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April 2005, Volume 12, Number 2

Global Trends: Migration, Population, Development

The Global Commission for International Migration (GCIM) is an effort supported largely by Sweden and Switzerland to examine ways to put international migration on the global agenda. As the GCIM considers its options for an October 2005 report, US Assistant Secretary of State Arthur Dewey said that "The United States would not support the creation of any UN agency on international migration" but would back improved coordination of UN migration issues.

Dewey said that the 109-member International Organization for Migration (IOM) is "best placed to handle" international migration issues; however, China, India and Russia are not members of IOM.

In 2003, remittances to developing countries reached $115 billion, up from $98 billion in 2002. Remittances doubled between 1990 and 1996, when they surpassed Official Development Assistance (ODA), and doubled again by 2003. Foreign direct investment of $152 billion in 2003 still surpasses remittances, but the gap is narrowing. Capital market flows, representing, for instance, stock investments in developing countries, fluctuate widely, while ODA is the net flow of assistance that does not have to be repaid to donor nations.

The UN in February 2005 projected a world population rising from 6.5 billion to 9.1 billion in 2050. The population of developed countries is expected to remain at 1.2 billion; all the growth will be in developing countries. The UN projected that India would become the world's most populous nation by 2030, and have 1.6 billion residents in 2050, when China has 1.4 billion.

Refugees. UNHCR reported that the number of asylum applications in 50 countries in 2004 was 396,400, down from the 2001 peak of 655,100. The leading countries of origin were Russia (Chechens), Serbia (Kosovo) and China. The leading countries receiving applications were France, 61,600; US, 52,400; UK, 40,200; and Germany, 35,600. About 80 percent of asylum applications are made in Europe, where Turkish Kurds are the third leading source of applicants.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, resigned in February 2005 after being accused of a "pattern of sexual harassment." Lubbers, a former Dutch prime minister who refused a $300,000 a year in salary and expenses, was initially cleared of the charges by top UN officials, but leaks of the UN investigators' report highlighted their conclusion that Lubbers should go. UNHCR has a staff of 6,000 and a $1 billion a year budget.

Development. The OECD reported that its major members provided $69 billion in Official Development Assistance in 2003, including $16 billion from the US, $9 billion from Japan and about $7 billion each from France, Germany and the UK. The Scandinavian countries led by Norway contributed the highest percentage of their GDP in ODA, over the UN target of 0.7 percent; the average OECD country contributed 0.4 percent. The US, which contributed 0.2 percent, noted that its openness to immigrants leads to significant flow of remittances to developing countries.

In February 2005, the world's 28 richest countries agreed to increase their contributions to the World Bank's International Development Association, which provides assistance to 81 nations, from $34 billion from $23 billion. The very poorest nations would get grants, and richer nations that could eventually repay them would get loans. The World Bank provides about 10 percent of all foreign aid.

The World Bank's Global Development Finance report includes net official flows, which are about half as much because they subtract from ODA technical assistance (usually tied aid) and repayments from aid of past debt. Aid includes grants plus the concessional element of official loans, as when interest rates are below market rates.

In the mid-1990s, the World Bank and IMF, at the prodding of industrial countries, offered heavily indebted poor countries debt relief in exchange for their spending more on education and health care to benefit poor residents. The so-called Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative has largely failed to get development going in the 27 targeted countries because many saw the prices of their exports fall, so that lower debt payments simply offset declining export earnings.

The current Doha round of trade negotiations is expected to liberalize trade in ways that benefit poor countries, but most of the world's poorest countries already can send their goods duty-free to rich countries. For example, if farm trade is liberalized, the winners are likely to be middle-income developing countries such as Brazil and Thailand, but the poorest developing countries that are net food importers may lose as rich countries stop dumping their excess production.

There are 2.7 billion people whose per capita income is less than $2 a day, and 1.2 billion who have less than $1 a day. On January 17, 2005, a team of 265 led by Columbia University economist Jeffrey D. Sachs recommended that rich countries increase their official development aid to 0.7 percent of GDP to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals set for 2015. The MDG include halving the number of people in extreme poverty (defined as having less than $1 a day per person), achieving universal primary education and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The lengthy report and supporting documents included a series of "quick wins," described as simple and cost-effective ways to save and improve millions of lives that governments can implement immediately, such as providing school lunches for children, mosquito nets in malaria areas and generators for hospitals and schools. About 18 percent of the world's 6.4 billion people have incomes of less than $1 a day.

The "Investing in Development" report, based on the work of 10 task forces, did not mention migration in its 10 key recommendations. However, its education task force called attention to the emigration of professionals, especially health care workers and urged rich countries not to engage in the aggressive recruiting of health care workers. Developing countries were urged to create programs to train community health workers who can provide services but will not find it easy to emigrate because they lack internationally recognized credentials. However, the report also urges liberalization of trade in services, including Mode 4 movement of service providers over borders, which could accelerate brain-drain migration.

The report was generally welcomed, although the research team itself noted that only 30 percent of a typical ODA dollar currently provides services to the poor. Some critics warned that asking developing countries to draw up new plans for reducing poverty, and then having rich countries provide the funds, would dramatically expand the role of government and could increase corruption. Others noted that, even if additional aid flowed to sustain new anti-poverty efforts, emigration has left too few teachers, doctors and engineers to implement "scaled-up" aid, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Critics said that providing more aid without developing incentives to use it efficiently could repeat the mistakes of the past. Others said that the report showed the limits of what outsiders could do to reduce entrenched poverty; they say that poor countries must make deep political and social changes to reduce poverty

The G-7 finance ministers met in London in February 2005, and agreed to write off 100 percent of the debts owed by the world's poorest countries, many of which are in Africa. However, the US disagreed with the UK on how to provide debt relief (the US wants the World Bank to forgive loans that are not likely to be repaid). The World Bank favors loans over grants, and notes that some African countries continue to take on new debt as old debt is forgiven.

Globalization or economic integration should have three beneficial effects on the poor: provide them with access to capital to raise their productivity and wages, open new markets for goods, which should raise export sector prices and wages, and perhaps open new channels to migrate abroad, raising wages.

A UN Report, "In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights For All," attempts to reconcile the security interests of wealthy countries, which want the world body to focus on combating terrorism and stemming weapons proliferation, and poor nations, which are more concerned with the consequences of poverty and disease, by expanding the 15-nation Security Council to 24 members.