The worldwide flow of millions of people crossing borders to seek better lives have brought the issue of migration to the forefront of international concern and a Commonwealth organisation has now signalled its intention to bring a Commonwealth perspective to this issue.
This was the message to Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma when former Jamaican Prime Minister Percival Patterson called at Marlborough House to brief him about the activities of the Ramphal Centre.
The Ramphal Centre was launched in 2008 to operate as an independent intellectual hub to bring Commonwealth-wide expertise to assist policy-making for its 53 member states. The Centre's first initiative is a Commission on Migration and Development and it is led by Mr Patterson.
This initiative meets the challenge posed by the Secretary-General who said recently that those who support the idea of the Commonwealth must find ways in which its collective wisdom can be translated into action to benefit the global community.
In late October, Mr Patterson presided over a meeting at Warwick University to decide the terms of reference for the Commission, which is expected to meet regularly over the next two years and produce a report to coincide with the meeting of Commonwealth leaders in 2011.
Commonwealth member states are historically among the world's leading receivers and exporters of migrant workers. Half of the 16 key Commonwealth countries which have high migration figures are small states and several of them have lost 10 per cent of their population to migration - Guyana, Fiji, Grenada, Tonga, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. The Commission will therefore focus on those aspects which are of particular interest to member states and to their development strategies, considering such relevant issues as climate change, the impact of the global recession, the roles of the diaspora, remittances, as well as the restrictions on migration.
The Commission will pay particular attention to the wide-ranging work on migration that has already been undertaken by the Commonwealth and other bodies. The latest such study was the recently launched UN Human Development Report 2009 which states that among people who have moved over national borders just over a third -fewer than 70 million-moved from a developing to a developed country. Of the world's 200 million international migrants, most moved from one developing country to another or between developed countries.
The lack of data on migration will also be addressed by the Commission and it will encourage member states to improve their collection of data and information on migration. But most of all it will build on the Commonwealth's capacity for advocacy at the international level, its experience in the movement of peoples and its ability to turn ideas into practical solutions. It intends to work closely with inter-Governmental Commonwealth institutions as well as with the civil society organisations engaged in development activities.
The consultation at Warwick University was attended by Commission member Mr Farrooq Sobhan, former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and Director of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute. Two other Commissioners, the Hon George Vassilliou, former President of Cyprus and Professor Brenda Yeoh of the Department of Geography at the University of Singapore and co-principal of the Asian Metacentre for Population and Sustainable Development Analysis.
Representatives from the United Nations, the IMF, the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) based in Geneva, Oxfam International, the United Kingdom Department of International Development, the Commonwealth Secretariat and Foundation were among the participants.