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'No force in modern life is as omnipresent yet overlooked': New York Times article on global migration

On June 30, 2010

The New York Times ran this piece on on global migration on Monday which may be of interest to readers, 'Global Migration: A World Ever More on the Move'.

Migration is perhaps the most 'overlooked' phenomenon of modern times, argues Jason DeParle. Nevertheless, stories involving migrants, directly or indirectly, keep on cropping up in the international media, such as reports from earlier this year that a Thai farmworker in Israel was killed by a Hamas rocket. The article is mainly about migration in the US and its impact on political debates, but DeParle makes some interesting points that are applicable to the situation in the Middle East, such as this:

Theorists sometimes call the movement of people the third wave of globalization, after the movement of goods (trade) and the movement of money (finance) that began in the previous century. But trade and finance follow global norms and are governed by global institutions: the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. There is no parallel group with “migration” in its name. The most personal and perilous form of movement is the most unregulated. States make (and often ignore) their own rules, deciding who can come, how long they stay, and what rights they enjoy.

This is a serious point and certainly applies to migrant workers in the Middle East, where governments seem to make up the rules as they go along when it comes to guest workers. In this context, are existing multilaterals and international legal instruments enough to protect the rights of vulnerable economic migrants?

A few weeks ago we blogged about how Migrant Forum Asia had complained that existing labour conventions were not sufficient to protect female domestic workers. Do these forgotten millions deserve more attention? Undoubtedly yes.

Migration has been happening for centuries, but several factors make movement of people in this generation different from any other, according to the article:

First is migration’s global reach. The movements of the 19th century were mostly trans-Atlantic. Now, Nepalis staff Korean factories and Mongolians do scut work in Prague. Persian Gulf economies would collapse without armies of guest workers. Even within the United States, immigrants are spread across dozens of “new gateways” unaccustomed to them, from Orlando to Salt Lake City.

A second distinguishing trait is the money involved, which not only sustains the families left behind but props up national economies. Migrants sent home $317 billion last year — three times the world’s total foreign aid. In at least seven countries, remittances account for more than a quarter of the gross domestic product.

A third factor that increases migration’s impact is its feminization: Nearly half of the world’s migrants are now women, and many have left children behind. Their emergence as breadwinners is altering family dynamics across the developing world. Migration empowers some, but imperils others, with sex trafficking now a global concern.

Global migrants are more numerous than ever before. The stakes are high, and the risks numerous for the millions of workers on the move around the world. But more often than not - especially in the Middle East - migrant workers stay out of sight and out of mind