Opaque Migration Report Leaves Big Gaps in Information

The Rohingya, one of Asia’s most benighted populations, who are being driven out of Myanmar and Bangladesh, often to an uncertain fate and scattered among Southeast Asian nations where they are often sold, kidnapped, raped or murdered, get no mention in a new 230-page report for 2015 by the International Organization for Migration.

To say the report is unsatisfying is an understatement. Reports from international organizations invariably contain a mass of information and data on their topic, but lack the focus necessary to make an impact commensurate with their cost.

Perhaps the subject of migration is simply too vast to admit coherence, covering as it does internal as well as cross-border migration, permanent migration and short term labor migration, and the opportunities and problems of the countries and cities which receive migrants, willingly or not.

It does take time out to detail a few “good news” about efforts to integrate migrants in Seoul and Glasgow, and the occasional “bad news” such as the travails of urban migrant kampung dwellers on the fringes of Jakarta.

Yet in the Asian context the report has almost nothing to say on the subject of the rights of people who move to another country for work, or the discrimination faced by them in job security, legal position or for other reasons, whether or not they arrived legally.

Typical Evasion

This is indeed curious but a rather typical evasion by an internationally funded organization that cannot afford get to the heart of the matter. Thus we learn from the data that the following cities have particularly high rates of foreign-born population:

Heading the list, to no one’s surprise, is Dubai at 87 percent followed a long way behind by Brussels (unsurprising for an international city in a small country), Toronto, Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles, all in countries with pro-immigration policies. Next comes Singapore at 38 percent but only marginally ahead of London and New York at 37 percent.

But these raw figures, and the accompanying text, fail to address the issue of the rights of those people to remain in the cities to which they have come. In the case of Dubai it is known that very few of the foreign-born have such rights. Most are on temporary permits, roughly the lower the level of income, the less permanent the employment.

The same applies in Singapore, where 33 percent of the population is of non-citizens and non-permanent residents, of whom the majority are low-skill workers on short term contracts and domestic helpers. The equivalent numbers of those in London and New York without a right to remain is not given but can be assumed to be very much lower as short-term work permits for low skill workers are few.

Indeed, the diversity of London is striking compared with Singapore, where most of the foreign population from a few low-income countries. London’s largest foreign-born group is from India at 9 percent of a total of 2.9 million, followed by Poland, Ireland, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Sri Lanka and France. At 44,199 there were almost as many Filipinos as Australia-born.

Tokyo and Seoul are have been showing big increases in foreign-born – partly thanks to import of brides but numbers are still tiny – around 3 percent – compared with most major western cities, and Moscow, which attracts people from poorer but populous former Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan.

China too has growing and significant foreign-born populations in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou but even Beijing’s is only 0.5 percent of the total. Almost none would have a right to remain unless they could claim Chinese blood. Numbers would be much higher if Taiwan were admitted to be the separate country that it is in reality.

Some international movement is seen at Asian universities where Singapore, Malaysia, China and Japan have attracted foreign students.

The report has little to say on the numbers and situation of cross-border movement in developing Southeast Asia. Officially, says the report, only 9 percent of Kuala Lumpur’s population is foreign-born but in reality one can only guess at the number of Indonesians, Filipinos and Bangladeshis in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley conurbation and the number and situation of people from Myanmar and Cambodia in Greater Bangkok. Many are undocumented and almost none have a right to stay beyond a contract period.

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