With an estimated 200 million migrants around the world, governments must strengthen the positive impact of migration on the development of home countries by ensuring people move in a way that is safe and legal, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said.
"We cannot stop this force of human nature, but we can do a great deal to build a better migration experience," Ban said on 10 July in Brussels during the opening of the first Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD).
"We can work to strengthen the positive impact of migration on the development of migrants' home countries. We can encourage destination countries to promote the success of migrants, both in their original and their adopted homes," Ban said.
About 800 delegates, including 155 government representatives and observers from international and regional organisations, attended the forum, which was launched by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to create greater international cooperation in addressing migration. Its purpose is to examine how migration can contribute to development and how migration policies should be integrated as a positive factor into development policies, including achievement of the UN's millennium development goals.
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said: "Today, Europe and the US are spending more money on the control of migration than on development of the countries of origin. But let us be honest, this strategy just isn't working. Worse still, it's selfish and even inhuman."
"There's a great deal we can do," he said. "First and foremost, [we can start] by earmarking the agreed 0.7 percent of our GNP [gross national product] to development cooperation. We've been talking about doing this for quite some time already. Now it's time to deliver on our promises."
Verhofstadt also called for the creation of mechanisms that empower people and countries, "like micro credits, for example".
Concepts discussed at the forum included diaspora bonds; making remittance flows more secure; automatic clearing-house systems to reduce the cost of remittances and facilitate flow; partnership projects to address the brain drain by setting up training facilities for doctors and nurses; and systems to provide pre-departure training and information to migrants about the benefits as well as risks of migration.
"I learned a lot from this meeting," Ann Phoya, from Malawi's Ministry of Health, told IRIN. "The circular migration seems to be a real opportunity: the migrants come back home to give their skills on a periodic basis without losing their status."
José Nvo Masa, from the Ministry of Interior of Equatorial Guinea, said: "We should think south-south before south-north in this matter. In our countries of the CEMAC [Economic Community for Central Africa] for instance, we face a huge wave of illegal and irregular immigrants attracted by oil prospecting. We first need to control this immigration among us."
In his closing remarks, Peter Sutherland, the UN special representative for migration and development, emphasised the unique character of the event: "The forum is a place where policymakers can learn the state-of-the-art in migration and development, and build relationships of trust among each other that lead to practical partnerships,” he said.
The second meeting of the forum is scheduled to take place in Manila in 2008, hosted by the government of the Philippines.