Wealthy nations urged to lend a helping hand

There is an urgent need for wealthier nations such as Australia to offer a wider and more flexible regime of temporary migration visas in a bid to provide greater employment for workers from poorer countries and regions, a Commonwealth workshop has heard.

However, smaller nations from the Mediterranean region such as Cyprus and Malta reported that they need more help as they are struggling to cope with the arrival of increasing waves of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who use the smaller islands as stepping stones between North Africa and Europe.

This problem has grown since the so-called Arab Spring when thousands of young people from Mahgreb regions of North Africa sought a better life in Europe.

The 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference held a series of workshops with members on Tuesday, canvassing a range of wide-ranging issues including migration, parliamentary reform, governance and transparency and the future of the Commonwealth in the 21st Century.

Speaking as a Discussion Leader in the migration workshop, Malta delegate, David Agius MP, said that it needed to be understood within the Commonwealth that “when big countries sneeze, little ones like us get a cold.”

“We need to help each other out. In the Libyan crisis, we as a small island managed to evacuate thousands of workers from many different countries, be it the US, China, Canada, Indian [who had been working in Libya]. . .those workers came to us in Malta and then we helped send them home. But I think there must be a policy for greater fraternity. When the United States helps small islands like ours, so should Canada and Australia and New Zealand too,” he said.

Australian MP, Teresa Gambaro, reported that one of the greatest challenges facing the Commonwealth was the issue of ageing worker populations in developed nations and the need for temporary migration systems to allow workers from developing nations to work abroad for a set period and then return home.

“As a Commonwealth we have a greater role to play in protecting human rights of workers and helping people understand the cultures of the countries they are working in,” she said.

Delegates were also told that during periods of specific skill shortages, developing nations can be severely disadvantaged by developed countries, who are able to attract more skilled workers, particularly in the medical sector.

Other delegates reported that for some of the biggest problems lie with the lack of data on illegal immigration and nation’s inability to properly monitor arrivals.

A delegate from India called for streamlined migration regulations and this would be improved by greater dialogue between nations which share borders or are affected by arrivals from similar provenance.
“I believe such cooperation would help both partners and minimize risk.” he said.

Candice Hoeppner, the Canadian delegate, told the workshop that even though hers was a large nation built on migration, there were still “weak links” within the system.

She said several major reforms have been implemented to streamline the framework, including creation of a detailed skills and labour list which identified exactly what jobs were needed, right down to province level.

However the issue of refugees remained problematic: “Unfortunately we have had people try to take advantage of our very generous system and human smuggling has become a problem. We have now introduced legislation to protect victims of such trafficking.”

Many delegates from the Asian regions were also worried by the burgeoning problem of illicit migration agents who were also exploiting prospective migrants. Thousands of people were being given incorrect advice, resulting in the loss of hard earned wages and time.

Mr Will Day, an external migration expert from the Ramphal Commission on Migration and Development, said the message for the Commonwealth should focus on “scale, urgency and connectiveness.”

He said it was clear from discussions that the scale of the migration issues is overwhelming, for many nations – whether they are large like Pakistan and Bangladesh – or tiny like the Mediterranean states.

“Urgency because it is inescapable that we all need to act and act now, before it really becomes a crisis and connectiveness because there needs to be collaboration between and from all nations.”

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