Last fall, I had the honor of speaking to participants at the 13th Melaka International Youth Dialogue, which focused on youth migration. I spoke about general trends of youth migration and the increasing number of young people who move within and across countries and regions, a situation that is influencing the human development of young people either positively or negatively.
If we needed any reminder of the fact that migration is part of young people’s human nature and an expression of our curiosity and aspiration a better life, Ena Peeva from Macedonia, who made her presentation with an excerpt from the 1992 Walt Disney movie Aladdin, did a great job with that. Perhaps most moving of all was a presentation by Pamela Pangilinan, who highlighted the worst forms of human right violations and abuse that young Filipino migrants, especially females and human trafficking victims, face in some destination countries. The lack of opportunities – high among them the lack of decent jobs in the Philippines – is the reason for moving.
Much needs to be done to make sure young people have a safe and dignified life – with the required human development opportunities that they need in their home countries – so that if they move it is voluntary. Though development in itself does not reduce the incidence of migration, the discussions at the conference made us to know that, if the world fails to address human development needs (quality education, decent jobs, peace, freedom, and security) of young people in countries of origin:
- We will continue to witness a growing number of irregular youth migrants, who are likely to be exposed to abuse and death;
- Those who move may do so under the bitter emotions characterized by the expression that their “country has nothing to offer them,” making it difficult to convince them later to contribute to development in the name of the diaspora.
So what do we do?
First, we need to recognize that migration and remittances cannot replace the need for governments to address youth needs through sound policies or strategies that are supported with the requisite technical and budget resources for effective implementation of youth-targeted interventions. As experience has shown, even when remittances are high they mostly end up in consumption expenditure of recipients and not long-term investment strategies of households.
Addressing the root causes of migration (e.g. lack of economic opportunities for youth, including employment) will directly contribute to long-term development and indirectly reduce migration out of necessity. Prioritizing the poorest and marginalized at national and local levels could also ensure that inequalities are progressively eliminated. This could eventually promote young people’s voluntary return and economic reintegration in their societies of origin.
In this International Fund for Agricultural Development video, “Mali: Reversing the Exodus,” young rural migrants are returning to their villages because of a new project that offers training and creates employment opportunities.
As I noted in my presentation at the conference, migration is most likely to be stimulated in the short and long term by demographic imbalances and inequalities. Therefore relevant stakeholders have the challenge and responsibility of:
- Empowering young people with reliable migration-related information – this is key to reducing their risks in the migration process;
- Strengthening meaningful youth participation in migration policy and program development; and
- Ensuring the social, economic, and cultural rights of young migrants, regardless of their migration status.