High time to emphasize positive side of migration, IOM chief Antonio Vitorino tells Arab News

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Updated 03 April 2023

High time to emphasize positive side of migration, IOM chief Antonio Vitorino tells Arab News

High time to emphasize positive side of migration, IOM chief Antonio Vitorino tells Arab News
  • Benefits of human flows often overlooked amid polarizing debate, according to director general of International Organization for Migration
  • Vitorino made the comments on the occasion of International Dialogue on Migration, a contribution of IOM to the upcoming 2023 SDG Summit

NEW YORK CITY: Migration is as old as humanity itself. Like birds, human beings are said to be a migratory species. Across all eras of human history, they have been inclined to wander away from home, driven by various motives, but always with some idea of a better life.

While migration has emerged as a prominent international and national policy issue, the public discourse on migrants has increasingly become polarized. The toxicity of the migration debate has intensified over the past few years, with the politics of fear and division setting the tone for discussions.

French rightists protest on February 25, 2023 in Saint-Brevin-les Pins, western France, against the establishment of a reception center for migrants. (AFP file)

Extremist politicians around the world deploy disruption and disinformation as tools to retain power, exploiting migrants for far-right xenophobic agendas.

Amid often negatively skewed discussions on migration and migrants, the many ways in which migrants contribute to societies is often overlooked. One can lose sight of the dynamism of migrants globally. They are overrepresented in innovation and patents, arts and sciences awards, start-ups and successful companies.

Antonio Vitorino aimed to bring these contributions to the forefront at the International Dialogue on Migration, or IDM, a biannual event that took place in New York on March 30-31, as part of the International Organization for Migration’s contribution to the 2023 SDG Summit in September.

The event brought together governments, youth representatives, civil society, local authorities and community representatives, UN agencies and experts to assess how the positive impacts of human mobility can be harnessed to attain the SDGs.

IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino says that while migration brings challenges, it is also a catalyst for economic growth. (AFP file)

“Migration is a fact of life. There have always been migrants everywhere,” Vitorino, a Portuguese lawyer and politician who took over as the director-general of IOM in October 2018, said during an interview with Arab News in New York City.

“We are very much used to seeing migration as a problem. There are challenges to migration, I don’t deny that. But I think the time has come for us to be more adamant in emphasizing the positive side of migration.”


Currently, there are about 281 million living in a country other than their countries of birth, or 3.6 percent of the global population — that is, only 1 in 30 people.

More than 100 million of those were forcibly displaced by conflict, persecution, poverty, climate disaster.

Most frequently, reasons underpinning migration are a complex combination of altered rainfall, armed conflict and a failure of government institutions and support.

Out of the 15 most vulnerable countries to climate change, 13 are witnessing an armed conflict.


The list of contributions of migrants is long indeed.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, who was on the front line?” Vitorino said. “Who was delivering the services and the food while many societies were locked out? Migrants were there on the front line.

“Look to the health system. Even in the developed world, many of the health care workers are migrants or of migrant origin.

“I do believe that migrants have a key role to play as entrepreneurs. When someone migrates, there is a strong will for winning, for confronting the new environment, and for making the best for the migrant (and) their family but also for the society in which they are working.

Migrant farm workers from Mexico pick spinach near a mobile clinic van near Wellington, Colorado, US. (AFP file)

“They are workers. They are consumers. They pay taxes. And this positive side of migration is not very often highlighted.”

Money sent home by migrants is a significant part of international capital flows. Remittances compete with international aid as one of the largest financial inflows to developing countries.

According to the World Bank, they are playing a large role in contributing to economic growth and to the livelihoods of many countries.

Asian workers at a construction site in Dubai. Many in the UAE’s labor force are migrants. (AFP file)

About $800 billion are transferred by migrants each year directly to families or communities in their countries of origin. This number does not capture unrecorded flows, so the magnitude of global remittances is likely to be much larger. They are often a lifeline for the poorest households, allowing them to meet their basic needs.

“There are countries where 10 percent, 20 percent, even 30 percent of their GDP depend on the remittances from the migrants and the diaspora,” said Vitorino.

“And now with the war in Ukraine and the (resultant) rise in food prices, remittances are used by the families in the countries of origin, mainly to buy food, (and pay for) education and housing.”

“So, it’s a contribution to the social stability and to the development of the countries of origin.

“But we are not just talking about money. We’re talking about something much, much more important, which is the link between the diaspora and the countries of origin: Family relations, friends. Migrants that come back to the country of origin, even for a limited period of a few months, transfer knowledge to their countries, expertise, and sometimes even technology.

“And that two-way flow is very positive also for the development of the countries of origin.”

Migrants from the Middle East and Asia receiving provisions at a migrant camp operated by the International Organization for Migrations near the Bosnian town of Bihac
in 2021. (AFP file)

IOM is attempting to make the case for integrating migrants into host societies. Vitorino acknowledges the complexity of the issue, which requires public policies, the engagement of civil society and local authorities. It involves the workplace, the school for the children, access to health and social security services.

“That is always challenging,” he said, “but that is where you win integration, and you take the best of migrants to the development of the host communities.”

Economic impacts vary across countries. And while migration brings challenges, there is broad consensus among economists that immigration is also a catalyst for economic growth and confers net benefits on destination countries as well.

In 2015, people on the move contributed more than 9 percent, or $6.7 trillion, to global GDP.

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, involving drastic restrictions on freedom of movement all around the world, has resulted in an unprecedented decrease in world trade and economic growth.

Migrants face-off with Moroccan riot police in the northern town of Fnideq, close to the border between Morocco and Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta on May 19, 2021. (AFP file)

That demonstrated that “if there is no human mobility, there will be a negative impact on economic growth. That’s why migration is very much aligned with different SDGs.”

The potential role of migrants in achieving the UN SDGs cannot be underestimated, IDM says.

Leaving no one behind being key to it, the 2030 SDGs agenda represented a major leap forward for migration where the latter figured not merely as a core development issue on its own, but also as a cross-cutting one that is intricately related to all other goals.

Vitorino said that the pandemic, for instance, demonstrated that excluding migrants from health coverage — SDG 3 being ensuring health and well-being for all — creates a problem for the entire community because the virus will tend to proliferate in those marginalized migrant communities.

A photo taken on February 26, 2022, shows people fleeing from Russia's invasion of Ukraine descending from a ferry boat to enter Romania. Over 8.1 million refugees fleeing Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, while an estimated 8 million others had been displaced within the country by late May 2022. (AFP file)

“Therefore, I think that the SDGs are a key guideline for us all. (On) the question of health coverage, it is very important that we guarantee that wherever they are, in countries of origin or countries of destination, migrants have access to health care. This is a fundamental right. It is inherent to the dignity of human beings irrespective of their legal status.”

Despite IOM’s efforts, “unfortunately, there is still a very uneven panorama about vaccination. The developed world has rates of vaccination around 70 percent and the low-income countries are still around 20 percent. This is an issue of concern to us. And this definitely something that does not help to fulfill the objectives of the 2030 agenda,” said Vitorino.

He visited Turkiye to oversee the organization’s operations following the Feb. 6 twin earthquakes; he said he had never seen anything like it.

“Nothing I’ve been in, theaters of war, even recently in Ukraine, (compares with) the degree of destruction and devastation that I witnessed in Turkiye.

“I see a city of 200,000 people totally smashed by the fury of the earthquake. The fury of nature should make us think very carefully about the frequency and the intensity of these natural hazards that are also related to climate change.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkiye and Syria had been rendered homeless and without livelihood by the massive earthquakes that hit southern Turkiye on February 6, 2023. (AFP file)

It is difficult to isolate climate factors from other social, economic, political and security ones underpinning migration.

Climate change intersects also with conflict and security. The Syrian civil war, where exceptional drought contributed to population movements toward urban areas that were not addressed by the political regime, illustrates this connection.

The World Bank estimates that 143 million people could be moving within their own countries by 2050 because of extreme weather events in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, in the absence of urgent global and national climate action.

Researchers highlight that an increase in temperatures could lead to growing asylum applications to the EU.

Undocumented Nicaraguan migrant workers carry their belongings as they are led from a sugar cane field by Honduran immigration officers. (AFP file)

Drought and desertification, heat waves and sea-level rise will cause depletion of ecosystems ranging from water shortages to loss of arable land, leading to conflicts over scare natural resources. The threats to human security might in turn drive people to migrate in search of alternative income and ways to meet their basic needs.

“Sometimes you have people displaced because of drought, and (others) because of floods, at the same time, in the same country,” said Vitorino.

“Look to Central America where the El Nino is changing the production of coffee and cocoa and people are deprived of their traditional agricultural means. They move to the cities. And if they don’t find solutions in the cities, they go on moving, usually toward the United States.

“My theory is to say we need to act to build the adaptation and resilience of those communities because they do not want to move. They are forced to move. And we need to support them to find the means of adapting to climate change.

“And also if they are forced to move, such as, for instance, in some Pacific islands that are going to unfortunately disappear because of sea-level rise, we need to make it safe, orderly and regular.”

IOM estimates that since 2014, about 55,000 migrants have died or disappeared. Of those, about 8,000 were en route to the US. They perished in accidents or while traveling in subhuman conditions.

The fire that killed dozens of people at an immigration processing center in Ciudad Juarez on the border with Texas on the night of March 27 was only the latest chapter in a continuing tragedy. A surveillance video has shown immigration agents walking away from the trapped detainees as the flames were engulfing them.

In 2022, 2,062 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Between 2014 and 2018, for instance, the bodies of about 12,000 people who drowned were never found.

Vitorino laments the recent increase seen in the number of irregular migrants moving around the world.

“We need to have a holistic approach to these movements and understand that you cannot just deal with one of the reasons without taking into consideration the other reasons,” he said, adding that “the need to preserve human lives and prevent deaths is a priority.”

IDM, he said, will provide conclusions that will feed into the report of the secretary general next year about the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration.

“We need evidence-based policies based on reliable and effective data. We need to guarantee the role of youth, particularly in the fight against climate change. We need to make sure that migrants are fully included in the health coverage, a critical issue to succeed in the SDGs.

“And we need to mobilize the diaspora to the development of the countries of origin.

“Those are the key messages that I hope from the IDM.”


Young Indonesians training to care for Japan’s elderly

Young Indonesians training to care for Japan’s elderly
Updated 32 min ago

Young Indonesians training to care for Japan’s elderly

Young Indonesians training to care for Japan’s elderly
  • East Asian nation has 340,000 vacancies for ‘specified skilled workers’
  • Third of Indonesia’s unemployed are aged 20-24

JAKARTA: Looking after the elderly, which is part of Indonesian tradition, was not something new for Rizka Putri Yulianti, but when she decided to become a caregiver, it came with unfamiliar territory that she had to learn to navigate: Japanese culture.

The 23-year-old has already spent months at a nursing school in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, learning how to read, write and speak Japanese, and understand and adhere to the country’s unique customs.

“I have been training to get accustomed with Japanese culture, which means getting used to greeting others regularly, maintaining cleanliness and also to be more disciplined,” Yulianti told Arab News.

She is among some 70 students at Onodera User Run, a vocational institution catering to Indonesians looking for employment in Japan, a country that has the highest proportion of people aged 65 and above.

With the elderly comprising nearly a third of its population, Japan is experiencing a labor crunch. A survey conducted last year by Tokyo-based research company Teikoku Databank showed that more than half of Japanese companies were suffering from a shortage of full-time employees.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has a much younger population, with millennials and Gen Z making up more than half of its 270 million people.

“Indonesia has plenty of young workforce who are known for being hardworking, polite and courteous,” Yulianti said.

“Young workers from Indonesia are capable of taking care of the elderly.”

They can be legally employed under a new visa scheme for “specified skilled workers,” which gives foreign nationals easier access to work in Japan in sectors like food service, agriculture and nursing care.

Over 340,000 job vacancies were opened under the scheme in 2019 but according to Hiroki Sasaki, labor attache at the Japanese embassy in Jakarta, only about 130,000 of them have so far been filled, mostly by Vietnamese and Indonesians.

“We’d like more and more young Indonesians to be interested in Japan and thinking about working in Japan,” Sasaki told Arab News. “Japanese society needs more Indonesian young power.”

For young Indonesians, the Japanese market is an opportunity to escape unemployment at home. While Indonesia’s overall unemployment rate is lower than 6 percent, about a third of those unemployed are aged 20-24.

Working in Japan, whose development is widely looked up to in Indonesia, comes with the chance of a better future.

“This might be my chance to have a career in Japan,” said Andini Fadiyah Putri, a 21-year-old who, like Yulianti, is studying at Onodera User Run in Jakarta.

She started her course in October and is now waiting for exams that will determine if she qualifies for employment in the East Asian country.

“After I finished with the Japanese curriculum, we were taught caregiving skills, both practical and theory, such as how to bathe seniors and how to feed them,” she said.

“It’s been really helpful … to see what my future might look like.”

Onodera User Run also has branches in Cambodia and Vietnam, offering training in language and sectors like caregiving and food processing under the Japanese government’s foreign employment program.

For the school’s principal, Kamila Mansjur, caregiving, in particular, is a good fit for Indonesian workers.

“Indonesians are known for their hospitality and manners, and then to take care of the elderly you need hard workers,” she said.

“We hope that our program can give a positive impact to both countries, wherein Japan can meet their need of foreign workers and in Indonesia we can reduce the unemployment rate.”

Passenger trains derail in India, killing at least 50, trapping many others

Passenger trains derail in India, killing at least 50, trapping many others
Updated 02 June 2023

Passenger trains derail in India, killing at least 50, trapping many others

Passenger trains derail in India, killing at least 50, trapping many others
  • About 400 people were taken to hospitals after the accident, which happened in eastern India
  • Nearly 500 police officers and rescue workers with 75 ambulances and buses responded to the accident

NEW DELHI: Two passenger trains derailed in India on Friday, killing at least 50 people and trapping hundreds of others inside more than a dozen damaged coaches, officials said.
About 400 people were taken to hospitals after the accident, which happened in eastern India, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Kolkata, officials said. The cause was under investigation.
Dattatraya Bhausaheb Shinde, the top administrator in the Balasore district, said at least 50 people were dead.
Nearly 500 police officers and rescue workers with 75 ambulances and buses responded to the accident, said Pradeep Jena, the top bureaucrat of the Odisha state.
Rescuers were attempting to free 200 people feared trapped in the wreckage, said D.B. Shinde, administrator of the state’s Balasore district.
Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson, said 10 to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track. It was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction.
Up to three coaches of the second train also derailed.
The Press Trust of India news agency said the derailed Coromandel Express was traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was distressed by the accident.
“In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” tweeted Modi, who said he had spoken to the railway minister and that “all possible assistance” was being offered.
Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.
In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in the worst train accident in India’s history.
Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.
More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track.

Novartis drug cuts recurrence risk by 25 percent in early-stage breast cancer

Novartis drug cuts recurrence risk by 25 percent in early-stage breast cancer
Updated 02 June 2023

Novartis drug cuts recurrence risk by 25 percent in early-stage breast cancer

Novartis drug cuts recurrence risk by 25 percent in early-stage breast cancer
  • The company on Friday said the relative risk reduction of cancer recurrence was 25.2%
  • The results were broadly consistent regardless of patients' menopausal status or cancer progression status

FRANKFURT: Novartis breast cancer drug Kisqali cut the risk of recurrence by more than 25 percent in a pivotal trial on women diagnosed at an early stage, positioning the Swiss drugmaker to win new patients and but facing strong competition from Eli Lilly.
The company on Friday said the relative risk reduction of cancer recurrence was 25.2 percent and that the results were broadly consistent regardless of patients’ menopausal status or cancer progression status. The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
The Swiss drugmaker’s shares rose, even as the efficacy read-out fell short of that of a drug by Lilly, but a more favorable side effect profile might swing the balance in favor of Kisqali.
The drug was used in the trial together with standard endocrine therapy to treat a type of cancer that grows in response to hormones and it was compared to endocrine therapy alone.
The Novartis treatment has been approved to treat hormone-driven breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, where Novartis has taken market share from Pfizer’s Ibrance.
But an earlier diagnosis, when tumors can still be surgically removed, is much more common, representing about 90 percent of patients.
Still, better drugs are needed after surgery because the cancer later returns in between a third and one half of cases.
Eli Lilly is ahead with the approval of rival drug Verzenio in the early setting. But that is in a subset of women who are at high risk of recurrence after surgery, typically diagnosed based on signs of cancer in the lymph nodes.
Here, Novartis will face tough competition because the US drugmaker has said Verzenio reduces the risk of recurrence by 35 percent in that group.
But Kisqali looks set to be a pioneer in a wider market because it was tested successfully in both high-risk and medium-risk patients, a population that is twice as large.
Analysts have said investors could be disappointed if the Kisqali read-out fell well short of Verzenio’s efficacy and Jefferies analysts said on Friday the efficacy read-out was “closer to our downside scenario.”
But Novartis stressed very low rates of symptomatic side effects in its trial, important to patients facing years-long treatment, with severe diarrhea affecting only 0.6 percent of participants on Kisqali.
That compares with 8 percent-20 percent of the women in trials with Eli Lilly’s Verzenio being affected by severe diarrhea.
“This may be very relevant commercially,” said Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat.
Novartis shares were up 1.5 percent at 1430 GMT, rebounding from initial losses after the news. Lilly shares gained 0.9 percent.
“We know diarrhea can be a very troublesome, burdensome adverse event for patients taking anti-cancer medicines,” said Jeff Legos, Head of Oncology & Hematology Development at Novartis.
The March trial update boosted market confidence in targets issued by CEO Vas Narasimhan for annual sales growth of 4 percent through 2027 and a core operating income margin of 40 percent from 2027, analysts have said.
Novartis will request approval for wider use in the US and Europe before the end of the year, it added.
Novartis gave a brief preview of the Kisqali data in March, boosting its shares and growth prospects.

Ukraine’s Zelensky: NATO membership ‘impossible’ until Russia war ends

Ukraine’s Zelensky: NATO membership ‘impossible’ until Russia war ends
Updated 02 June 2023

Ukraine’s Zelensky: NATO membership ‘impossible’ until Russia war ends

Ukraine’s Zelensky: NATO membership ‘impossible’ until Russia war ends
  • Western governments are wary of any move that might take the alliance closer to war with Russia

KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday he knew it would be “impossible” for Ukraine to join NATO while Russia was waging war on his country.
Zelensky has pressed for Ukrainian membership of the military alliance but allies are divided over how fast that should happen. Western governments are wary of any move that might take the alliance closer to war with Russia.
In a joint briefing in the Ukrainian capital with Estonian President Alar Karis, he said joining the alliance was still the best security guarantee for Kyiv.
“But we are adequate people and understand that we will not pull any NATO country into a war,” Zelensky said. “And that’s why we understand that we won’t be a member of NATO while this war is ongoing. Not because we don’t want to, because it’s impossible.”

Russian shelling kills two in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region — governor

Russian shelling kills two in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region — governor
Updated 02 June 2023

Russian shelling kills two in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region — governor

Russian shelling kills two in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region — governor
  • Yuriy Malashko said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian forces had hit a multi-storey residential building in the small village

KYIV: Two people were killed and four others were wounded on Friday in Russian shelling of the village of Komyshevaha in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, the regional governor said.
Yuriy Malashko said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian forces had hit a multi-story residential building in the small village close to the front line in southeastern Ukraine.