“Migration is an Opportunity as well” Maurizio Busatti

At a time when Nepal is facing multi-dimensional challenges due to migration, including that of labour, the Chief of Mission of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Nepal, Maurizio Busatti, spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on these various dime

May 5, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.9,No 20,May 6,2016 (Baisakh 24,2073)

What is the role of IOM in Nepal in the context of a growing wave ofmigration?

In 2006, Nepal became a member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This created a landmarkin the relations between Nepal and IOM and was a big stride at the outset --the country was coming out of adecade long conflict. There was a large wave of migration. It was very important to do something to better manage the wave of migration. In 2007, Nepal gavepeople mobility a priority and IOM assisted it in handling the resettlement of Bhutanese refugees temporarily settled in eastern Nepal sincethe 1990s. IOM has also been assisting Nepal to address the growing challenges and opportunities thrown up by the increasing trends of labour migration both internally and internationally. Our support aimed at strengtheningthe policy and institutional capacity of Nepal to better manage migratory flow and mobilize resources generated through migration in post migration lives, and also supporting civil society organizations to raise awareness on safer, and better informed migration.

How do you sum upthe state of migration in Nepal?

If I have to sum upthe state of migration, I will say it this way: Nepalese migrants are involved in every step of the migration cycle, but the country is yet to address their own migratory problems in full. What I mean is that Nepal is still in need of a long term and broader strategic approach to migration. Migrants leave and spend a number of years and come back home to fulfill their aspirations. There are problems in each and every step of the migratory cycle. Migration in Nepal is still in an early stage, managing migration will be a major issue for the following generation. But migration alone cannot be a panacea to many problems of the country. A way of programming migration flows is required that facilitating safe migration forskilled peoplewhile other issues like employment creation are addressed and sorted out domestically. This cannot happen withouta sound and strategic approach to dealing with migration.

Recently, a multi-stakeholder policy discussion on migration for development was held with a view to harness its potential for local development. Various stakeholders came together to discuss the issue.What is your impression of the meeting?

Migration is a complex, multi-facetedand multi-dimensional issue.It cannot be really addressed by one or two actors.The complexity of the issues requirescollaboration amongourselves and amongthe state institutions, civil society, international partners and, most importantly, the migrants themselves. This multi-stakeholders gathering was a very important opportunity to bring togetherrelevant stakeholder with diverse perspectives. Migrants askedfor a voice and a weight.Until recently, they were considered mererecipients of assistance from people like us. Nowthey are gaining access to easy and possible opportunities for earning. We need to be more innovative and inclusiveregarding our approach to labor migration. Today Nepal is falling behind in terms of basic skillsfor what I would say a critical migratory mass, the young men and women leave behind a poorer Nepal. That is why it is time to form a great alliances together to take into account both dimensions,horizontalwith different actors and governments working together, and vertical,actors within areas of originwhere migration starts coming together.We all need to be working together towards   migrants-centered and friendly approach.

There is a growing debate over the negative aspects of migration, including massive flowof youth deserting the country. How can migration help Nepal’s development in that context?

Migration starts like a long march with internal mobility very often as first step. We need to see the internal mobility as interwoven to international migration.Unfortunately there was a devastating naturalevent in Nepal last April, the earthquake, which pushed more and more people out of their places origin and livelihood options.Tragedies like this are not an opportunity, actually force additional flightfrom poverty instead; migration cannot be seenmerely as anescape from poverty. It has to be seen as a long-term investment for migrants sotheycome can back ornever leave their community alone. Escaping this reality is, I would say,a very big liability for the country. The dream of migrants is to come can back with something tangible to make the life of their family better. However, oftentimes it turns to be, a one-way ticketand this is not desirable. Many migrants will not come back and they are often lost in the countries of their destination.  So we need to make sure that there is a way to strengthen the relations between the country of origin and migrants themselves so they can come backand beand active agents tocontribute tothe developmentthat Nepal is now focusing on. 

Since the IOM arrived in Nepal, policy changeshave taken placein relation to migration in the country. Do you seeany change in attitude and sensitization of Nepalese officials about the issue?

The present change in the official attitude is just not the making of IOM alone. We are just one part of it. There are a number of international partners under the banner of Kathmandu Migration Group (KMG). I seethis as the result of a joint advocacy effort. IOM is actually on the back seat as a facilitator of this effort. But the real game changers are those generating awareness and awakening about migration to the fact that migration is not a lost opportunity. Unmanaged and unregulated migrationistooheavy a piece for the country to afford.Specially one year after the earthquake, we are now having a better appreciation on the side of various administrations with whom we are working.  They need to pull themselves together and work together. There isa growing number of institutions including academia whichare showing interest on the study of various dimensions of migration. We cannot formulate operational policies without valid evidence base. You need to bring different constituencies to collaborate with more openness, better appreciation and better exposure. Sometimes even in the context of regional and bilateral negotiations, there is the need to achieve a higherlevel of mutual understanding. One cannot have a valid viewof the sectoral picture without seeing the bigger picture. What we are now trying is to bring both pictures together. In three and a half years of my tenure, I have seen that we arenot only witnessing outgoing mobility but also the potential return for the country.

What arethe future plans?

We are making important strides for incorporation of migration in the 14thdevelopment plan with NPC. This will be a turning point. Of course, there are also other global processes like the agenda of 2030 to achieve Sustainable Development Goals that talks a lot about migration. SDGs lookat this from the opportunity of migration to addressing vulnerability of migration and also look at the cultural, societal and economic changes that the migration brings. However the ultimate idea is accelerating growth and making the countrya better place so that nobody needs to migrate to other countries.

As Nepal is regarded as the most vulnerable country in terms of climate change, howwill this affect the migration pattern in the future?

Traditionally, migration is also regarded as ameans to enhance the resilience of the communities. Nepal lies in the Himalayanregion with drastic implications caused bythe rise of temperature. So the melting of the snow and glaciers and outburst of glaciers are threatening the livelihood of people living inthe mountains. Migration is also a coping strategy of humans during times ofenvironmental stress. If we look at the issue of mobility, glaciers melting, landslides in hills and floods in Teraiare likely to change the pattern of mobility. We may see uncontrolled large movement of the people whichmay affect socio-economic aspects of the human life. There is aneed to provide opportunities -- remittances are only one of them.The agriculture and hospitality sectors remain key productive sectors for Nepal.  Nepal needs to explore all possible sectors as these will be likely to create opportunities and discourage peoplefrom moving out.

Some4.5 million Nepalese are working abroad and a large number of them are returning home.What do you suggest for making use of migration for development?

Migration is natural phenomenon. Even my own country Italy, grew in 1960s and 1970s; this growth has attracted many migrants who had left the country in the 1940sand returned to the country when they found better opportunities. I do believe that many Nepalese migrants will return if and when better opportunities are created at home. People unite with their own communities and families onceopportunities are available. Secondary mobility from rural areas to provinces/local towns  will also come down,ifinfrastructure,such as schools,health andfinancial services, are createdand made available in the areas of origin. Migrants buy health, education,insurance schemes and other services. Migrants are an asset, if they are mobilized properly once they returned.There is aneed to start“smart” migration schemes whereby people can be sent out for a fixed time of period but with a well thought out return project in mind.

What is the state of repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees?

Over 102,000 Bhutanese refugees have already been resettled to various countries. The good news is that bulks of them are now resettled. IOM has played a significant role in giving particularly youngsters the possibility to begin a new life. I would like to express thanks to the generosityshown by many countries, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and some other European countries. We will continue the resettlement program this year and next year. We are planningfor the resettlement of approximately another 10,000 who have expressed their desire to leave. The good news is that the program has been one of the successful resettlement programs ever carried out.

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