THERE’S a new drug being peddled to migrants: the Global Compact on Migration.
So says some academicians who called such new agreement a “wonderland.”
According to the Global Forum on Migration and Development website the Compact “is intended to constitute a strong signal of the international community for an enhanced global migration policy, to be adopted by the community of states” on December 10-11, 2018 in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Some pundits consider the GCM’s completion as the participation of origin, transition and destination countries —in just two years— in discussions surrounding such a sensitive and politically-charged topic such as migration.
The GCM, however, is not an international legal instrument —unlike a predecessor migration-related instrument called the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Icpram). The GCM comes some 28 years —on December 18, 1990 to be exact— after the United Nations enacted the Icpram, also referred to as the “Migrant Workers’ Convention.”
The signing of the GCM in Morocco is decades-long in the making. Discussions began in 2006 with a UN High-Level Dialogue on Migration approving the annual conduct of non-binding informal discussions.
The turning point was 2016, at the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in New York. States agreed to produce a GCM and devoted two years to negotiate, finalize and agree on the contents. Amid touchy issues, such as the massive exodus of Syrian refugees to Europe beginning 2015, the GCM document bore fruit last July 13.
University of the Philippines Professor Jorge Tigno notes a key feature of the GCM: it defers to the sovereignty of states. So even if this so-called principle of the GCM is lumped together with other principles —adherence to the rule of law, pro-human rights, gender and child sensitivity, among others— those are a “wonderland of principles,” Tigno said.
FOR many Filipinos, that wonderland is not the GCM but Semaphore Park in Australia.
A street here, Beachway Avenue, is Beth Pitogo-Earthey’s fairyland as she enjoys retirement with former unionist Barry Earthey. The Filipino-style hospitality is housed inside the Earthey’s home.
The brown wooden flooring is spick and span. The 45-square meter-wide sala is spacious, with furniture and walls carrying photos of the Eartheys’ children and grandchildren.
This is the sala where Filipinos, like seafarers docking in Port Adelaide or newcomers from Singapore, are treated like family.
Ten-year Adelaide resident Bernadette Camiling, once based in Singapore, organizes meet-ups with compatriots sometimes at the Earthey’s sala. The Filipinos who now arrive here in this side of South Australia state have found home here, living in streets and suburbs nearby the Eartheys.
Tagalog or Bisaya banter buzz around Semaphore Park, with these speakers enjoying their newfound wonderland together with older-resident Filipinos.
These Filipinos’ arrivals in the past years came at a time when Australia was more welcoming to foreigners. That was why Beth was up-and-about in her driving, going back-and-forth to fetch newly-arrived Filipinos and forging new friendships.
The numbers swelled as the Pacific’s most powerful country reached 25 million. This demographic trend made Australians and their parliament concerned.
AS in any host country, Australia revises its visa categories to manage the influx of foreigners and foreign workers. As in any developed country also that hosts migrants, Australia has its own demographic shortfalls. Industries have clamored for more labor, and even revisions to temporary work migration schemes so that firms enjoy the services of foreign workers.
Prior to March 17 this year, Australia had a visa subclass 457 program that allowed employers to sponsor the entry of temporary migrants. A day later, the 457 program was abolished and replaced with the new temporary skills shortage (TSS) program.
Under the latter, short-term workers hired will only stay in Australia up to two years, and medium-term workers up to four. Permanent residency pathways are not guaranteed in TSS. Occupations covered by this temporary workers program have been slashed.
Even permanent residency visa programs have toughened with new rules that were enforced last July, such as English language competency and longer years of residency to be eligible for permanent residency.
Not surprisingly, since the new TSS program’s implementation, running totals of the number of skilled and sponsored working visas dropped. If these visas fell to 183,000 in 2017 even under a visa 457 era, what more this year under the TSS? No wonder I have yet to meet temporary Filipino workers these past few months, the accountant Camiling said last May two months from the TSS scheme.
“New arrivals to Adelaide [South Australia’s capital] would usually come monthly or every other month,” Beth Earthey said. “[And] we would usually fetch them.”
THE wonderland for immigrants that is Australia has tightened its grip of immigration. That’s in response to politically-heated debates in Canberra on immigration, or even to an Australian billionaire who poured millions to campaign for reduced migrant intake to Australia.
But the new policy measures, however, are shunning the “new era” for immigration globally. That era is called global optimism to overseas migration or international human mobility. How do policymakers and people think of that demographic phenomenon, which has been a screechy policy matter for decades, currently is a wonderland in itself.
Multilateral organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund released reports this year saying that immigration has brought economic benefits to developed countries. And soon, member-states of the United Nations (UN) are about to ink signatures on a pact on safe, regular and orderly migration that countries can work positively on.
MIGRATION is “the most effective way” for countries to share prosperity, says the World Bank report “Moving for Prosperity: Global Migration and Labor Markets.”
And for host countries like Australia, migration’s economic gains for these migrants do not come at these countries’ expense.
“Almost every empirical study finds that increased labor mobility leads to large gains for the immigrants and positive overall gains for the destination country,” the World Bank wrote.
This observation the IMF, the World Bank’s sister lender group, affirmed in its World Economic Outlook 2018 report. And if these developed but ageing countries want to sustain their levels of economic growth, they may need more migrant workers to address labor shortfalls. So amid the political backlash that immigration ferrets out, “immigration can relieve the strain of ageing and contribute to productivity,” the IMF wrote.
A growing optimism to global human mobility may be the new normal for countries sending and receiving migrants. For multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, such optimism is sealed in the GCM.
MARUJA Milagros Asis of the Scalabrini Migration Center (SMC), however, considers the GCM a milestone.
“In terms of agreement on key principles: common understanding, shared responsibilities and unity of purpose regarding migration.”
That is “remarkable,” Asis said, referring to the terms of completing the GCM within the time schedule. “It’s an important feat.”
The GCM’s predecessor international “agreement,” the Icpram, however, only had sending countries ratifying it.
The Philippines ratified the Migrant Workers’ Convention in 1995 after an international backlash on the execution in March that year of domestic worker Flor Contemplacion in Singapore. With wanton disregard, rich countries shunned this Convention: the Icpram may have been “too strong on rights for some countries,” according to Asis.
According to former International Labour Organization (ILO) Migrant Branch Chief Manolo Abella “the 1990 UN Convention was a shot in the dark.”
“[The Icpram was] allowed to go through the UN process because of pressure from developing countries who wanted equal rights for irregular migrants, but with little hope of getting accepted by the major immigration countries.”
THE Migrant Workers Convention was only a footnote in page 1 of the July 13 GCM document.
Had this Convention been mentioned in the GCM’s preamble, that “would have sent a stronger message,” Asis told the OFW Journalism Consortium. But since there are only few country ratifications to the Icpram, Asis asks “what good does it do?”
This is where the GCM provides a glimmer of hope that can bring migrant-origin and receiving countries to the table and discuss issues on protecting migrants’ rights that are at the heart of the Migrant Workers Convention, according to Asis.
Nonetheless, some pundits believe the Philippines and its workers could still benefit from it depending on how the government will use the GCM despite its inherent limitations.
Former Labor Secretary and migration expert Marianito D. Roque said the government could use it as terms of reference in negotiating for new bilateral agreements with other host countries for OFWs.
“From a labor sending standpoint this would be beneficial because it affords more protection and the more focus on how the migrants are being protected given the limits of political boundaries on migration,” Roque said.
With the good practices already benchmarked in the GCM, host countries, especially those which will sign it, will already have an idea on what protection they should provide to foreign workers.
He noted the GCM may also present new policies on migration management, which could be adapted locally.
Even with Philippines’ wealth of experience and policies on migration, Roque added the country could still learn a thing or two in managing overseas workers from other countries, which will be consolidated in the GCM.
BLAS F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute head Susan Ople said the authorities could use the GCM to finally create a National Strategic Action plan on Migration.
“The [GCM] reflects the common sentiments and views of the world when it comes to migration,” Ople said. “We will be able see which of its provisions we are already practicing and which ones we still lack.”
She added that while the UN will be unable to compel countries to comply with the provisions of the GCM, it will give these countries the mandate to monitor them.
“Although it (GCM) is not legally binding, the UN still has all the diplomatic instruments necessary to encourage everyone to embrace the principals of that compact,” Ople said.
TIGNO considers the GCM like a Christmas tree.
“[It’s] the wonderland; the promise land. Why? Look at these issues,” he said during a roundtable on the GCM organized by Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc.
The issues Tigno raised included the GCM as being non-compulsory, its adherence to sovereignty as against human rights and the “whole-government approach as against the whole-society approach.”
“Actually what is said in the document are not new,” he said on the July draft. “[Most of what were said are] found in UN conventions.”
Tigno sees the GCM as “putting migration under the ambit of the UN with special objectives.”
“This is about anti-crime protocols. [It’s like being in] a room full of advocates with different advocacies in migration,” Tigno said. “The documents is like a shopping list.”
According to him, when viewed in a policy stand point, the GCM “is a problematic conflated framework.”
“It uses terms [that] have the same meanings [as the terms in the Migrant Workers’ Convention].”
Tigno also noted discrepancies citing as example the tone of the No. 4 objective in the draft GCM—refers to proof of legal identity—and addressed to sending states while objective No. 5 “is more of a request to receiving states.”
Overall, the GCM “has a naive approach to the realities of migration,” according to Tigno.
THE agreement of almost all UN member-states to the GCM to this compact on migration may be a means to “still nudge some countries” into making some improvements on migration management,” Abella said.
But some traditional receiving countries still won’t budge. Leading the way is the United States, now under the Donald Trump era. The other country which did not sign the GCM is Hungary, with its Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto remarking that the Compact is “extreme and biased.” Some other countries are sending feelers of withdrawing support, like Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Just weeks after the approval of the GCM in July, Australia and its officials are tinkering with the idea of withdrawing its support to the GCM. Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said last July Australia will not surrender its sovereignty even it signs the GCM.
There are reports Australia will withdraw its support to the GCM.
HOWEVER, a forthcoming Global Compact for Refugees already has Australia’s support.
As for how the country is handling immigrants under a new set of rules, Dutton now wants to further slash migrant intake in 2019 by some 30,000 more. Though, Canberra wants more skilled migrants to come to Australia —and it wants foreigners to go to “regional Australia” or towns, small cities and area that lie beyond the major Australian capital cities, like Sydney (New South Wales state), Melbourne (Victoria), Brisbane (Queensland), Canberra (Australian Capital Territory), Perth (Western Australia) and Adelaide (South Australia). Most of the foreigners are densely found in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, government-released Census data show.
Australians take pride of the country being multi-cultural. However, Australia does not have an explicit population policy, says the think tank Committee for Economic Development of Australia (Ceda). It is migration that is driving the increase of the Australian population, a November CEDA report adds, and that is mitigating the impact of an ageing society.
Ceda also affirmed what the World Bank and IMF noticed about migration: “Immigration has been a key contributor to the economic progress and success of Australia.” For a country still in short of workers, immigration in Australia “has the potential to reduce inter-generational inequality by easing pressures on the workforce,” CEDA adds. The group even took a swipe at Home Affairs’ means to reduce annual migrant intake: “A population policy for Australia is not about targets for or limits of size or growth.”
IN the same roundtable discussion, Tigno’s colleague Assistant Professor Jean S. Encinas-Franco wondered why the drafters of the GCM needed to separate the refugees from migrants.
Also, Franco expressed concern on how the GCM could “ensure rights-based and gender-responsive processes [as] this [initiative] is definitely State-led.”
“There is no explicit mention of Cedaw [Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women] when this is the most ratified convention,” she said.
Franco also noted that the limitation of the GCM is its “failure to address the universalities of the migration experience when in reality there are different live experiences.”
“In reality, it’s [migration] more complex,” she said. “In terms of migration and development we need to look at it. Migrants are not really the poorest of the poor.”
Franco also noted that the GCM should also address trade and migration.
“[The] links of trade and migration are very unequal,” she said citing as example the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement. Franco believes the agreement contained “little mention of nurses [but] more on trade deals.”
Dr. Jocelyn Celero, Assistant Professor at the Asian Center in UP Diliman, agreed with Franco’s view that the GCM “is state led and where state agenda is the priority.”
For Celero, the GCM glosses over many issues.
“There is a lot of vague concept,” she said in the same roundtable discussion. “What is the role of academia, especially in raising awareness [and] generating analysis of data?”
Celero added “There is a need to raise the voice of migrants more.” She thinks the voice of migrants in the GCM “is missing.” “Migration is a joint effort, not just top-down.”
TIGNO also expressed concern of the role of the States in crafting the GCM.
“It’s a Westphalian attempt; a kind of make-believe [and] far from realities of current world order,” he said adding that the GCM, or the draft he read, “makes the State look good.”
“In our experience it is not. Why? The issues of detention, oppressive laws towards migrants, [and others]. Migration should go with a heart.”
Ed Tadem of the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies also expressed he is bothered by the “state led processes.”
“[It’s] as if nothing can really move without the state when in reality we can even [move] without the state,” Tadem said. “We need to engage the grass roots. We need to integrate our efforts and think outside the state box.”
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