Remarks at Regional Perspectives on the Global Compact on Migration

Delivered at Side event at the UN General Assembly – “Regional Perspectives on the Global Compact on Migration” Organized by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh and the UN Regional Economic Commissions at UN HQ in New York

Thank you Mr Moderator,
Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,

The Asia-Pacific region is the place of origin of a hundred million migrants and hosts almost sixty million. Together, Asia-Pacific’s migrants would be the 13th largest population in the world. They form a distinct group which can be vulnerable, but also offers enormous potential. Most people migrate for low-skilled, poorly-paid, and informal jobs, often involving difficult and dangerous physical labour. Female labour migrants are frequently engaged in domestic work, often not regulated by labour laws, with risks of exploitation and abuse.

Yet despite these challenges, migrants make invaluable contributions to both origin and destination countries. Asia-Pacific countries received remittances of over $268 billion in 2016. These contributed the equivalent of over a quarter of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2015. These inflows reduce poverty and provide vital support for families. Remittances to Kyrgyzstan are estimated to have reduced the poverty rate by 6 to 7 percentage points.

Countries of destination also benefit from migration. The Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2015, produced by an ESCAP-led inter-agency working group, showed that migrant contributions accounted for 3.1 to 6.2 per cent of Thailand’s GDP.

The enormous contributions made by migrants are realised despite the barriers they face. These include:

  • The high costs of migration, which deplete migrants’ overseas earnings.
  • Limited policies to facilitate low-skilled labour migration, leading to irregular migration and undermining migrants’ rights.
  • Limitations on the ability of migrants to access social services and participate in the public sphere, leading to a “race to the bottom” on workers’ rights. The negative impacts of this may extend to migrants and nationals alike.
  • Finally, laws preventing migrants from moving with their families create pressures on family members left behind, especially children.

The final report of the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on International Migration, Mr. Peter Sutherland, offers a way forward. Its emphasis is on dialogue and building policy coherence on labour migration, including addressing finance, recruitment, skills, social protection, remittances, capacity and governance.

Labour is not the sole concern of the region. Forced migration, climate change and protracted refugee crises, have focused attention on the most vulnerable and have spurred tremendous solidarity between countries. Many of the poorest countries in the region host large numbers of persons displaced by conflict and natural disasters. International support to build their capacities is needed in response to these displacement, consistent with commitments under international human rights conventions.

Ensuring a robust, victim-centred and human rights-focused response to human trafficking is another area requiring cooperation. The Greater Mekong Region’s Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking, and the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children are prominent examples.

The forthcoming Global Compact for Migration should chart a path towards a world where migration can fulfil its potential to accelerate sustainable development, with full respect for the human rights of migrants. Its Asia-Pacific regional preparatory meeting to be held from 6 to 8 November at ESCAP in Bangkok, will be critical in ensuring the voices of the region are channelled into to global discussions.

I thank you.