Diaspora populations are increasingly being seen as “bridge builders” between host countries and the nations they come from, particularly amid crisis situations as with the recent earthquake in Haiti.
With more and more countries – both in the global North (developed) and South (developing) – acknowledging the value of these migrant communities, several of them have appointed Cabinet-level ministers to specifically tap into this human resource and make economic and trade linkages. As with the 2010 devastating Haiti earthquake, diaspora populations are invariably in the forefront of relief efforts, serving as humanitarian ambassadors for their homelands.
Against this backdrop, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) organized the world’s first-ever Diaspora Ministerial Conference in Geneva (June 18-19), attended by delegates from 114 countries, including Canada, and 55 ministers and high-level government representation. Canada was represented at the conference by officials in Canada’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva. Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the officials who attended the conference did not make any presentations and were there to learn about opportunities to engage diaspora communities in other countries.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs said the government works with diaspora groups to support trade and development efforts and to better inform our foreign policy. “Diaspora groups have supported Canada’s reconstruction work in places like Haiti and helped provide an informed perspective on developments in countries such as Iran and Syria. We will continue to work with diaspora communities in Canada in the pursuit of our foreign, trade and development objectives.”
Also attending was Jonathan Crush, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) chair in global migration and development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and a global development studies professor at Queen’s University. New Canadian Media was unable to reach Crush in advance of this writing.
According to Peter Schatzer, IOM’s executive coordinator for the conference, the “overwhelming” participation is sign enough that both sending and receiving countries realize the potential of tapping into diaspora networks. Speaking to NCM by telephone (hear the interview mp3 files below) from Florence, Italy, the IOM official said both sides stand to benefit. Host nations such as Canada, France, Britain, the U.S. and Australia see how diaspora groups can help maintain good relations with countries in the global South. For countries of origin, the challenge is to provide incentives that will encourage these migrants to invest in their home countries – such as tax incentives and protections to ensure their investments don’t end up in a sinkhole.
The conference provided an opportunity for IOM Member and Observer States to meet with non-governmental organizations, academics, migrants and partners in the private sector to share perspectives on migration-related issues. The focus of discussions was ways to engage diasporas in issues related to development such as poverty reduction and economic growth.
The IOM states that over the last 10 years, a growing number of governments have established bodies and institutions responsible for engaging diasporas. In Canada, this responsibility is managed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, whose mission is to develop policies that reach out to all Canadians to increase intercultural understanding.
The conference topic is timely as the United Nation’s approaches its 2015 deadline of accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals. The goals set targets for reducing poverty and maternal mortality, achieving universal primary education and other measures that increase development and improve life for the world’s most at-risk people. With the deadline in sight and much progress to be made, the UN is interested in exploring the role migration will play in the development climate post-2015.
During the conference, attendees learned about various government policies and initiatives and shared case studies and best practices. The discussions and information provided recommendations for IOM to help improve the body’s ability to respond to the needs of both governments and diaspora.
Among the sessions were “Diasporas and States” and “Diasporas and Development,” the later of which addressed topics such as encouraging investment of diaspora capital, skills/knowledge transfer and the role of government in providing incentives for engagement.
Diasporas and Crises
The “Diasporas and Crisis” session aimed to explore the potential of engaging diasporas during and after crisis situations. Discussion included frameworks for ensuring diaspora involvement during a crisis and out-of-country voting in post-crisis situations.
In a background paper (link: http://www.iom.int/files/live/sites/iom/files/What-We-Do/idm/workshops/IDM-2013-Diaspora-Ministerial-Conference/Background-Paper-2013-Diaspora-Ministerial-Conference-EN.pdf) published by the IOM, the organization outlines the potential of diasporas as resources in terms of human, social, economic and cultural capital. The paper also outlines recommendations for governments and those working with diasporas on how to engage these groups and empower them for development.
It insists that familiarizing oneself with diaspora communities alone is not enough. “Knowledge about diasporas is not sufficient to foster collaboration; the foundation of effective engagement strategies is trust‐building.” This challenge is one that IOM issues to governing bodies, non-governmental organizations and others working with migrant communities.
“Diaspora communities are distinctive in that they possess a personal attachment to both their countries of origin with whom they remain engaged, as well as to the countries in which they live,” the paper states. Because of this, it concludes that diasporas create links between countries and strengthen cultural, political and economic ties. – New Canadian Media
Additional resources – IOM’s website on diaspora – http://www.iom.int/cms/idmdmc
THE DIASPORA HANDBOOK: Developing a Road Map for Engaging Diasporas in Development: A Handbook for Policymakers and Practitioners in Home and Host Countries – http://www.migrationpolicy.org/bookstore/thediasporahandbook.php