Transparent Process Key To Helping Migrants: Paul I. Norton

Paul I. Norton, Chief of Mission, International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Migration Agency, has worked in Nepal for quite a long time in the process of repatriation of Bhutanese Refugees. The IOM chief of Nepal mission spoke to New Spotlight on various issues on migration and refugees. Excerpts:

Nov. 26, 2017, 12:06 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL.11, No.9, November 24-2017 (Mangsir 8, 2074) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

How do you view Nepal’s migration policies and the situation of foreign employment sector in Nepal?

The Government of Nepal has some commendable policies and plans to ensure safe migration for foreign employment such as the free-visa-free-ticket policy (2015), Foreign Employment Act (2007), Foreign Employment Policy (2012), and the National Strategic Action Plan (2015-2022), but the challenges are in translating those policies into practice. A lot needs to be done to ensure promotion and protection of migrants’ rights. A longer term comprehensive policy and strategies on skills development and matching, orientation and empowerment programs for aspirant migrant workers would be beneficial for migrants and the country alike.  Another avenue would be to consider the methods and means to mainstream both economic and social benefits of migration into national development that will eventually be to the benefit of all.

 Is there any room for improvement?

 There is definitely room for improvement in Nepal’s foreign employment sector where migration is a consequential phenomenon with more than one in four households directly affected by migration. There would be benefits from a more systematic and transparent foreign employment process that helps to reduce the costs of migration, and other risks and difficulties that migrants might be exposed to due to unclear administrative procedures, inadequate information and counseling, or exploitative activities in their efforts to find gainful employment abroad. For instance, the lack of information in particular among aspirant migrants about such important considerations as the nature of international labour markets, the foreign employment process, costs, destination country information and health measures, the exact nature of the work, contract terms and conditions, benefits required of employers and protections required by law are not easy to find from unbiased and unequivocal sources.  This allows middlemen and fraudulent actors space to maneuver between genuine employers, authorities and the migrant workers to the detriment of individuals and good government.

 What has IOM been doing?

IOM has been emphasizing the need for strengthening the institutional capacity of Migrant Resource Centers (MRCs) in order to provide ready and reliable access to information and services for aspirant migrants and their families. We are currently working with the government and other interested partners with the aim to scale up existing MRCs into ‘one-stop-shops’ for aspirant migrants and their families where they can get essential information and services on foreign employment and resources at all three stages of the migration cycle – pre-departure, during employment, and after return.

 As Nepal’s economy is now dependent upon the labor migration, how do you see the future of Nepali migration?

You are right, Nepal’s economy is significantly reliant on work abroad as a livelihood solution and for the remittances which contribute annually around 30% to Nepal’s GDP. This situation is projected to continue for the foreseeable future, but it is not guaranteed and so there is a need to prepare for more choices of livelihoods and opportunity, both at home and abroad.  Labour mobility nevertheless has become one of globalization’s defining features, and there are an estimated 150 million migrant workers around the world today.  These workers play an important role in the growth and development of origin and destination countries alike, through transfer of financial, human capital and other resources.  Still, challenges remain to protect migrant workers and more broadly to regulate labour mobility to maximize the benefits to countries and migrants themselves.

 How do SDGs address the issues?

 The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) marked the first time that the mainstream international development agenda recognized many of the links between labour mobility and development.  Throughout its targets, the SDGs highlight ongoing, emerging and overarching issues of labour mobility that relate directly to better managing labour migration.  In addition, the SDGs multidisciplinary nature increases the potential for multi-stakeholder collaboration in labour mobility.  The SDG targets combine a mix of approaches in addressing labour mobility challenges, for example combining a rights-based approach (labour rights, SDG 8.8) with a growth focused perspective (remittances, SDG 10.C), which also has the potential to open more targets to more actors.  Nepal has taken full account of the SDGs in its policy and planning.

 How can Nepal prevent the migration?

Still, creating employment opportunities in Nepal will help to mitigate the need for those seeking gainful work to look abroad and would help to reduce the situations where migrants are falling into the traps of human traffickers or other exploitation opportunists.  So efforts should be made toward making migration safe, regular, and orderly; where skilled migrants make their own choice on whether or not s/he wants this particular job in a foreign land while fully aware of what other options are available for him/her in the international labour market. In this context, we envision Nepal working toward more comprehensive and SDG based migration policies, regulations and practices as part of broader national development strategies and frameworks for socio-economic development.  

 With the support of the UN Migration Agency - International Organization for Migration (IOM) and coordination of Ministry of Labor and Employment, three rounds of interactions on Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) have already been held. How do you see the response of civil society organization, donors, and migrant related organizations and private sector?

 Yes, we have supported the Government of Nepal to convene and facilitate a series of multi-stakeholder consultations on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) to identify country-specific priorities, challenges and opportunities associated with migration in a participatory and inclusive approach. This provided a unique opportunity of multi-stakeholder engagement in terms of sharing the diverse perspectives, experience and inputs of involved actors to inform and develop Nepal’s contribution and position paper on the GCM.

 This was an excellent example of the Government consulting and coordinating its approach to the  GCM with such interested parties as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), development partners including UN, governments, I/NGOs, academia/research institutions, private sectors including recruitment agencies and the banking sector, media and others to discuss and contribute to Nepal’s experience and priority actions on migration. The response and engagement of all parties was very encouraging and the discussions dynamic and productive.  Nepal can be proud of its contribution to the historic Global Compact on Migration (GCM).

 At a time when there is a growing concern about the safe, orderly and regular migration in Nepal, how can GCM help? 

 The GCM was announced at the United Nations in September 2016 as part of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, and the GCM aims to develop an international cooperation framework on migration and human mobility. The compact will be closely linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is expected to be finalized and adopted by the UN Member States at an intergovernmental conference in late 2018. The multi-stakeholder consultations have offered unique opportunity to all relevant stakeholders to participate in the discussions together to share their perspectives, country-specific priorities and issues to be addressed in the GCM.

 Who is involved in GCM?

Apart from national consultations, GCM preparatory consultations of various regional forums working for migration have also been organized all over the world. Among them was consultation of the Colombo Process (CP) Member States (MS) recently held in Kathmandu that was hosted by the Government of Nepal in its capacity of holding the Chairmanship of the Colombo Process, and undertaken with support of IOM and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

 The senior officials of the CPMS’s, that consists of 12 labour sending countries in Asia namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam, came together and developed a set of actionable recommendations that are based on the five thematic areas of the CP: Skills and qualification recognition processes of labour migrants; Fostering ethical recruitment; Effective pre-departure orientation and empowerment for migrant workers; Remittances; and, International labour market analysis. This was an important opportunity for the CPMS’s to raise their common issues and concerns for migrants and suggest better options to address the issue which will also benefit transit and destination countries to better manage labour migration and provide necessary services to the migrants.

 As IOM is supporting Bhutanese Refugees resettlement program, what is the state of the Bhutanese refugees program?

Yes, we have successfully supported the resettlement of over 110,000 Bhutanese refugees to various countries in close collaboration with UNHCR, Govt. of Nepal and the eight governments of the resettlement countries (Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom, United States of America).  Among our roles on resettlement the processes have been to facilitate selection missions, conduct medical examination of refugees selected for resettlement, conduct cultural orientation for destination countries, facilitate exit permits and arrange travel for the refugees up to their port of entry in the country of destination.

 In addition to this, we run Migration Health Assessment Center (MHAC) in Kathmandu that provides health assessment services to immigrants bound to the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. MHAC also conducts DNA sample collections for referred cases from Australian High commission, Canadian Immigration Section, UK Immigration office based in New Delhi. The Center also conducts Tuberculosis (TB) diagnostics and TB management for Australia bound immigrants as required by the Australian Immigration authorities.  

 For a country sending a large number of migrant workers to the Gulf, what do you suggest to improve the situation of Nepalese migrant workers?

Bilateral agreements with destination countries would be one of the key instruments to improve provision of protection measures to Nepali migrant workers, and promoting their rights at all stages of migration. Having appropriate policies in place, strict monitoring by appropriate Government authorities, and with cooperation and support from key stakeholders will aid in making the foreign employment sector systematic and transparent. In various interactions and meetings between IOM and the Gulf Country officials, as well as other major destination countries of Nepali migrant workers, I think there is a growing appreciation of the need to strengthen collaborative efforts that sustain labour migration to the benefit of all, while also ensuring the needed protections are maintained through well-regulated and managed migration systems.  Nepal continues to devote much attention and effort to these matters and I am encouraged by the progress that has been achieved and can be built on in the future.

 IOM thus continues to support the Govt. of Nepal where it can be of most assistance in cooperative coordination with the government and other partners. Our aim is to make sure that migrants and society alike reap the benefits that migration can bring if well managed. 

 How do you see the safety issue of Nepalese migrant workers at present? How has IOM been supporting Nepal to make Nepal’s migration, orderly, safe and regular?

The majority of migrant workers are doing well in the destination countries. However, out of any large group of people there will be those who face difficulties and problems. Despite the policies and bilateral agreements already in place, there are nevertheless opportunities for aspirant migrants to be exposed to irregular channels which increases their risks and vulnerabilities of exploitation and abuses in the transit and destination countries.  

 We also note that migrant health issues are an important area of public health concern that may have been underappreciated. To address this situation, IOM has been supporting the Govt. of Nepal to address the health needs of inbound and outbound migrants by supporting a wide range of interested parties to develop, endorse and implement a National Strategic Action Plan (NSAP) on Migration Health. Presently, we are providing technical assistance to Ministry of Health in developing a migration health policy which is in a final stage for endorsement.

 How is  IOM supporting Nepal  at the regional level?

At the regional level, we are also supporting the Govt. of Nepal to play an active role in regional consultative processes such as the Colombo Process and Abu Dhabi Dialogue to achieve a better deal and protections for migrant workers. The Colombo Process, which is a regional forum on the management of overseas employment and contractual labour for countries of origin in Asia, is currently chaired by Nepal. Similarly, the Abu Dhabi Dialogue is a ministerial level regional consultative process on migration between the Gulf Countries and the Colombo Process countries. We are also following up the SAARC’s initiative to address labour migration issues in the region. Our technical assistance to the GoN aims to enhance the capacity of Government through policy development, training, orientation and consultations to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration. We advocate for protection and promotion of migrant workers’ rights throughout the migration cycle. 

  How do you see the challenge of international migration?

One billion people are on the move today. This is more than at any other time in recorded history. In addition to the revolutions in travel, information and communications technology, a variety of less desirable elements contribute to the movement of people on such large scale. Poverty, conflicts, natural and man-made disasters, climate change, unemployment, as well as social and economic disparities are some of the key drivers of migration.

It is no longer possible to see human mobility just as background context for development, or even worse, as a by-product of lack of development.  Rather, with the SDGs, migration is an important contributor to sustainable development.  IOM is, in consequence, a significant actor in the implementation of migration-related SDG objectives. As the leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) works with its partners in the international community to address those migration issues.



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