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Stories

Global changes force review of IMF quotas (23 August 2006)

Global aid workers walking a tricky tightrope (9 August 2006)

Pacific Countries Urged To Develop Regional Labour Mobility (30 June 2006)

Human traffickers prey on children of Ghana's poor (30 June 2006)

Tsunami showed way forward in disaster response (27 June 2006)

It's time for global control of small arms: Amartya Sen (25 June 2006)

More displaced, but number of refugees down--UNHCR (9 June 2006)

Bird flu exercise tests APEC communications (7 June 2006)

Migrants number 191 million across globe, UN says (6 June 2006)

Nations Benefit From Migration, U.N. Study Says (6 June 2006)

 


Global changes force review of IMF quotas (23 August 2006)

The International Monetary Fund faces its biggest test as it pushes to reform itself, giving more power to emerging countries in Asia and elsewhere after decades of U.S.-European dominance.

IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato was mandated by the Fund's 184 member countries in April to present a concrete proposal for change to the IMF's quotas, or voting shares, at the IMF/World Bank meetings in Singapore in September.

Emerging economies in Asia have warned they would have less to do with the IMF unless they were given more say in how it is run.

Voting power in the IMF stems from quotas, or subscriptions, which generate most of the IMF's financial resources and are fiercely protected because they determine who has the biggest influence on IMF policies.

The IMF's Board of Governors conducts general quota reviews every five years usually. Any change in quotas, like other important board decisions, must be approved by an 85 percent majority.

The United States has veto power with 17.4 percent of the quota share, followed by Japan with 6.2 percent, Germany at 6.1 percent and France and Britain with 5.0 percent each.

The quotas are based broadly on a country's size in the world economy. A member's quota determines its maximum financial commitment to the IMF and its voting power, and has a bearing on its access to IMF financing. Total quotas at end-March 2006 were about $308 billion.

The quota formulas generally benefit small, open economies but penalise large, fast-growing countries.

For example, China's economy is double the size of Belgium and the Netherlands combined, yet both European countries have a bigger quota than China.

There are two main issues addressed in a general quota review: the size of an overall increase and the distribution of the increase among the members.

The last quota increase under a general review was in January 1999. The 45 percent overall increase reflected changes in the size of the world economy, the increased risk of financial crisis, and the rapid liberalisation of trade and capital flows.

The last general review was concluded on Jan. 30, 2003, with no proposal by the IMF's board to increase quotas. The next review is scheduled for January 2008.

The IMF's 24-member executive board, which oversees the daily running of the fund, is dominated by Europe, which has eight of the seats, compared to two for all of Africa, three for the Middle East, five for Asia, four for the Americas and one each for the United States and Russia. Reuters

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Global aid workers walking a tricky tightrope (9 August 2006)

The brutal murder of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers last week highlights the difficulties faced by relief organisations around the world trying to balance helping people with politics.

The massacre, which took place in the northeastern town of Mutur after days of fighting between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels, was one of the bloodiest attacks on an aid group in history.

"This will change how we operate, who we help and how we do it," said one aid worker in Trincomalee, aid hub both for the conflict area and also for a swathe of the island's east coast hit by the 2004 tsunami.

In the last few days, aid crews have found access to the area limited by angry mobs, mainly from the island's ethnic Sinhalese majority, who say non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are biased in favour of minority Tamils and the rebels.

"Ever since this government got into power, it has whipped up anti-NGO feeling," said Rohan Edrisinha, analyst at the Centre for Policy Alternatives in the capital, Colombo. "I think that has percolated down to the army, bureaucrats and officials."

It is not only in Sri Lanka that aid workers are under fire. In Sudan's Darfur region, aid agencies say July was the worst month on record with eight Sudanese staff killed and access restricted by violence and intimidation.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, aid staff say western agencies are often seen as simply an extension of the United States military and its allies.

In Zimbabwe, aid agencies continually have to lobby the government simply to remain -- and so barely dare talk about their conditions, food shortages or abuse.

Some have ceased work all together.

Politicised  Aid

"When aid gets politicised, you have to negotiate simply to have the space in which to operate," said one Trincomalee-based aid worker who also worked in Africa. "That makes things much more difficult. It can also make it more dangerous."

With governments increasingly moving into the aid sphere, and relief programmes more involved in trying to engineer long-term social change that can involve contact with rebel groups rather than simply handing out food, it seems a growing trend.

In Sri Lanka, some attribute the rising anti-NGO sentiment to political pressure from hardline Buddhist and Marxist government allies.

With rebuilding after the 2004 tsunami slower than many hoped, aid workers and officials also blame each other.

"Here, problems seem to have been exacerbated by the fact that some foreign governments want to work through the NGOs rather than the government," said Edrisinha.

The government says it will launch a proper investigation into the killing of the 17 staffers from the aid group Action Contre La Faim, but family members and increasing numbers of aid workers say it already appears likely that government troops were responsible.

All but one of the victims were Tamils, trapped in a majority Muslim town.

With a large number of victims of both the tsunami and the two-decade civil war being Tamils, aid workers say with hindsight that they probably did not do enough to win over hearts and minds of Sinhalese and Muslim residents -- although with thousands of Muslims now displaced by the current crisis, they are trying hard.

"They see our white vehicles go through their village almost every day and they see us give them nothing," said one aid worker. Reuters

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Pacific Countries Urged To Develop Regional Labour Mobility (30 June 2006)

Pacific Islands countries are being urged to consider establishing labour schemes among themselves, even as they push for greater access to New Zealand and Australia.

A number of authorities on the Pacific labour market have been presenting papers at a Wellington conference over the past two days.

A sociologist from the University of the South Pacific, Carmen Voigt Graf, is an advocate for the benefits of well managed and regulated schemes for the temporary movement of labour.

And she says the island countries should also look at the transfer of workers among themselves.

Dr Voigt Graf says, for instance, the current teacher shortage in the Cook Islands could be overcome by bringing in unemployed teachers from Vanuatu and Fiji. Pacific Magazine

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Human traffickers prey on children of Ghana's poor (30 June 2006)

Twelve-year-old Emmanuel Nkorbo does not know how much money his mother got for him. He knows she was promised money if she gave him up, delivering him into the hands of traffickers, who trade people for profit.  "It is a long time since I saw her," he said in the local language twi, his bright eyes betraying little emotion.  "It is difficult to tell what I remember, but when I meet her I will know it is her," he said.

In the years since then, Emmanuel has worked in Yeji, a Ghanaian town on the shores of Africa's largest reservoir, Lake Volta, home to thousands of fishermen.

Emmanuel was not paid but says he liked fishing, frequently diving deep to disentangle the net when it caught in the lake's many stumps, holding his breath until his lungs could no longer bear it before breaking the water to gulp for air.  However, careless work could lead to a torn net and a beating.

Now at a centre for trafficked children in Madina, he says he is happy to be in a place "where nothing bad is being done" to him and where he does not get beaten for misbehaving.

The criminal and commercial trade in human beings, known as trafficking, thrives in the poorest corners of the world, and Ghana, a poor country in West Africa, is no exception.  Nearly 600 trafficked children have been rescued from Ghanaian fishing communities in the past three years under a programme run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

It has concentrated on fishing communities but the group says trafficked children can be found working throughout Ghana in markets, farms, as illegal miners or as household staff.

PRICES AND PROMISES

Trafficking of human beings became punishable by law in Ghana only last December but some poor and ill-educated parents, unable to provide for their children, still sell them into labour.

Prices and promises vary but in fishing communities parents can be offered about 500,000 cedis ($55) in cash and a pledge of more money later, said Joseph Rispoli, the IOM's head of counter-trafficking.

Parents hand their children over to fishermen, sometimes people they know, who promise work, education, care and shelter either in their homes or someone else's.

The reality fails to match the promises.

Dressed in tatters, denied an education and often abused, trafficked children are treated differently from the fishermen's own children. Many parents believe they are putting their children on the path to a better life, a deception that fuels the traffickers' trade. "They believe they will get a higher standard of living than if they stay with the parents," Rispoli said.

CORRUPTION OF TRADITION

The trade in children is a corruption of a tradition whereby poor families look to better-off relatives to care for their children.  "In the past, money never changed hands, it was done in good faith, unlike now...in the past you were thinking of what your child was going to gain," said Sharon Abbey, a social worker and the manager of the Madina centre.  "You were free to go for your child if you felt they were not being treated well. It is different when money changes hands, it is more like a commodity," she said.

Many children were so young when they left home that memories of their families are hazy.

Slightly-built David Mahu looks far younger than 10. He says he has five brothers and sisters but can only remember the name of one, Esther. He cannot remember when he left home but he does remember how he felt.  "I was happy...they said my mother would be given a cow," he says.

In David's new life, he rose at dawn to go to work and was afraid to ask about his mother, fearing he would be beaten.

His fragmented childhood memories have provided enough evidence for the IOM and Department of Social Welfare investigators to find his mother.  These reunions are frequently difficult and tearful occasions. Some parents don't want to take their children back while others want a second chance to be a parent.

In the next few months, David is likely to return home. Is he angry with his mother? Fidgeting, he looks at the ground and whispers "no". Reuters

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Tsunami showed way forward in disaster response (27 June 2006)

The Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 showed both countries and aid groups need better early-response planning to help them cope with future disasters, a top World Health Organisation official said on Tuesday.

The tsunami's waves left more than 230,000 people dead or missing around the Indian Ocean rim, with most of the casualties inflicted in the initial impact and immediate aftermath.

Helping people better handle the first stages of a disaster was one of the tsunami's lessons, Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for Southeast Asia, told Reuters by telephone from Bali.

Experts from the U.N., non-governmental organisations (NGO) and Southeast and South Asia governments are meeting there this week to discuss how to put into effect the tsunami's lessons.

Plianbangchang said a key priority was "strengthening, or what we call empowering, the community and the people on the ground so that they know how to face the emergency during the first hours", when outside help may be absent or minimal.

Early tsunami aid efforts also saw bottlenecks in which medical supplies, food and clothing piled up at air terminals and ports waiting to be moved to victims desperate for it.

There were also situations of too many aid workers concentrated in the same spots, for example when several medical teams from different agencies and NGOs set up in towns or villages where there were relatively few patients.

"WHO cannot come alone. We also have to work with other international agencies, other stakeholders including NGOs. If we are not properly coordinated we create also the problems on the ground, and the problems to the government also."

"We have to rely on other sectors also to come and help," he said.

Building individual nations' capacities to handle disasters is another area the Bali meeting, which ends on Thursday, will look at, Plianbangchang said.

"The country should have a national plan for emergency preparedness and response," he said, adding emergency drills were needed to guard against complacency.

"If you don't exercise, they will forget" and "then everybody will think that, OK, no emergency, and they become complacent."

Surveillance and detection systems effective against disease in disaster situations, as well as building networks to warn people when disasters like quakes and tsunamis may occur, are other priorities, Plianbangchang said.

The Bali group will incorporate its recommendations into a declaration to take back to participating groups' headquarters and countries' capitals. Then, Plianbangchang said: "we have to work hard" to see that the lessons are applied in practice. Reuters

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It's time for global control of small arms (25 June 2006)

Informed by the harrowing lessons of World War II, the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945. Exactly 61 years later, the UN review conference on small arms will open on Monday in New York. This will be the first major conference on the UN program of action on the global menace of small and light weapons of combat.
 
In recent years, discussions on terror and safety have tended to concentrate on weapons of mass destruction. And yet there are other problems that are already causing havoc, which also demand urgent attention. It is important to appreciate why an effective system of the control of trade in small arms is so badly needed right now.
 
First, the use of small arms is constantly fed and heavily promoted in the world by the sellers, for there is much profit to be made there. While it is true that arms trading needs willing buyers in addition to eager sellers, the pushing of arms is no less a phenomenon today than the pushing of drugs.
 
Given the fact that arms buying tends to be concentrated in relatively few hands, typically governmental administrators or the military or paramilitary (including insurgents), swaying the purchasers is often relatively easy and well within the profitable reach of the merchants of death. The French economist Jean-Baptiste Say might have enunciated a rather doubtful general principle when he argued, 200 years ago, that "supply creates its own demand," but his maxim fits the arms trade alarmingly well.
 
Second, arms trading would not be hard to control if the international community were resolved to do so. Arms production tends to be concentrated regionally, and so is the export of arms. As it happens, the leaders of the world, in the shape of the Group of 8 countries, have been persistently responsible for more than 80 percent of global arms exports.
 
Furthermore, the states of the world seem to have already agreed in previous meetings that they would restrict arms transactions to what international law allows. Yet there is no current agreement between the states on standards for arms transfers. At the UN conference that starts Monday, states need to agree on global principles restraining arms transfers if there were a likelihood they would be used to commit genocide or identifiable crimes.
 
A comprehensive approach would have to address direct transactions, indirect transfers, brokering, transit and transshipment. The UN General Assembly can then move toward agreeing on an international Arms Trade Treaty.
 
Third, the conference could also bring out the fact that the terrible consequences of the use of small arms go well beyond the outrageous killing and maiming they cause. Small arms are vital ingredients of terrorism, civil war and generalized violence, which in turn lead to the disruption of social services, health care and basic education, and can also reduce the incentives for long-term investment and economic development. Many of the difficulties faced by Africa from the 1970s onward can be traced to this process.
 
The G-8 countries have not taken an active leadership role in curbing arms trade until recently, but there are some welcome signs of greater resolve right now. It is also important for non-G-8 countries to take more initiative on this.
 
My own country, India, has good reason to use whatever influence it has, especially with the growing recognition of its importance in the global world. This is not only because reduction of armed conflicts fits well into the global objectives that were championed by India when it struggled for independence and sought a global voice, but also because India itself suffers a great deal from the illicit movement of arms that feed local insurrections and terrorist acts.
 
Even though China is currently the seventh-largest exporter of arms in the world, it also has a stake in limiting the movement of arms into its own territory. The G-8 countries, too, have reasons of enlightened self-interest to do this (despite the money that these countries make from this terrible trade), given the growing threat of terrorism that affects these countries as well.
 
Countries across the world, despite their many variations, increasingly have a shared vulnerability. The time has come for the world as a whole to turn a page, through effective controls on the global arms trade. International Herald Tribune
 
Amartya Sen, who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, is a professor at Harvard University. He is an honorary adviser to Oxfam and author of many books including "Development as Freedom."

More displaced, but number of refugees down--UNHCR (9 June 2006)

The number of people uprooted by conflict or persecution rose to 20.8 million last year, but refugees who have actually fled their homeland now account for only four out of every 10, the United Nations said on Friday.

The overall figure, up by six percent from 19.5 million a year before, swelled due to fresh surges of internally-displaced people in Iraq, Somalia, and Darfur, Sudan, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

It includes just 8.4 million refugees who crossed an international border -- the lowest level since 1980 -- and 6.6 million internally-displaced, forced to leave their homes but remaining within their country's borders.

The rest are either stateless, asylum-seekers, or those who have returned home but remain of concern to the UNHCR.

"Much of the increase is due to a rise in the number of people living in refugee-like situations within their own countries," the Geneva-based agency said its "2005 Global Refugee Trends" report.

It was the fifth consecutive year in which the global refugee population dropped, as refugees returned home in droves to Afghanistan, Liberia, Iraq and Angola.

LONG WAY TO GO

Since 2001, the world's refugee population has fallen by nearly one-third from 12.1 million, according to the agency.

Refugees now account for just four out of every 10 people of concern to the UNHCR and will probably drop further to three out of every 10, it added.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed the drop, noting that last year also saw the smallest movements of new refugees into neighbouring states since 1976.

"But the bad news is that the international community still has a long way to go in resolving the plight of millions of internally displaced people in places like Darfur, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Guterres, a former Portuguese Prime Minister completing his first year in office.

The UNHCR said it had an "expanding role" in caring for the world's internally displaced, also known as "internal refugees", who are not covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention but still face many of the same problems as refugees.

At least 2 million people remain uprooted in Colombia, followed by 1.2 million in Iraq, according to the agency.

"The number of refugees fell by 15 percent last year in Europe, which hosted about a quarter of all refugees," it added.

Afghanistan remained the source of the largest number of refugees worldwide -- 1.9 million in 72 countries -- while Pakistan is still the main asylum country, hosting more than 1 million refugees, mostly Afghans. Reuters

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Bird flu exercise tests APEC communications (7 June 2006)

The 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group began a bird flu disaster exercise on Wednesday to test how countries inform each other about the risks of a flu pandemic.

The exercise, the first of its kind to involve all major economies of the Asia-Pacific region, involves a hypothetical outbreak of the deadly virus among fishermen in an unidentified Asian village, which then leads to human-to-human transmission.

"Early notification and making sure early notification is to the right people in the different economies is absolutely central to us collectively developing a response to an international pandemic," exercise coordinator Trevor Clement told Reuters.

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 125 people worldwide since reappearing in 2003. Scientists fear it could evolve into a virus which can pass easily from person to person, triggering a pandemic that could kill millions.

China has reported almost 40 outbreaks of bird flu in poultry across a dozen provinces over the past year and 12 people are known to have died there of bird flu. In Indonesia, 37 people have died from the virus.

"It seems so simple, but it is remarkably complex when you are talking about communicating with 21 separate economies," said Clement, acting director general of Australia's disaster coordination centre Emergency Management Australia.

Australia and Singapore are coordinating the 24-hour exercise, which is designed to test phone, fax and e-mail communications between authorities among the 21 APEC members.

Under the exercise, suspicious symptoms are reported in a number of villages and in neighbouring countries. The infection is being called the Straits Flu and the World Health Organisation upgrades its pandemic alert, ordering affected countries to initiate containment measures immediately.

He said air travel meant people could spread the disease to different countries within hours, making fast notification of an outbreak crucial.

Clement said eight APEC members -- Chile, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam -- were primary players in the exercise and might have to advise of a hypothetical response to the situation.

Other APEC nations, including the United States, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, would play a secondary role. Reuters

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Migrants number 191 million across globe, UN says (6 June 2006)

Some 191 million people now live outside their country of birth and migration is a major feature of international life, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported on Tuesday.

While most migrants move to wealthy nations, 75 million people have moved between developing countries, Annan said in a report to the 191-nation U.N. General Assembly.

Calling the report "an early road map for this new era of mobility," he proposed a standing forum on migration at the United Nations to help governments pursue an integrated approach to migration and development at both the national and international levels.

The report recognizes the right of governments to decide who may enter their territory but encourages them to work together to upgrade economic and social benefits at both ends of the migrant chain.

"It is for governments to decide whether more or less migration is desirable," Annan said. "Our focus in the international community should be on the quality and safety of the migration experience and on what can be done to maximize its development benefits."

Migration has several positive benefits for both the host nation and the country of origin, according to the report.

Migrants undertake less desirable jobs in the host country while stimulating demand and improved economic performance. They also help to shore up pension systems in countries with aging populations.

Poor countries benefit by receiving an estimated $167 billion a year in remittances, up from $58 billion in 1995.

Worldwide, money sent home by migrants totaled $232 billion in 2005, up from $102 billion in 1995. One third of global remittances went to just four countries, India, China, Mexico and France.

The report found that one third of all immigrants in the world have moved from one developing country to another.

But migration to high income countries -- including some still regarded as developing such as South Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- has grown much faster than to the rest of the world, it said.

Six out of 10 international immigrants reside in countries considered "high income," according to the report.

Europe hosted 34 percent of all migrants in 2005, North America 23 percent and Asia 28 percent. Only 9 percent were living in Africa, 3 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and another 3 percent in Oceania.

Nearly half of all immigrants are women, and in developed countries they outnumber men, the report said. Reuters

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Nations Benefit From Migration, U.N. Study Says (6 June 2006)

Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that the rapid growth in global migration should help, not harm, all countries but that broad international cooperation would be necessary to ensure it.

"We now understand better than ever before that migration is not a zero-sum game," Mr. Annan said. "In the best cases, it benefits the receiving country, the country of origin and migrants themselves."

He made his comments in a report he delivered to the General Assembly on migration and development, subjects that will be a focus of the annual gathering of heads of state at the United Nations in September.

The report noted that alarm over the growing numbers of migrants had cast the issue in a negative light but asserted that the emphasis was misplaced, citing the aging of populations in developed countries that it said could be offset only by migration.

"We think that societies don't ask themselves enough what they would do without migrants," said Hania Zlotnik, director of the United Nations Population Division.

Mr. Annan said he hoped the September meeting would take up measures to better conditions for migrants, including tightening law enforcement to curb smuggling and trafficking, easing visa and naturalization rules, and establishing reliable financial services to enable money to be sent home.

From 1990 to 2005, the numbers of migrants in the world rose to 191 million from 155 million, the report said. It estimated that migrants sent $232 billion home in 2005. Of that, $167 billion went to developing countries, Mr. Annan said.

The report said that migration sometimes reduced the wages of low-skilled workers in advanced economies, but that it more often freed citizens to perform high-paying jobs.

Listing demographic statistics that will make a continued rise in migration inevitable, the report said that in developed countries there is an average of 142 young entrants to the labor force for every 100 people about to retire, but that in 10 years, the ratio will be 87 young entrants for every 100 who leave the labor force.

This trend, it argued, creates a deficit that only migrants can close. At the same time, developing countries will have 342 candidates for every 100 jobs that open up. New York Times

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