Overcoming barriers: human mobility and development:
'Migration should be streamlined with development policy'
"Migration is a process to be managed, not a problem to be solved.
Better policies have enormous potential to enable people to expand their
choices and realize the potential gains of movement," states the 2009
Human Development Report. Undoubtedly migration can bring large gains
for human development.
Speaking at the Sri Lanka launch of the 2009 UNDP human Development
Report - 'Making migration work better for Sri Lanka' UNDP Resident
Representative Neil Buhne stressed the need to streamline migration
withthe development strategy of any country. This year's theme which was
based on the concept "Overcoming barriers: human mobility and
development" shows that 'migration can serve as a key tool to further
development, enabling people who would have been under employed at home
to work productively abroad and remit some of their earnings to family
members at home." However it was noted that though migration can make an
important contribution to 'domestic' development, it is not an
alternative to accelerated efforts by developing countries to improve
The report also recognizes migration 'as rarely a
matter of pure choice.' It also entails risks and costs as it is a
complex process which involves trade-offs for migrants and for source
and destination communities." The economic recession has increased the
difficulties faced by migrants and locals as unemployment has soared in
many parts of the world. The other key elements are.
Destination countries' fears are exaggerated. The proposed policies
are feasible, but require political courage. Overcoming barriers put
human development firmly on the agenda of policy makers.
The launch which was held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute last
week also had the participation of Sunil Sirisena , Secretary, Ministry
of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, Dr. Saman Kalegama,
Executive Director, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, Dr.
Fredrick Abeyratne, Senior Programme Analyst, UNDP, Mr. K.O.D.D.
Fernando, Deputy General Manager, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign
Employment, Shantha Kulasekera, Head , Migration Management, IOM, Gerald
Lodwick, Deputy Secretary General , National Workers Congress, Shyama
Salgado, National Programme Officer, Youth Employment and Gender Focal
Point, ILO and Prof. Indralal De Silva , Dean, Faculty of Arts ,
University of Colombo.
Delivering the keynote address Sunil Sirisena said that migrant
labour is considered a vibrant part of Sri Lanka's labour force both in
terms of its participation and its contribution to the national economy.
Sirisena who saw the formation of the National Labour Migration Policy
as one of the landmark achievements of the Ministry of Foreign
Employment Promotion and Welfare described in detail how its enactment
promoted the opportunities of all men and women to decent and productive
foreign employment. Decentralization of activities carried out by the
Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment to provincial levels is one of
the major changes achieved by them. "A training centre will be
established in Jaffna soon and steps have been taken to set up regional
offices in Jaffna and Vavuniya as well." Three regional offices have
been set up already in Eastern province in order to assist the people in
Northern and Eastern provinces," Sirisena noted further. He also
observed that it is necessary to maintain a database and the ministry
has taken steps to start it from returning migrants workers and their
families. Unlike other years HDR 2009 has established a direct link
between Migration and Millennium Development Goals. Dr. Fredrick
Abeyratna said that the link observed between the two is a fine
indication of poverty reduction, "an increase in consumption through
remittances; better healthcare , education, women empowerment." However
the outflow of skills affecting service delivery , and problems faced by
migrants were highlighted as negative impacts. As Deputy General
Manager, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, K. O. D. D. Fernando
observed, though the National Policy on Labour Migration is considered
as a major policy document "in the long term, the state acknowledges
that it cannot be considered to be sustainable."
This was because the State was committed to creating decent jobs at
home through economic development and also in terms of minimising
brain-drain of the country's top professionals,", Dr. Saman Kelegama who
hailed the importance of migrant labour in the overall economy further
noted that Sri Lanka should now take steps to make use of some of the
recommendations of HDR 2009 to benefit the country. About 250,000 Sri
Lankans migrate each year and the present migrant work force amounts to
around 1.8 million which is 20 percent of Sri Lanka's labour force.
Private remittances amount to 7-8 percent of GDP and is 36 percent of
Sri Lanka's export earnings. Dr.Kelegama also highlighted the social
disruption and difficulties faced by migrant workers.
As noted by Gerard Lodwick the feature of Sri Lanka's labour force is
the heavy reliance on low skilled labour where wages are low and
vulnerabilities are high, over concentrated to the Middle East. 45% of
Sri Lanka's migrant workers are women and as Shyama Salgado noted
'female migrants are the most vulnerable." She stressed that migrant
workers are not commodities.
"Worker rights are important when formulating policies..Sri Lanka has
ratified core ILO labour conventions."
As she noted most destination countries have not ratified ILO
Conventions which are 'internationally binding'.
"Even if they have ratified them, monitoring is difficult." Despite
the burning issues that remain and need the attention of the state, the
absence of data is proving to be an obstacle to the formulation and
implementation of policies and other corrective measures.
Fernando said the Bureau of Foreign Employment and the Department of
Emigration and Immigration maintained separate data bases which need to
be linked. Shantha Kulasekera said that it is necessary to analyse
migration statistics in order to formulate policies. "But it is
difficult to get accurate data always and it is an obstacle to the
formulation and implementation of policies and other corrective
1. Human Development Index 2009, HDI of 2009 (which refers to 2007)
for Sri Lanka is 0.759.,
2. Rank: 102 out of 182 countries
3. Between 1980 and 2007 Sri Lanka's HDI rose by 0.58% annually from
0.649 to 0.759 today. I
In terms of life expectancy at birth and adult literacy rate Sri
Lanka ranks 59 and 66 respectively.
Speaking at the Sri Lanka launch of the 2009 Human Development Report
Prof. Indralal De Silva, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo
said that a large portion of migrants are internal migrants.
"Migration is a human response for inequalities in development,
distribution of capital, income etc."
In the South Asian context usually many women migrate internally
following their marriage. But despite this normal trend, internal
migration has increased over the years.
The volume is as four times higher than international migration. As
Prof. De Silva noted when Sri Lanka is concerned international migration
would reach a low level over the years though internal migration would
continue to rise.
Internal migration is very much development related In 2001 about 20%
of the total population of Sri Lanka was identified as internal
migrants. But it was only 13% in 1981. When gender aspect is taken into
consideration, in 1981,14.3% of male population was identified as
internal migrants. Only 12% of the female population was identified as
But it is the other way round in 2001. Nineteen per cent of female
population are internal migrants whereas only 18% of males have been
identified as internal migrants.
Destinations for development related migration
"Colombo and Gampaha Districts are the popular destinations of
internal migrants. In 1981 Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts too
have attracted a large number of migrants from many parts of the country
as a result of the accelerated Mahaweli Project.
By 2001, the bulk of migrants to Colombo were largely from the
Southern part of Sri Lanka and from the hill country. Also there was a
major stream coming from Jaffna. While the Colombo district receives the
highest amount of internal migrants, Gampaha stands at the second place.
But when net migrant rates are concerned Gampaha stands at top while
Colombo is the second largest.
Human Development Report 2009
Some Fast Facts
Numbers and Flows
* Nearly one billion of the world's estimated 6.7 billion people are
on the move. That means one in seven people is a migrant.
* 740 million of these are internal migrants, while 214 million are
international migrants. Thus almost four times as many people move
internally as do internationally.
* Fewer than 70 million international migrants move from a developing
to a developed country. Most of the world's international migrants move
from one developing country to another or between developed countries.
60 percent of the world's migrants move between developing countries
and within these same countries.
37 percent move from a developing country to a developed country.
3 percent move from a developed country to a developing country.
* Nearly half of the world's migrants move within their region of
origin and about 40 percent move to a neighbouring country.
* Nearly six out of 10 migrants move to a country where the major
religion is the same as their country of birth, and four out of 10 move
to a country with the same dominant language.
* Approximately half (48 percent) of all international migrants are
women. This share has been quite stable during the past five decades: it
stood at 47 percent in 1960.
* Since 1960, overall migration levels remained stable. However, more
migrants in 2010 will be concentrated in developed countries. In 1960,
the share of world migrants in North America, Europe and the Gulf States
was, respectively, 18.4 percent, 19.6 percent and 0.3 percent, in 2010
this share will be 26.6 percent, 26.4 percent and eight percent,
* Conflict and insecurity drive about one tenth of international
movement and around one twentieth of movement within countries.
* Nearly half of all international migrants move within their region
of origin and about 40 percent move to a neighbouring country.
* Migration within Asia accounts for nearly 20 percent of all
migration in the world, exceeding the sum total of movements that Europe
receives from all regions.
* Despite the high levels of attention given to emigration from
Africa to Europe, less than one percent of Africans live in Europe.
- Courtesy UNDP