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U.N. chief touts positive economic contributions of migrants

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 11, 2018, 2:15 p.m.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres waits for the start of a meeting Sept. 18, 2017, during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres waits for the start of a meeting Sept. 18, 2017, during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all countries Thursday to focus on the overwhelmingly positive contributions of migrants and use “facts not prejudice,” warning that authorities who erect obstacles “inflict needless economic self-harm.”

The U.N. chief said these barriers prevent countries from having their labor needs met in a legal and orderly way and “worse still, they unintentionally encourage illegal migration.”

He stressed that “the best way to end the stigma of illegality and abuse around migrants is, in fact, for governments to put in place more legal pathways for migration.”

While Guterres didn’t name any countries, that message appeared clearly aimed at European countries, the United States and other nations that have placed increasing restrictions on migration.

The secretary-general was launching his report entitled “Making Migration Work for All,” which will feed into upcoming negotiations on a global compact on migration that is expected to be adopted later this year.

He told U.N. diplomats that “globally, migration remains poorly managed,” and their governments have the opportunity “to fashion for the first time a truly global response to migration” that maximizes the contribution of millions of migrants and agrees on actions to ensure their rights are respected.

In September 2016, all 193 U.N. member states, including the United States under President Barack Obama, adopted a declaration saying no country can manage international migration on its own and agreeing to launch a process leading to the adoption of a global compact in 2018.

But in early December, the United States said it was ending its participation in negotiations on the compact. A statement from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations said numerous provisions of the declaration were “inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies” under President Donald Trump.

Guterres stressed that migrants contribute to international development by their work and the remittances they send home, which totaled nearly $600 billion last year – three times the amount of international development assistance.

In addition, the report said migrants – including irregular migrants – pay taxes and inject about 85 percent of their earnings into the economies of the countries where they live.

“The fundamental challenge is to maximize the benefits of this orderly, productive form of migration while stamping out the abuses and prejudice that make life hell for a minority of migrants,” he said.

According to a U.N. report last month, an estimated 258 million people have left their birth countries and are now living in other nations – an increase of 49 percent since 2000.

“Let me emphasize: migration is a positive global phenomenon,” Guterres said. “It powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, connects diverse societies and helps us ride the demographic waves of population growth and decline. Yet, it is also a source of political tensions and human tragedies.”

While the majority of migrants live and work legally, the secretary-general said, “many live in the shadows, unprotected by the law and unable to contribute fully to society. And a desperate minority put their lives at risk to enter countries where they face suspicion and abuse.”

Guterres said managing migration “is pre-eminently a matter of state responsibility.”

But he stressed that “the issue of migration cries out for a clear multilateral response” and urged negotiators to work toward adopting “a solution-oriented” compact at an international conference in Morocco later this year.

The secretary-general stressed the importance of “respectful and realistic debates” on the issue.

“We must sadly acknowledge that xenophobic political narratives about migration are all too widespread today,” Guterres said. “We must not allow these to distort our agenda.”


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