Migrants are an economic asset
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Migrants are an economic asset

If all the international migrants in the world lived in one country it would be the fifth most populous in the world, midway between Indonesia and Brazil.

Those 232 million people need the same services as local populations — health care, education, access to markets, water, transport, security — but they often find them harder to access, as they are strangers in strange lands.

Furthermore, their movement needs to be well managed, so that they can bridge the gap between labour supply and demand to the benefit of all concerned: themselves, their families, their host communities, as well as the sending and receiving countries.

We have seen, tragically often, the results of poorly managed, "desperation" migration. Only last week another 500 migrants died trying to make the journey across the Mediterranean. This underscores the need for progressive thinking.

In 2000, when the governments of the world met to agree on the Millennium Development Goals, the concerns of migrants were not explicitly factored in.

In the intervening years, international migration has increased by almost one-third, and the amount of money being sent to home countries has increased five-fold. This dynamic is blurring the lines between "developed" and "developing" countries, forging a mutual interdependence and dramatically affecting national — and global — economic performance.

Furthermore, migration is evolving, driving global change.

It is no longer simply a mechanism to cope with poverty, where poor people move to rich countries. Just as many people make south-south migrations, from one developing country to another, and we are witnessing a growing trend of people leaving richer nations in the north for new lives in less-developed contexts.

Migration has been on the global agenda for many years, first at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The Cairo Population conference in 1995 recognised that "orderly international migration can have positive effects on both communities of origin and those of destination".

Twenty years later we have abandoned the notion of "addressing the root causes of migration" and moved on to conceptualising migration that is easier, cheaper, safer and which adds value.

Here in the Asia-Pacific region, migration is complex and multi-dimensional. In the past 20 years new economic powerhouses have emerged, and populations have swelled. Some countries are full of youths seeking jobs, whereas others have an ageing work force that is not being replaced from within.

Asian diaspora communities in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere have changed the face of their host countries, while retaining close links (and exerting great impact) on the motherland.

However, almost half of all Asians migrate within Asia, and despite the many obstacles to Asean's economic blueprint, the first tentative steps towards freedom of movement of skilled workers will be taken in 2015.

Almost half of Asia's migrants are women, and they have their own specific needs and challenges that have not yet been fully thought through by policy makers. Research shows that women are the most productive migrants in terms of remittance sending, investing more in education for their children, health care for their parents and savings for their families' future.

Finally, the shadow of "environmental migration" caused by climate change, sea level rise and rapid urbanisation is coming into ever-sharper focus. In 2012, 22 million people (68% of the total) were displaced by disasters in Asia.

For all these reasons, and for the many more that will emerge as migration continues to evolve, we believe that migration must be a part of the new set of "sustainable development goals" that will emerge from the global conference to be held at the United Nations General Assembly in New York a year from now. We are heartened to see migration strongly mentioned in preparatory discussions.

In a world that faces severe skills shortages, migration is already playing an essential role by filling labour market gaps. And while both natural and manmade catastrophes are set to increase and impact greater numbers of lives, remittances will support the resilience of the populations that leave, and those that opt to stay.

The world must finally recognise migration for what it is: a solution, not a problem. It is humanity's oldest and most effective development strategy.

Andrew Bruce is Regional Director of the International Organisation for Migration.

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