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Human Mobility

Isik Oguzertem's picture

UNDP Human Development Report 2009On the last day of the World Bank Meetings, UNDP Turkey organized a session on the 2009 Human Development Report, titled “Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development.” The panel had some great speakers, including Kemal Dervis, former UNDP Administrator and current director of the Brookings Institution.

The session started with a very obvious question: in a world marred by global recession, financial markets in a state of shock and turmoil, and rampant uncertainty despite some positive signs of a bottom out, why did this year’s HDR choose to look at mobility and migrants? Interestingly enough, when you gain a better understanding of what migration means for both the “giving” and the “receiving” states, the answer is pretty clear.

Migration is a key determinant of development. After Ireland, Norway was one of the greatest givers of migrants to the United States, a country established entirely on migrants. Today, Norway proudly holds the number one spot on the prestigious Human Development Index. Meanwhile, despite strong economic growth and being the “17th largest economy in the world” (a statistic often touted to prove how developed Turkey is), Turkey ranked in the mid-70s on this year’s list. (While I cannot vouch for its accuracy, I overheard one person suggest that Turkey’s HDI was so low because of the low school enrolment rate of girls, in addition to low enrolment in general beyond primary school.)

While the legitimacy of comparing Norway and Turkey can be long argued, I chose to focus on what the panel had to say about migration in particular. The panel argued that in the long-run, migration is an opportunity. Over the course of four speakers, here are what I would say were the seven key realities defined by the panel:

1) Migration benefits giving countries financially through remittances, and benefits receiving countries through easy access to labor.

2) Remittances have a positive social aspect as well. They open up a country to the outside world, inviting new ideas and proven methods.

3) Freedom of movement, be it internal or external, is a human right.

4) There is a need to include freedom of the movement of capital. That is, let capital move where it is most needed without creating artificial obstacles.

5)  Turkey’s economic development is far stronger than its social (to use the jargon of the HDR, its human) development.

6) Migration can have a beneficial impact when it is matched by an expansion of freedoms. In addition, if expansion of freedoms for women is not sustained, migration cannot have a beneficial impact.

7) Development does not equal GDP. Development is directly related to providing an opportunity for all, and must look at the income distribution within a country.

This is all well and good, but I could not help but feel a distinct lack of a youth perspective. I felt it was time to prepare a question. Here’s what I asked:

Thank you for calling attention to the very important element of the gender dynamic with regards to migration. I would like to ask the panel for their views on the impact of migration on youth.

Young people are directly affected by migration; be it through changing family demographics, the longer-term effects of youth employment, the detrimental effects of child labor, a lack of youth involvement in civil initiatives, etc etc. In a previous answer, the multi-generational impact of many of these challenges was noted. I would like to know, what steps can be taken by government or civil society to mitigate the impact of these consequences on youth?

My question was answered by Mr Cevdet Yilmaz, State Minister of Turkey. He said:

Migration is not a homogeneous phenomenon. There are skilled vs. unskilled migrants. Educated vs. uneducated. Turkey has a very high rate of youth unemployment – double that of the national average. To ensure their inclusion, we must concentrate on their specific skills and finance their enterprises. For example, when an employer employs a young person, their social security premiums are subsidized. This is just one step, but many more are needed.

Further, we must discuss the needs of the education and labor markets. When we look at universities, we need vocational training to ensure that young people have the skills demanded by the market. Otherwise they will not be able to join the work force irrespective of whether they are migrants or not.”

I found the answer to be insightful and fair. But what I would really like is for Mr Yilmaz to meet with Ms. Dereli, to discuss a comprehensive youth policy, to work together towards a broader youth initiative that encompasses education, employment, and civic participation.

After this whirlwind of a conference, I think to myself, who better to link these two people, than a young person?