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September 2002, Volume 9, Number 9

World Migration Organization?

Two hundred years ago, Adam Smith wrote that "a man is of all sorts of luggage the most difficult to be transported." Retired UN official Bimal Ghosh agrees with Smith, but believes that a New International Regime for Orderly Movements of People, NIROMP, would help to manage increasing international migration.

Ghosh's introductory and concluding essays in this nine-chapter volume outline a vision for "regulated openness," a migration policy that is "politically achievable and operationally viable."(p25). Regulated openness, according to Ghosh, means that migration policies should be comprehensive, transparent and predictable, and should not alter the existing refugee regime or slow the spread of the migration that accompanies increasing trade in services (222-4). NIROMP begins to sound utopian when Ghosh adds that it should also protect basic human rights, involve all nations and deal with the root causes of migration.

Ghosh lays out the three pillars of the new regime (p227): shared objectives, harmonized goals and new institutions. There is no discussion of what the shared migration objectives and the harmonized migration goals should be, such as adding one percent a year to the population via immigration, as in Canada, but there is a discussion of the gains from adopting a new regime. Ghosh argues that a new migration regime would reduce the costs of immigration enforcement and asylum applicant processing and enhance economic efficiency and global output, since labor would be allocated more efficiently if it moves from low to higher wage places. Ghosh ends with a plea for "a joint endeavor to promote the optimal benefits for each participating state while protecting orderliness in movements as a valuable common global good." (p245).

Ghosh believes in yielding power to international organizations to solve international problems, and in this sense the call for NIROMP is analogous to pleas for new environmental regimes that, for instance, minimize cross-border pollution, save vanishing species or slow global warming. A global environmental regime meets the same test proposed by Ghosh for migration. There are complaints about a problem that cannot be solved within national borders, increased sympathy for an international approach, and calls for a new international regime. The devil in tackling such shared problems in a new international regime lies in the details-it is often easier to reach agreement among nations that something must be done then to agree on what to do, as was seen with the US rejection of the regime aimed at slowing global warming. NIROMP asserts that a new migration regime is needed to tackle international migration, but leaves the details to be worked out.

Most of the other seven chapters in the book deal with narrower migration topics. Mark Miller, for example, notes that the age of economically motivated migration lasted about a century, from the 1880s to the 1990s, symbolized by the beginning of third wave southern and eastern European migration to the Americas, and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Miller notes that World War I marked the end of colonialism, and the beginning of large-scale migration for employment within and between countries, such as from Algeria (then part of France) to "metropolitan France" and Mexico-US migration; there were also forced population transfers as three empires collapsed.

After World War II, there were similar population movements, and the beginnings of an international migration regime, with the ILO's 1949 migrant worker convention and the establishment of a refugee regime as well as the (precursor to) the IOM. Miller emphasizes that illegal immigration increased, and that "the argument that governmental efforts to regulate international migration were illusory because illegal immigration persisted ...was untestable....The resources committed to enforcement ...grew enormously but were still often insufficient." (p35).

Miller notes that the EU is the most successful experiment in regional cooperation on migration and other matters- many African and Asian countries do not in practice abide by regional migration interests, leading to the conclusion that "regional and interregional cooperation on international migration is [generally] illusory.' (p40). However, "many of the elements for an international regime...exist," with regime understood to "routinized expectations concerning behavior as well as to treaty-based commitments." (p42).

This collection of essays will be useful to students and scholars who are interested in the growing cooperation between nations to manage migration. Many of the first agreements are bilateral or regional, but there is likely to eventually be a world migration regime.

There is a growing collection of migrant photos. Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado set up to capture the last of the agricultural and industrial world, but discovered "migration," what he calls the "reorganization of the human family." In 363 black and white photos, Salgado shows Hutus fleeing Tutsis as well as rural urban migration. Salgado found that the common forces encouraging migration made it hard to know exactly where he was, whether in Mexico City or Manila.

Ghosh, Bimal. Ed. 2000. Managing Migration: Time for a New International Regime? New York. Oxford University Press. Smith, Adam. 1776. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Ch.8, Of the Wages of Labour, paragraph I.8.30. Salgado, Sebastiao. 2000. Migrations. Humanity in Transition. The Children. Refugees and Migrants. Aperture.