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Interview: Increased migration linked to development: UN official

Xinhua, January 13, 2016 Adjust font size:

The number of people living outside their country of birth has increased by 41 percent since 2000, presenting new challenges for global sustainable development, a senior UN migration official told Xinhua in a recent interview.

During the interview, Bela Hovy, chief of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affair's, talked about trends in global migration in 2015 and how the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals address the special needs of migrants.

In 2015, the number of people living outside their country of birth reached 244 million people, up from 173 million in 2000. This number includes almost 20 million refugees, but does not include a further 38 million internally displaced persons -- people forced to flee their homes but remain within their home countries -- said Hovy.

As a subset of the world's migrants, refugees represent a particularly vulnerable group. However, Hovy also emphasized that refugees have very specific rights under international humanitarian law.

In 2015, the largest group came from Syria with 4.2 million refugees; Afghanistan with 2.7 million refugees; and Somalia with over a million refugees, said Hovy.

"The most important right for refugees is to seek asylum and when they are found to be a refugee that they should not be forced to return to a country of origin where they face persecution or where they fear for their lives," he said.

However, refugees are not the only migrants who are at risk of persecution. Human trafficking is another way that migrants are exploited, said Hovy, this is why UN member states have committed to eradicating human trafficking by 2030 in the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs set out the global priorities for the UN's 193 member states for the next 15 years, and came into effect at the beginning of 2016.

The goals also address other migration trends such as the brain drain, which sees hospitals in small developing countries losing their doctors and nurses to migration, said Hovy. Through the SDGs, UN member states have committed to helping small developing countries train and keep their doctors and nurses, he said.

Hovy said that migrants also make an important contribution to development through the money they send home to their families -- known as remittances. In 2014, global remittances totaled 420 billion dollars, he said. (Pls note: the 2014 figure is the most recent available)

"(Remittances) can help lift people out of poverty, because (they) are being received by families at home and invested in health and education," said Hovy.

However, families currently lose an average of eight percent of remittances due to transfer costs, he said. The SDGs also therefore have a target to reduce this transaction cost.

"There is a clear target that the governments have adopted that those transaction costs should decline," said Hovy. Enditem