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Opening speech at the Annual Diaspora Forum of the Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policies of PACE

Geneva 18 May 2018
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We live in a world where capitals, ideas, goods, services and people circulate ever faster and freer. We know for a fact that migrants’ contribution to development in both host countries and countries of origin is positive. Migrants bring new and sometimes scarce skills, innovative ideas and energy to their new countries, which often are challenged by demographic or labour market problems. They also, statistically speaking, contribute positively to the social security systems of these countries. At the same time, they continue to support their countries of origin not only through remittances, but also by exporting back to them new democratic and economic ideas, knowledge and models and by creating new trade channels and markets.

While the development potential of migration is beyond any doubt, the role of diaspora associations in realising this potential has not received the attention it deserves. Diasporas and their associations can help build economic, cultural, social and knowledge bridges between countries for the benefit of all.

The draft Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, currently being negotiated under the auspices of the UN, recognises the key role that diasporas can play in the migration context. The current draft devotes one of its 22 objectives to creating conditions for migrants and diasporas to contribute to sustainable development in all countries. The actions envisaged to achieve this goal include investing in research on the impact of non-financial contributions of diasporas to sustainable development in countries of origin and destination; and facilitating the contributions of diasporas to their countries of origin.

Migration and diasporas are extremely important for all Council of Europe Member States. They are also important for other countries, including several which have privileged relations with the Council of Europe because they belong to the Southern Partnership or are Party to some of the most important Council of Europe conventions. A number of these countries are confronted with sizeable migration flows and need both increased international co-operation and better support for development from their diasporas.

The Council of Europe has invested significant energy in helping to “build inclusive societies”. It has approached this theme from many angles: from strengthening civil society to promoting intercultural cities; from combating intolerance and discrimination to recognising refugees’ diplomas.

I am particularly proud of all this work and of its achievements in terms of new standards, adapted policy proposals, ambitious practical co-operation programmes and the identification and dissemination of good practices. I am also glad that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has taken upon itself the difficult but very important task of looking at the role of diasporas and the best ways to involve them and their associations in defining new policies leading to building inclusive societies.

The Parliamentary Assembly has worked for over two decades on these issues but the creation of the Parliamentary Network on Diaspora Policies has taken this work to a new level. It represents, if I may say so, a quantum leap in the way the Assembly approaches the question of how best to involve diasporas when seeking to improve the contribution of migrants to both countries of residence and of origin.

Because indeed, who better than Parliamentarians to tackle these issues? They have best access to first-hand information concerning the situation of their constituencies and the needs of their electors, just as they have a pivotal role to play in shaping policies relating to migrants and diasporas in their respective countries.

As I have already said we know and we can prove that the contribution of migrants and diasporas to the development of both countries of residence and countries of origin is positive. Unfortunately, we see that in a growing number of countries nationalist and xenophobic parties are making gains by exploiting public anxieties over migration. They are sometime joined in their rhetoric by mainstream parties, worried about losing voter support. This seems to be resulting in an ever-increasing polarisation of opinions, which, in its turn, could lead to the exclusion from the labour market and the marginalisation of many migrants.

Our common endeavour should therefore be twofold: on the one hand, to reverse this dangerous process of polarisation and to get back to a situation where open but friendly, balanced and inclusive discussions are the norm.

On the other hand, we need to support diasporas and authorities to create the necessary conditions for building happier and inclusive societies, resulting in a better future for all.

For this, we will need new legislation, policies and practices for maximising the contribution of migrants to social and economic development. Nobody is better placed to inspire such legislation, policies and practice than diaspora associations and members of parliaments, working hand in hand.

I therefore wish to the Diaspora Forum every success in its future activities. We, in international organisations, will be following closely the results of your work. I am confident that they will be seminal and will result in the identification of new, better approaches which can lead to the improvement of the situation of migrants and diasporas, of host countries and of countries of origin.


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