forum members in promoting policy coherence within government. And a meeting of heads of Regional Consultation Processes on migration (RCPs) will be held to improve inter-RCP relations and RCP connections to the Global Forum.

The costs of these follow-up action items will mostly be borne by the participating governments or other donor governments from within the Global Forum membership; or by the partnering non-state agencies, as in the case of the OSCE, IOM and ILO. These projects are expected to bring fresh evidence to the discussions in Manila and to contribute to the toolkit of best practices that the Global Forum will quite naturally assemble as the process moves forward.

Ü Eurasylum: The theme of the second session of the GFMD in Manila, Protecting and Empowering Migrants for Development, reflects a growing understanding that the developmental benefits of migration are contingent upon the degree to which migrants are protected and empowered, by both the host and sending countries. The Manila Forum will be organised, in particular, around three Round Tables on Migration, Human Rights, and Development; Secure, Legal Migration to achieve greater development impact; and Policy and Institutional Coherence and Partnerships. Can you guide us through each of these themes and discuss their main policy relevance and implications?

Ü Esteban B. Conejos: Roundtable 1 on Migration, Development and Human Rights is based on the assumption that migrants are best able to contribute to development in both the countries of origin and host countries, when they are protected and empowered socially, economically and in terms of their basic human rights, regardless of their migration status. International and national law provide the general principles for protecting the rights of all persons, including migrants.

But it is the policies and practices on the ground that prove the efficacy of such principles; and so the Global Forum will approach migrant protection and empowerment from the bottom up rather than with a top-down, normative approach, for which there are already a number of appropriate international fora.

This roundtable will draw out some of the best practices in protecting migrants, and strengthening their financial and skills resources for development. Such good practices as the Philippines life cycle approach to protecting and supporting their workers abroad reinforce a key assertion of this roundtable that protection begins at home. Countries along the migration continuum – origin, transit, and destination – thus share a common obligation and responsibility to ensure that migrants are properly protected and empowered. Smart policies in both origin and host countries to help diasporas strengthen and mobilize their financial and skills resources can also have longer term benefits for development back home.

Roundtable 2 addresses the immigration and emigration programs that are most likely to offer the protective and empowering environments discussed in Roundtable 1. The assumption is that the impacts of migration on development are likely to be greater where migration is managed in a comprehensive way, balancing facilitation of regular migration with effective enforcement against irregular migration. (Irregular migration here connoting all forms of mobility or sojourn in another country in violation of local laws and regulations, including undocumented entry, stay and work, smuggling, trafficking in persons etc.). Where migration is voluntary, planned, informed, linked to labour market needs and agreed between relevant parties, it is likely to result in higher wages, better social protection, remittances, and investments in education, health and general family wellbeing back home.

Such programs are also likely to be more acceptable to host societies, thus enhancing the credibility of migration and the likelihood of opening more migration avenues. They also help deepen cooperation between countries at other levels. Some temporary and circular forms of bilateral migration are emerging as development-friendly, in particular where they enable migrants to earn higher wages and expand their skills and work experience while maintaining close ties to their home country. They attest to the primary role of governments in setting balanced policies and regulations, but also the indispensable role of the private sector  employers, recruiters, banks etc  and of NGOs, migrant associations and international organizations.

Irregular forms of migration can be disempowering and risky for migrants and their families, particularly where there is exploitation, abuse and extortion resulting in reduced earnings and remittances, ill health and in many cases even death. But traditional methods of controlling migration have not substantially diminished irregular migration, and in many cases have placed migrants at greater risk, even raised the stakes for migrant smugglers and driven migrants further underground. Policy makers will discuss realistic, packaged and joint approaches to dealing with irregular migration, which can offer viable alternatives to smuggling and trafficking, and hopefully also undercut the profitability of these criminal activities. Again, private sector and other non-state players are key partners in such approaches.

Roundtable 3 identifies some fundamental prerequisites for achieving the aims of all other roundtable sessions: policy and institutional coherence and partnerships. It builds on the discussions in Brussels, particularly on the need for better data and research on the cause-effect links between migration and development, and the impacts of one upon the other. There is an even greater need for evidence of the impacts of policies. Where possible, this kind of evidence can be drawn from the best practice discussions in the other roundtables  e.g. the value for sectoral growth in developing countries of empowering diaspora to invest their resources in their home country.

But more often such evidence is missing, so governments will explore with expert international agencies the appropriate methodologies for research, data collection and analysis as well as diagnostic tools for assessing their policy needs and making the right policy choices.

Increasingly, countries with large emigration and remittance receipts are establishing new institutional structures to better link these phenomena to their national development plans. Some interesting lessons are emerging, but most efforts are still too recent to yield persuasive evidence of their impacts. There is also a noticeable lack of such institutional coherence in developed countries hosting migrants.

Many of the regional consultation processes on migration (RCPs), such as the Puebla Process in Latin America, the MIDSA process in Southern Africa and the Colombo Process in Asia, are bringing to light the advantages of linked-up policy making, also between countries. The Colombo process has recently fanned out to include the Gulf Country Cooperation group of migrant-receiving countries. This led to a meeting this year in Abu Dhabi and the issuance of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, which includes a broad commitment to form mutually beneficial partnerships on labour migration.

It is thus at the regional and inter-regional levels that important frameworks are being set for cooperation and coherence at the international level. This Roundtable will also discuss strategies for the existing RCPs to link up more productively with the Global Forum process.

Ü Eurasylum:: The Manila Forum will also look at ways to open more legal avenues for migration while addressing the obstacles to regular, protective forms of migration, such as human trafficking and migrant smuggling. It will further consider the need for more reliable migration and development research and data and will continue the debate on policy and institutional coherence in linking migration and development. Can you discuss, briefly, each of these important themes and comment on the ways in which the discussion on the promotion of selective legal migration will feed into the EU’s on-going policy efforts in this area?

Ü Esteban B. Conejos: As I already indicated, Roundtable 2 will look at some select temporary migration programs that could offer model development friendly policy elements for wider application between countries – not just south-north, but also south-south. It will look at what works between countries to better protect and support the migrants, and maximize their benefits for the home community, and to strengthen trust and further cooperation between countries. A number of bilateral programs will be discussed, including the most recent proposals for circular migration agreements, pursuant to the roundtable discussion on this at the Brussels Global Forum meeeting, and a follow-up workshop on it in Africa in September 2008.

Human trafficking and migrant smuggling are not so much seen as an obstacle to regular migration but as a convenient alternative for migrants who find regular migration too expensive, slow, administratively complex and restrictive. Trafficking and smuggling are seen more as a symptom of dysfunctional labour markets and policy environments. Where migration policies are out of step with market realities, and the two are not planned in tandem, also between supply and demand countries, grey and black market activities will flourish. This is also the case where the best laid policies are not implemented efficiently, e.g. because of a lack of capacities and resources, frequently also accompanied by corruption. These issues can often be a matter of political will, but are also a development issue, since many lower income countries do not yet have the capacities to plan and manage migration to their optimal benefit.

The Global Forum in Manila will seek both to identify the linkages between smuggling/trafficking and development, and how to build the capacities of developing countries to better curtail these phenomena.

Predictably, all of the Roundtable sessions will point towards the need for better data, research, linked-up policies and partnership approaches. These are also needed by the EU to implement its key objectives in the area of migration and development. The first Global Forum meeting in Brussels in many ways took its cues from the EU’s efforts to pursue a more holistic and partnership approach to migration, and to concretely link it also to the development needs of countries of origin.

The circular migration debate, for example, is critical to the EC’s 2007 Communication On Circular Migration and Mobility Partnerships between the European Union and Third Countries. The EC and an African partner government are jointly planning a workshop on circular migration, and the results will be fed into the discussion in Manila on opening more avenues for regular migration.

The Global Forum clearly offers the largest inter-governmental platform to advance such EU debates, in this case to rehearse the concept of circular migration and take it to the next level of operationalizing and testing it.

From these exchanges and experiments, the Forum will naturally harvest a useful toolkit of policies, best practices, diagnostic tools, research methodologies etc for all governments  from the developing and developed world  to select from according to their needs. Such a toolkit will hopefully both continue to draw from and contribute to the hugely advanced knowledge base of the EU in the linked areas of migration and development.