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Ibrahim Awad, the former director of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) International Migration Program, says that there is a need to develop a global system to govern worldwide migration and prevent its negative consequences on migrants.
“Tensions between the principle of [state] sovereignty and the need for an international cooperation exist in almost all policy areas,” said Awad during the “The Governance of International Migration” panel discussion, last week.
Large-scale international migration of people is estimated at 214 million, equivalent to 3.1 percent of the world’s population, said Awad.
“Forty-nine percent of this figure represents women; that is, women migrating on their own … 33 percent are travelling from a developing to a developed region, and 32 percent from the developing to a developing region.”
Refugees make up eight percent of global migrants. Forced to leave their countries and seek asylum elsewhere, refugees sometimes are not recognized in their countries of destination.
Émigré workers also form a vast majority of migrants, leaving their countries due to high rates of “unemployment, underemployment, and poverty”.
While certain job markets may be slow at home, they are flourishing elsewhere. This is what Awad calls “mismatches in supply and demand,” which causes migration of highly skilled labor.
Awad adds that migration, as a result of mismatches, is not regulated at a multilateral level.
“I don’t think you can centralize demand and supply at this juncture in the economic system,” he said.
There is no internationally recognized system of admissions to host countries for migrants. Some migrants, commonly known in the media as illegal immigrants, resort to “irregular migration.”
Awad points out that irregular migration sometimes occurs due to the existence of large informal markets or sectors, such as in Italy or Greece.
When migrants reach their countries of destination, they face problems of social integration and cohesion, becoming “outcasts.”
Awad said that the crux of this problem is found “completely at the national level. No country of origin has a say in the integration of its migrants in the country of destination.”
International organizations that have the resources to help migrants in this social dilemma include the ILO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But Awad believes their help is of little significance.
Migrants also often pay remittances, or transfer money back home. Remittances contribute to reducing chronic deficits in banks such as in Egypt. But Awad believes that “migration shouldn’t be a response to the economic problems.”
He cited the Migration for Employment Convention, revised in 1949, which almost all countries ratified.
The rationale behind this mass ratification is that “After the war [WW II], there was excess supply of labor in some countries, [and] shortage of labor in other countries.”
In the 50’s and 60’s, there was a global experience of migration. However, “every experience brings out problems,” he said. Discrimination began to surface.
Javed Maswood, an AUC political science professor at the panel, says there are economic opportunities to be found in liberalizing labor flow, similar to the free mobility of goods, services, and capital worldwide.
He added that businesses would advocate the free flow of labor.
Both Awad and Maswood agreed that matters of state sovereignty supercede global migration.
“Each and every country has the sovereign right to decide who it will admit,” Awad said.