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Swiss back global migration forum

Walter Fust, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

(swissinfo.ch)

Switzerland's top aid official says the country supports the creation of a global forum on migration and development.

Walter Fust, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), said migration was one of the greatest challenges facing the world and that without international cooperation no solution would be found.

"The ball is just starting to roll," Fust told swissinfo on Friday as the first-ever United Nations General Assembly meeting on international migration wrapped up in New York. "But I think it will set many things in motion."

The forum was proposed by UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan as an informal, non-binding way for countries to debate the issue and come up with solutions.

Fust called for increased cooperation and dialogue to promote the positive aspects of migration while minimising the dangers such as human trafficking and smuggling.

Poverty and war remained the major factors affecting the nearly 200 million international migrants recorded last year, he added.

Fust stressed that the meeting in New York was not about putting together international directives – "although the fact that the various aspects of migration are being discussed for the first time at an international level is a success" – the important thing is that dialogue must continue.

According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Europe is host to nearly 34 per cent of all migrants, North America 23 per cent and Asia 28 per cent. Approximately a third of migrants move between developing nations; the same proportion move from developing nations to developed nations.

Political goals

Fust said certain industrial nations were concerned that their room to manoeuvre regarding migration policies would be limited – he pointed out that Switzerland would also insist on its independence.

"That is why it's all the more important for there to be dialogue between nations – otherwise they will lose their negotiating power," he said.

He added that Switzerland was also aware that without immigration it would not be able to sustain its level of prosperity. "But still too few people among the general public are aware of that."

Fust explained that Switzerland acquires half its income from abroad, manages a third of the world's wealth and its economy is currently tenth in the international rankings – but politically Switzerland it is only in 30th place.

"We have to tackle these issues and work out which solutions Switzerland wants to adopt for the next ten or 20 years regarding the control of immigration. Clear political goals must be set."

Challenges

Among the proposals raised was the need for international cooperation to maximise the benefit of remittances – money sent home by migrants – with suggestions including ending double taxation on the funds or reducing fees for transferring them.

Remittances are estimated at more than $230 billion (SFr288 billion) a year.

Delegates also stressed the need to end the brain drain that plagues many developing countries as their most talented doctors and other professionals seek higher wages and better opportunities in wealthier foreign countries.

"Development work must ensure that the private sector is strengthened through the creation of jobs," said Fust, adding that this would stem unwanted emigration.

He also said there was an urgent need for action regarding the most wicked aspect of migration: human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

It is estimated that up to 1.2 million people are trafficked every year, mostly for the sex industry. Of these up to 80 per cent are female.

According to the UN Population Fund, human trafficking is now the third-most lucrative trade after drugs and arms smuggling, and nets an estimated $7-12 billion a year.

swissinfo, Rita Emch in New York

In brief

191 million people are currently attempting to subsist in a foreign country. The connections between migration and development were at the centre of a UN conference that took place in New York on September 14-15.

The purpose of the event was to promote the positive impacts of migration on development. A Swiss delegation was present at this conference, led by Walter Fust, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The conference covered aspects of migration such as brain drain, human trafficking, and remittances.

In 2005 alone, remittances from migrants to their home countries totalled some $232 billion.

Remittances from migrants in Switzerland amounted to $9.4 billion. This put Switzerland in fourth place behind the United States, Saudi Arabia and Germany.

end of infobox

Key facts

According to the Global Commission on International Migration, the number of migrants is increasing significantly.
In Europe alone there are 56 million migrants, only 5% of whom are refugees.
Twenty-five years ago, 82 million people worldwide were considered migrants; in 2000, the figure had risen to 175 million.
In the past five years, another 25 million have been added.
There are believed to be around 130,000 illegal immigrants in Switzerland.

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