The benefits of globalization flowed primarily to the developed world and its principal trading partners, among them Brazil, China, and India. In this age of mobility, people will move across borders in great numbers in pursuit of opportunities and better life. They will chip away the vast inequalities that characterize our time — and accelerate progress throughout the developing world. For example, migrants sent home $264 billion in 2006 and tripled all international aid combined. In some countries like Eritrea, a third of the families rely on these remittances to keep them out of poverty. Across the developing world, remittances underwrite health care, education, and grassroot entrepreneurship.
The freer movement of people helps oil the global economy. When a hospital in America needs nurses, it recruits them from India or Sri Lanka or any other developing country in the world. Until now, this flow of people mostly has benefited richer countries and generated worries about brain drain in poorer and developing countries. Yet, rather than looking at the potential developmental gains from migration, governments have been slow to adapt. The result is burgeoning illegal immigration, social tension, discrimination, loss of faith in government, and the empowerment of criminal networks.
As stated by the UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon recently, “at the turn of the 20th century, approximately three per cent of the world’s population was on the move. A hundred years later, the United Nations estimates that there are 191 million international migrants, a roughly similar ratio. This number is growing.” A new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says that developed countries saw permanent migration rise in 2005 at an annual rate of about 10 per cent.
Today, migrants move quickly and easily; thanks to low-cost transportation, internet, affordable telephony, and satellite television that keep them in constant touch with home. Banks, on the other hand, wirelessly and instantly transmit hard-won earnings to their families. Globalization, meanwhile, has radically transformed the labor markets, while growing economic inequality (together with natural and man-made crises) prompts more emigration. It is this fluid tableau that makes the age of mobility.
These changes can be harnessed to reduce poverty and inequality. Remittances are a case in point.A few years ago, migrants were paying exorbitant fees to send money home, losing as much as 20 per cent in transaction costs. Governments, civil society, and the private sector mobilized to scale down these costs. Banks created prepaid and debit cards specifically for migrants and their families. Mobile phone companies are introducing technologies that allow money to be transferred by phone.
These innovations underscore migration’s potential to contribute to development. In September 2006, for the first time in its history, the United Nations held a migration summit. Many predicted that developed and developing countries would come to blows — the latter would decry brain drain and the violation of migrant rights, and the former would simply walk out of the room. Instead, more than a hundred countries engaged in a constructive exchange. The experience was so positive that they embraced a proposal to create a Global Forum on Migration and Development.
The Global Forum represents an important first step in the effort to harness the power of migration to advance development. We cannot hide from the fact that migration can also have negative consequences. The Global Migration Forum provides an opportunity to address these problems in a comprehensive and pro-active way, so that the benefits of migration are fully realized both in developing and industrialized countries. Migration can be an enormous force for good. If we follow the evidence, and begin a rational, forward-looking conversation about how to better manage the shared interests, we can together help the development endeavors— a long-awaited era where more people than ever before begin to share in the world’s prosperity.
By Ravinder Rena
Associate Professor of Economics at the Eritrea Institute of Technology
His two most recent books published by New Africa Press in December 2006 are: A Handbook on the Eritrean Economy: Problems and Prospects for Development, and, Financial Institutions in Eritrea.
By Dr. Ravinder Rena
Eritrean Institute of Technology
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