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February - March 2009


The Future of Migration - Wilton Park Conference 941

by Anil and Ranjit Malhotra

Anil Malhotra & Ranjit Malhotra in the foreground of the Wilton Park in West Sussex,UK

The 941st Wilton Park Conference on “The Future of Migration” was held at Wilton Park, Wiston House, Steyning,West Sussex on 4 to 6 December 2008, in cooperation with the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UK Border Agency. Amidst the scenic location of Wiston House, a 16th century building surrounded by 5000 acres of parkland, Wilton Park is one of the world’s leading centres for the discussion of key international policy changes. About 70 delegates from almost 35 countries in an academic feast lasting three days seriously deliberated over hard facts and key issues relating to migration policies, themes, perceptions, perspectives, trends and its future policy options.

The Indian representatives Anil and Ranjit Malhotra who have organised two key seminars on Managed Migration for the British High Commission in north India actively took part in the academic sessions and group discussions at the conference. Both of them had also earlier participated in the last Wilton Park Conference 890, titled “Migration : Towards a Comprehensive Approach” held at San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid from 8 -10 October 2007.

The interactions, view points, suggestions and ideas voiced by Parliamentarians, policy decision makers, senior institutional functionaries and principal immigration authorities from key nations including China, U.S.A, UK, Canada and India made the conference a melting pot for fusing ideologies of what migration would mean in the years to come besides how it would influence global placements in the future.

The conference aimed to provide a unique off the record informal forum for bringing together a select group of migration policy makers, economists, demographers, representatives of international institutions, non-governmental organisations, think tanks and academics from a diverse range of nations. The aim was also to assess global trends shaping migration flows, consider their implications and assist policy makers at international or national levels to plan their futures. In this regard, India with the largest diaspora of 30 million living in 130 countries abroad had a lot to gain.

On 4 December 2008, amongst grey skies, the conference kicked off with a thought provocative and igniting inaugural session titled, “Back To The Future: Our 20th Century Polices Right For The 21st Century.” After evaluating the key challenges in managing migration, international cooperation and looking at innovative approaches, the session graduated to interactions on “Looking Forward : Introduction To Conference Themes” and “Minding The Gap : Matching Economic Needs With The Supply Of Labour.”

On 5 December 2008, with a clearing blue sky, the day dawned with the backdrop of the session on “International Borders : Setting New Boundaries” in which the delegates looked at borders in 2030, regional boundaries, reducing irregular migration and political and practical challenges faced by countries. This ignited and paved the way for “Looking To The Future : What Can Be Leant From Regional Perspectives.” Thereafter, descending to regional projections, the 70 delegates split into four parallel groups to explore the themes of regional perspectives. In each group, a group leader engineered the discussion with a Rappoteuer reporting the decisions on the discussion.

This was followed by a debate on “Managing Perceptions of Migration : The Impact on Societies” for exploring public opinions of migration, successful integration and how destination countries maximize the benefits of these developing networks. This was capped by a energized plenary session on “Trends and Drivers : The Impact and Challenges for Specific Groups” which was trifurcated to look at “Protecting Displaced People”, “The Next Generation” and “The Role of Women” as sub topics. Having built the momentum to a peak, the participants again split into four groups to explore the themes which had opened a Pandora’s box of immigration issues above.

That on 6 December 2008, with a clear blue sky returned the delegates to the conference table with the Rappoteuer giving a feedback from the two discussion groups held the day before. This spontaneously led to the next parallel discussion groups to discuss “Future Policy Options” for hair splitting interactions on implications of drivers, role of international institutions, ways of ensuring effective collaboration between States, innovative approaches and ways of ensuring effective policy making to maximize the benefits of migration. This led to the grand finale where feedback from discussion groups was minutely condensed to formulate the conclusions on the three day deliberations. The far reaching thought provoking decisions assembled will be shaped and crystallised in a formal report which Wilton Park will release next year.

From the Indian perspective, it was emphasized by Anil and Ranjit Malhotra that besides a substantial outbound immigration, India now has a noticeable inward return migration. Regardless, India learning from its experience of other nations needed to consolidate its inputs and frame a clear migration policy both to determine its inflow and check its outflow. Four clear mandates for India were identified by them as summarized in the points hereunder:

(a) Framing of a Uniform Federal Law at the Central Government level to check illegal trafficking, human smuggling and thriving unethical immigration businesses.

(b) Enacting of a consolidated work permit visa regime in India for inward foreign migration especially for highly skilled foreign workers, overseas citizens of India and expatriates who till date had no business visa requirements to be adhered to.

(c) Spreading of awareness and education of the pitfalls of illegal immigration which is a multi billion dollar industry in India. Changing of mindsets for managing the migration urge and putting it into legal channels at the grass roots level is a must.

(d) Duly propelled managed migration channels must be established by encouraging people to use legally permissible means of immigration and at the same time masses must be educated to find self employment with education in India.

It also transpired that the European perspective has had a lot of impact on the UK, especially on the basis of treaty rights. Sharing of collective information was suggested at this august platform. Linked with this issue, the discussion went further as to what constitutes region and as to how far this definition can be stretched. The response was that the alignment of interest could be a vital element in defining the concept of region. While this argument was in progress, the discussion went to the other end of the globe. One of the participants cited the successful working of the Pacific Plan to promote regional integration and cooperation in the 14 islands of Australia and New Zealand.

While advancing the concept of State led and controlled migration, the view point from Bangladesh was that SAARC could well be a good platform to discuss managed migration issues within the SAARC region.

While crystal gazing into the future, far fetched issues like climate change, health, global terrorism, population explosion amongst other areas were identified as some of the major areas that could impact migration trends in the future.

It was clearly noticeable, that delegates from all the countries attached lot of importance to remittance and repatriation of funds from migrants to their parent countries. There was a clear thought of trail and linkage on this aspect of the matter, and it seem to run in a consistent pattern like the Great Wall of China, throughout the entire conference. The delegates from India also pointed out that, the source of remittance and repatriation of funds from licensed operators overseas, could well be used to track down illegal migrants. Especially, while using this channel, correct details of the remitter and the receiver would be recorded in such a transaction. It was further suggested, that before, licence is granted to any money changer or a fund transfer company in a foreign country, such a company would be obliged to share all information relating to their transactions with the Government of the country in which they are operating as it is in public interest and national security.

The delegates departed amidst a setting sun at Wilton Park and leaving the scores of sheep grazing in the green grass just as they were when everybody arrived two days ago. It seemed the sheep were not to migrate but to give birth to healthy lambs soon.

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