GCC needs clearer migration policy, say experts

Arab Thought Foundation panel says more research also needed to better understand impact of GCC's expats
(Photo for illustrative purposes only)
By Beatrice Thomas
Thu 05 Dec 2013 01:44 PM

A clear migration policy, better dialogue between governments and community groups and more “on-ground” research was needed to better understand the effect of 18 to 22 million labour migrants in the GCC, a panel discussing labour mobility said.

Panelists at the annual conference for the Arab Thought Foundation (FIKR12), a Beirut-based, non-profit group, also recommended the need to focus on sustainable and long-term growth, and the importance of a sound labour mobility policy.

Organised with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the workshop presented a detailed view of the labour migration patterns in the Arab world, the flow of remittances and how unilateral labour mobility policies tend to be ineffective in the long run.

Michael Newson, Regional Labour Migration/Migration & Development Specialist at the IOM Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Office, said there were more than 18 to 22 million labour migrants in the GCC region, with the region also accounting for nearly one-fifth of total global remittances.

A clear migration policy, he said, “is critical to maintaining labour supply and demand” as well as to drive the region’s development and youth employment.

Highlighting labour mobility between developing nations versus the developed world, Newson said labour migration had a huge impact on the region’s development, particularly in addressing the challenge of creating 80 million jobs by 2020.

He said migration – for work or for humanitarian reasons – was transnational in nature, affecting both originating and destination countries.

“Even minor differences in per capita GDP can trigger labour flows,” he said.

Haissam Minkara, Humanitarian Partnerships Programme Manager at Oxfam, Lebanon, said refugee camps in Lebanon had witnessed an influx of Syrians over the past three years. However, a lack of adequate employment and their migration on humanitarian grounds meant a significant majority were heavily in debt because of the high cost of food and rent.

The panelists asserted the need to do more on-ground research on the number of labour migrants and other related social factors to ensure accurate policy making.

Muftah Etwilb, Regional Representative for North Africa, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Libya, said that while the process of labour mobility in the Arab world presented challenges, there were also opportunities that policy makers must take advantage of to drive investment and development strategies.

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