UN: Labor migration restrictions will not reduce impact of global financial crisis


MANILA, Philippines — Any move by countries to cut their migrant worker numbers in response to the global financial crisis will not work, a senior U.N. official said Tuesday.

There is no evidence yet that the global financial crisis has threatened the jobs of the millions of migrant workers, but that is a very real prospect, said Peter Sutherland, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative on migration.

“It is inevitable that if GDP growth globally declines as it clearly is doing … then this will have an effect on migrants, either in terms of wanting to go home or in terms of being unemployed in the places to which they’ve come,” he told reporters in Manila.

But any labor restrictions that developed countries might impose in a bid to reduce the impact of the economic slowdown won’t work because migrants always find a way to go abroad, he said.

“We’ve seen how ineffective simple prohibition policies in regard to migration actually are,” Sutherland said. “They don’t really work.”

Sharan Burrow, president of the International Trade Union Confederation, said Monday that any new restrictions may lead to a rise in illegal migrants. She estimated there were up to 40 million illegal migrant workers across the world, a quarter of them in the United States.

The International Labor Organization said earlier that the global financial crisis may result in 20 million people losing their jobs between now and the end of next year, raising the total number of people unemployed globally to 210 million.

Sutherland and Burrow were attending the Global Forum on Migration and Development, a U.N.-funded conference scheduled to be addressed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Manila on Wednesday.

The forum aims to come up with coherent policies for the protection of migrant workers, Sutherland said.type:italic;

The UN and European Union also announced Tuesday a 15 million euros ($18.7 million) joint initiative to aid migration and protect migrant workers.

The program, to be funded by the EU and implemented by UN agencies, will provide grants for projects in 16 labor-providing countries, including the Philippines, said Gerhard Sabathil, a European Commission director.

With more than 8 million Filipinos working overseas, the Philippines is among the world’s top exporters of labor – together with Mexico, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said last week that most of the Filipinos working overseas had not been affected yet by the financial crisis, but a contingency plan has been put together to cope with possible layoffs.