Esteban Conejos: 'We will shine the spotlight on the human face of migration'


Posted at Oct 14 2008 01:37 PM | Updated as of Oct 15 2008 02:57 AM

On October 27 to 30, the Philippines will host the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), the second time global leaders will meet to discuss migration. The first meeting was held in Brussels, Belgium in 2007. Forum chairman Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Esteban Conejos shared with’s Carmela Fonbuena and Maria Aleta Nieva what to expect from the historic forum.

What will be discussed in the GFMD?

We are going to shine the spotlight on the human face of migration. In the first meeting in Brussels, they were so concerned with the economic side. What the economic benefits of remittances are, the transfer of skills, the diaspora contributions to the communities. But in Manila, we will not focus on the money. We’ll focus on the person itself. (The theme of the forum is “Protecting and Empowering Migrants for Development.”)

The focus of the debate now is migration and its interlinkages to development, how migration can be made to work for development. By development, we mean how it benefits the migrants themselves and members of their families. It benefits also the economies of the sending countries, and the economies of the receiving countries.

Our position is, the more you protect the migrant, the more they will be able to contribute to development. Always bring in the development equation to the debate.

The mere fact that you are able to get them and to talk in a cooperative manner is already a major achievement for us.

What led to these global forums on migration?

Countries have started looking at migration in its ability to be able to create triple wins—win-win situation for migrants, countries of origin, and countries of destination.

But the direct antecedent of the global forums was the UN General Assembly high-level dialogue on migration and development in September 2006. For the first time, the General Assembly discussed migration and its linkages to development.

In that conference, finally the nations comprising the UN recognized that there is in fact a link between migration and development. Then Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended that the countries comprising the UN continue the dialogue outside the UN system. He encouraged the countries to continue the dialogues among themselves. That is where the forum was started. Right then and there, Belgium agreed to host the first meeting of the global forum on migration and development in Brussels.

How was the Philippines chosen as venue?

As early as 2006, representatives of various countries and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan were already courting the Philippines to host this second meeting of the forum. They wanted the chair to alternate between a developing country of origin and host country so that the perspective is balanced.

They’ve wanted us from the very beginning. We have been in this business for a long time. We are really recognized to have the most comprehensive system in terms of protection of the rights of migrant workers.

When Belgium started the process, they came out with a global survey to identify which among the 18 issues on migration and development were the first five priorities of countries. The first two were those that we discussed in Brussels. It was more on the economic side. And guess what the third and the fourth priority were—rights of migrants and the security of migrants.

This is perfect for the Philippines because if you look at our laws, our policy on migration is contained in Republic Act 8042. It is really focused on providing protection to migrants. The forum in October will revolve around the theme: “Protecting and Empowering Migrants for Development.”

What is the best argument to convince destination countries to protect the migrants?

It will benefit them. Why are the Filipino migrants abroad? Because there is demand for their services. It’s a supply and demand thing. Now what we are saying is, our migrant workers will be in better capacity to improve and to provide more benefits to the host governments if they are protected. If you empower them socially and economically, their productivity will rise.There will be less accidents on the job site because they are protected, for example.

The best way to convince them is to make them aware that unless we protect these migrants, they will not be able to contribute. It’s a practical approach.

How can the forum help OFWs at this time of global financial crisis?

It’s almost providential that the Philippines became chair of the forum at a time of this global financial crisis. It is a good opportunity. This would be the first forum, right after the happening of the global financial crisis, wherein world leaders would be able to address the problem. It is perfect timing because our theme is protection. It falls directly under the theme. I want the forum to be relevant to what’s happening now.

What to expect after the forum?

The results will be practical. Instead of drafting resolutions—at the end nothing happens—we will approach the issue of rights from what we call from the bottom up approach. We will do these on stressing best practices. We will ask countries to put on the table what are the best practices in terms of protecting the rights of migrants, identify gaps in the practices, and propose solutions to bridge the gaps.

A possible outcome of this is a study compiling actual projects jointly undertaken by governments. Protecting migrants is a shared responsibility.

Migration can never be managed unilaterally. No matter how good our system is if we cannot get the cooperation of the receiving country, nothing will happen. That is why this forum is important to facilitate closer cooperation and collaboration among countries.

The second global forum on migration is about continuity and change. We will continue in Manila the cooperation that we started in Brussels. As for change, we will continue to change the way the world looks at migration.