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Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN)

Migration Issues in the Asia Pacific

Official Welcoming Speech by Dr Nadia Auriat at the First Annual Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN)

Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok
11th - 13th March 1996

    Distinguished hosts, dear colleagues,

It is a pleasure and an honour for me to welcome you, on behalf of UNESCO, to this first Annual Conference of the Asia-Pacific Migration Research Network. We are very pleased that this project came into existence under the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme, which was launched by UNESCO following the decision of our 27th General Conference in 1993.

The MOST Programme was created as UNESCO's response to a need for an international structure which would facilitate and support comparative, interdisciplinary, and policy-relevant research projects. The Programme has three areas of enquiry; the work of the APMRN comes under the first Programme area which is the Management of Multicultural and Multi Ethnic Societies. The second theme of the MOST Programme is on urban management, and the third area focuses on local-global interactions.

There are currently 8 research projects approved within the MOST Programme, selected from a pool of over 100 proposals. Aside from the APMRN project, we have, for example, a project focusing on conditions for sustainable development for inhabitants of the circumpolar region; this project has country teams in Russia, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Canada. Under the globalisation theme, we have an excellent inter-regional project of which the Thai country team is located here in Chulalongkorn University at the Department of Economics. This project, called the History of Social Transformations is a critical analysis of past and current economic growth patterns and industrial development strategies in Thailand, Viet Nam, Argentina, Bolivia, Madagascar, and Turkey.

The MOST Programme has a Scientific Steering Committee, which is responsible for the evaluation of research proposals. This Committee is composed of 9 scholars from various social science disciplines, professions and regions of the world. It is this Committee that decided, in July 1995, to accept the APMRN project after a detailed examination of the proposal's scientific merit, its policy-relevance and its potential for contributing to human resource development and education. Acceptance of the project means that it benefits from the UNESCO label, and that it receives as much institutional and financial support as can be provided by the Organisation. Since acceptance of the project, the UNESCO MOST Programme has donated US$50,000 as seed money to support the development of this network.

The MOST Programme is ultimately governed by an Inter-governmental Council of 33 Member States drawn from among 184 Member States of UNESCO. This Council meets every two years to monitor the progress of the Programme and, in response to the Programmer's needs, it formulates recommendations for decision by UNESCO's General Conference. A member of this Council is here today, Prof. Kramol Tonghamachart, who is also Vice-President of the MOST IGC for the Asian region.

Finally, there is a small Secretariat at UNESCO headquarters in Paris that administrates the MOST Programme and participates in the development and implementation of MOST projects. One of the main purposes of the Secretariat is to assist each MOST research network in carrying out its project to a successful conclusion. Our operational tasks, therefore, range from seeking institutional and financial support for the project, to organising workshops in which members of a MOST project can communicate the policy implications of their research to those officials directly responsible for the planning and content of country level policies.

The Asia-Pacific Migration Research Project is our foremost project in the Asian region. It has enormous potential, we believe, for strengthening regional scientific co-operation and for eliciting government commitment to address the long-term social cultural, economic and political implications of the new migration patterns in this region.

In this regard, we feel that this project will be instrumental in helping Governments to manage the increased diversity of their urban or rural populations. It will assist national planners in formulating policies to protect the rights of migrants, be they unskilled or skilled workers, refugees, or qualified professionals. This project will heighten our understanding of the advantages of ethnic and cultural diversity and of those obstacles that still need to be overcome, in the pursuit of true equality and mutual understanding and respect.

The regional structure of this project, maintained through collaboration and co-ordination between national country teams, reflects the fact that migration involves multiple and intricate links between different societies, and is not an issue that can properly be understood from one purely national perspective.

The recent upsurge in migration within Asia is due to rapid economic, demographic, social political, cultural, and environmental changes. At the national level, governments are faced with problems of rural-urban migration, where an individual's departure from a rural agricultural form of production and its related set of social relationships, to an urban environment, entails fundamental social, psychological, economic and cultural changes. This national, internal form of migration is however often only the first step to a subsequent international move to a global city, such as Tokyo, New York or Sydney.

Along with the increase in the number of people migrating, there is a rise in government preoccupation with, overpopulation, desertification of rural areas, the spectre of ethnic and racial violence, brain-drain resulting from professionals moving from underdeveloped to highly developed countries thereby draining the resources of the poorer countries, and abuse of contract workers, particularly female migrant domestic workers. The task of designing appropriate responses to these issues is further complicated in a number of countries by the fact that in times of economic recession and rising unemployment, foreigners often become the scapegoat of darkening public opinion.

The potential of the APMRN project, beyond its capacity to address the above issue and contribute to resolving them, further lies in the project's strong training component which will enhance the collection and analysis of migration data in each country, thereby improving the information base for national decision-making. Through the organisation of training seminars for high-level policy-makers, it will enhance understanding of the social, cultural and economic circumstances related to migration flows and migrant groups. As one final example, the training component of this project will improve university teaching in the area of migration and ethnic studies, bringing together two fields of study that are traditionally taught under separate curricula.

We can be certain, therefore, that the work of the APMRN is particularly timely and well-directed and worthy of the financial and institutional support of governments concerned.

Before concluding, I will briefly comment on the international perspectives for this project in relation to the United Nations 1996-1997 programme of action. In the July 1995 report entitled International Migration and Development by the Secretary General of the United Nations, a number of governments state their view on policy priorities in this area. It is interesting to recall a few of the more prominent needs, as they were expressed by a number of countries which were favourable to the organisation of a United Nations International Conference on Migration and Development. They are as follows:

  • The need to identify ways to encourage receiving countries to commit themselves to protecting the economic and social rights of legal migrants;
  • develop ways of assuring the application and reinforcement of existing rights of migrants;
  • draft policies and strategies for encouraging the integration of labour migrants;
  • design measures aimed at improving economic co-operation between migrant sending and receiving countries and at increasing development aid to the former;
  • plan strategies tailored at preventing forced migration or attenuating its nefarious consequences;
  • and finally, governments stated that there was the need for efficient measures that reinforce and facilitate the procedures for the return of temporary migrants to their place of origin.

The Secretary General's * Report also underscores that many countries emphasised the necessity of examining further the root causes of migration, and to study the means that could permit international migration to favour development in the context of increasing regionalisation and globalisation.

It could be possible, therefore, for the APMRN to play a leading role in the Asian regional preparatory process, that would take place in the coming two years, should the United Nations General Assembly decide to approve the organisation of an International Conference on Migration and Development. And we may want to consider this.

Finally, I would like to thank the Institute of Asian Studies, in particular Dr Supang Chantavanich and her team at the Asian Research Centre for Migration, Chulalongkorn University and the Centre for Multicultural Studies, University of Wollongong for their excellent preparation of this Conference.

Once again on behalf of UNESCO, I welcome you all to this Conference and I look forward to our discussions.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Dr Nadia Auriat
Coordinator of Research: Multi-cultural and Multi-ethnic Societies
MOST Secretariat, Paris

* International Migration Flows and Development, Report by the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Economic and Social Council, UN, New York, Document reference E/1995/69, 14 June 1995

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