The 3rd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) will be held in Athens, Greece on November 4-5, 2009. The first was held in Brussels in July 2007 and the second in Manila in October 2008.
Two things make the GFMD in Athens particula
Every country without exception is bound to be hit hard by the current global economic and financial crisis. But the most vulnerable and expected to be the worst hit are the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America and their migrant workers in the highly-industrialized countries in North America, Japan and Europe.
Before the outbreak of the current crisis, the working classes in all countries for three decades have suffered from an all-round attack on their livelihood and rights. They were blamed for the recurring crisis of the system and subjected to cutbacks in wages, mass unemployment and loss of job security, attacks on their trade union rights, loss of medical insurance, etc. Now they are being made to shoulder the burden of the current crisis with governments spending the people’s money to bail out the big capitalists who have been the very cause of the crisis.
The Washington Consensus which served as the development paradigm for the global economy in the 1990s under the banner of “free market globalization” is now under severe questioning. Even governments who are its staunchest proponents are expediently setting aside some of its most sacred tenets in order to stabilize the economy that is now in complete disarray. Blind faith in the “market regulating itself” is dead.
But this large scale intervention in the economy by the state is but another form of accumulation of capital at the expense of the workers. Whether under the so-called neoliberal policy of “free markets” or the neo-Keynesian policy of state intervention in the economy, the working classes and the oppressed peoples of the world are victims of exploitation.
The global crisis is going to be a double whammy for many of the migrant-sending countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa. Aside from losing export markets and foreign investments, they are bound to suffer from a drastic reduction in remittances. For many of them, remittances form the single biggest source of foreign exchange earnings.
Many of the migrant-sending countries have become highly dependent on remittances to keep their economies afloat. Receiving countries on the other hand have taken advantage of cheap migrant workers to fill in the gap for skilled and unskilled labor in times of boom. But in the face of the current global crisis, migrant workers are bound to be the first to go when companies in the receiving countries begin firing workers on a massive scale.
The volume of remittances worldwide has grown at an incredible pace. According to the World Bank, the growth in remittances has outpaced the growth of Official Development Aid (ODA) and Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). It is understandable therefore why many governments are eager to get their hands on this pie.
Worldwide remittances rose seven percent in 2007 to $318 billion according to the latest World Bank report. India topped the global list of the remittance recipients with $27 billion, followed by China with $25.7 billion, Mexico with $25 billion, and the Philippines with $17 billion.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, remittances reached $65.5 billion in 2007. In Africa, Nigeria received $3.3 billion in 2007 with remittances from Nigerians in Europe and the United States accounting for the bulk of it. Kenya ranked second as destination for remittances in Africa with $1.3 billion, ahead of Sudan ($1.2 billion), Senegal and Uganda ($0.9 million each), and South Africa ($0.7 million).
The majority of migrant sending countries belong to the countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are non-industrialized, economically backward and agrarian with the accompanying mass of unemployed and poor people in the cities and countryside. These countries were earlier the victims of direct colonial rule and later of indirect neocolonial domination by the western capitalist states that now compose the “developed” world. Colonial and neocolonial rule exploited these countries, and such exploitation is the main historical cause of their underdevelopment.
The phenomenon of massive forced migration of people from these countries to seek employment in the industrialized countries of North America, Japan and Europe is a direct consequence of the underdevelopment caused by that historical injustice and exploitation. There is also a great number of refugees fleeing persecution and wars often instigated or waged by the powerful countries contesting for regional and world dominance. The slogan of a multinational migrants and refugees network in Germany sums it up most appropriately: “We are here because you have destroyed our lands.”
The fundamental solution to the problem of forced migration in the poverty-stricken semi-colonial countries is all-rounded development. This development must be mainly self-reliant development making use of the local human and material resources. Foreign aid from the exploiting countries should only be supplementary and must be considered as payment of historical debt.
Such kind of development can only happen through a radical and fundamental change of the present world order. It will call no less for the dismantling of political and economic structures that perpetuate the unequal relations between the exploited and exploiting countries.
Pending such radical change, migrants and refugee organizations must fight for their legitimate rights under the present system even as they work together with the other oppressed and exploited sectors in society to strengthen the factors that would make the realization of the fundamental change in the present world order possible.
The GFMD defines itself as an “informal multilateral and state-led multi-stakeholder process” that is meant to “identify practical and feasible ways to strengthen the mutually beneficial relationship between migration and development.”
In its so-called Operating Modalities, the GFMD states that its deliberations are covered by the Chatham House Rule. Simply put, it means that the deliberations are shrouded in secrecy. In number 7 of the said Operating Modalities, participation of civil society is defined thus: “Appropriate arrangements shall be made for the participation of civil society, including relevant NGOs.”
Our experience with the first two GFMDs has only confirmed our worst fears. The GFMD is just one more of those state-led initiatives that result in backdoor agreements between states at the expense of the people who are the most important stakeholders in the whole process. In Manila, there was only token consultation with CSOs to serve as window-dressing for agreements and deals sealed behind the people’s backs.
At the second GFMD in Manila, the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) distinguished itself from the officially sanctioned CSO parallel forum for being the real voice of migrants, immigrants and refugees. The participants of IAMR were genuine organizations of migrants and refugees from all over the world. They were joined by advocates for migrants’ rights who played a secondary and supportive role. The IAMR could rightly say that in its assembly the “migrants were speaking for themselves” as opposed to both the state forum and the officially sanctioned parallel CSO forum “who claimed to speak on behalf of the migrants”.
The IAMR took a critical position on the concept of development being promoted by the states in the GFMD and the policy on migrants of both the sending and receiving countries.
It took a critical position against the neoliberal paradigm of development that has not only failed to deliver on its promise of development but actually ruined many of the third world economies. Trade liberalization has wreaked havoc on local industries. Trade liberalization has ruined their agriculture due to unfair competition from highly subsidized commodity exports of imperialist-capitalist countries. The resultant destruction of jobs in industry and agriculture has aggravated the problem of forced migration in the exploited countries.
Deregulation of foreign investments by capitalist countries made it easier for light-footed capital to move in and out of the semi-colonial countries and for the repatriation of profits. Such foreign investments only took advantage of the cheap, domestic labor while contributing little to the development of the local economies.
The migrants organizations in IAMR took issue with the governments of sending countries for blindly embracing the “neoliberal” globalization paradigm that further worsened the exploitation and poverty in those countries. Earnings from remittances are not used for development but to pay off unjust foreign debts that have accumulated over decades of unequal economic relations between the exploiting and exploited countries. Migrant workers are also milked by their own governments through onerous fees with the money often going to the pockets of corrupt officials and bureaucrats.
In recent years, migrant workers in the industrialized countries have faced increasing uncertainty about their future. Because of the creeping economic crisis in these countries, anti-migrant sentiment and legislation have increased. Claims that “foreigners are taking away our jobs” and “migrants cause unemployment” are propagated in order to divide native and migrant workers.
Receiving economies, particularly industrial economies, gain much from migrant labour. Skilled migrant workers provide human capital to the recipient economy without having to shoulder the costs of training and education (the mirror image of the “brain drain” in the economy of emigration). When industrialized economies suffer a shortage of labor in some sectors, inflows of unskilled migrants benefit capital holders and the more skilled segments of the labor force.
In exploiting the workers, capital does not distinguish workers by their colour, religion, national origin, etc. For capital, labor is a commodity from which it can draw and accumulate wealth through unpaid work and cheap wages. The intensification of exploitation through neoliberal policies results in the precarisation of labor, the abolition of social insurance and the dismantling of democratic rights. The chauvinist circles, the most reactionary and racist forces instigate hatred not only against other countries but also in their own backyard using racial discrimination. Racial profiling is the latest form of racial discrimination that has emerged in this age of “War on Terror”, which victimizes migrant workers most of all.
The issues that migrants/immigrants and refugees are faced with can be solved only through their own struggle and through their own migrant communities. Problems can be solved and rights can be secured only when their struggles are conducted jointly with the workers in each country, with the participation of all the progressive people and with the progressive political and union organizations. After all, workers in the capitalist countries and migrant workers are class brothers and sisters.
The initiative committee for the 2nd IAMR is composed of the following organizations:
1. International Migrants Alliance (IMA)
3. Migrante Europe
4. IBON International
5. Class March (Greece)
6. Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM)