Stanley Kamara:Speech delivered in Observance of International Day of Youth

Aug 12, 2013

Students, our youth futures leaders of Liberia, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here today to join this auspicious occasion marking  the celebration of the international day of youth with the theme:  Youth migration: moving development forward. This event, like the ones before it, once again calls attention to the human development shift, which is at the heart of UN’s approach to development. Putting people especially youths at the centre of development, enabling them to realizing their full potential and expanding their freedoms and choices has remained and will continue to remain the single clarion call. Ladies and gentlemen, this wouldn’t be more valid than our work here in Liberia. Among several issues, the UN, development partners and government have explored challenges including poverty, gender, democracy, human rights, cultural liberty, globalization, water scarcity and climate change, all with view to impacting positively on the lives of people of Liberia, among whom are youth.   The issues of youths have featured in every programming work of the United Nations, as it remains a priority of the government, development partners and the youth community.

Before I delve into the substance of this event, I wish to draw your attention that the celebration this day is taken lightly- the UN and all partners attach great importance to it.  Every year beginning in 2002 the World observes August 12 as the international day of youth, the day set aside by the UN General Assembly as part of efforts to implement the UN Action on Youth to promote issues. The Global Day of Action for the Rights of Migrants, Refugees and Displaced people on December 18, 2011 was the first step towards the setting-up of a global movement of migrants and of all people who support them, On 17 December 1999, in its resolution 15/120 the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth (Lisbon, 8-12 August 1998) that 12 August be declared International Youth Day.

International Youth Day (IYD) was established by the United Nations in 2000 as a means of raising awareness of issues affecting young people around the world. IYD forms part of the UN's wider World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), an initiative that aims to promote the wellbeing and livelihood of young people.

Its 15 priority areas include: education, employment, poverty and hunger, the environment, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, leisure-time activities, health, girls and young women, HIV/AIDS, information and communications technology, inter-generational issues, armed conflict, the mixed impact of globalisation, and the full and effective participation of youth in society and in decision-making. This 2013 international Youth Day:  Youth Migration, moving development forward, buildings on previous advocacy for rights of migrants especially youths, refugees and displaced people.  The 2013 observance of International Youth Day seeks to raise awareness of the opportunities and risks associated with youth migration, share knowledge and information stemming from recent research and analysis on this topic, and engage young people in discussions on their migration experiences.  In furtherance of this, the Secretary General of the United Nations says;

“It is important to emphasize the positive contribution young migrants make to societies of origin, transit and destination – economically and by enriching the social and cultural fabric. Most work hard to earn a living and improve their circumstances. The remittances they send to support families in their home countries are a major contributor to economies worldwide."

At the UN headquarters, celebrations of this day is taking place with programme featuring panel discussions focusing on testimonies of youth migrants, presentation of the wining video of the ILO youth migration video, followed by updated reports on youth migration from UNDESA, ILO and the Global Migration Group.  The events at HQ are organized by UNDESA, ILO and the MDG Achievement Fund.  Similarly, in Liberia two complementary events have been organized:  One by the MYS and UNICEF and this one by the US all with the view of raising awareness of the importance of this day. In October, the United Nations General Assembly will host the second High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.   I am also pleased to inform you all that 18th December is celebrated as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. This is the date in, 1990, when the UN adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families. It offers a rallying point for everyone across the world who is concerned with the protection of migrants. Perhaps this is the occasion that the Liberia government and its partners should consider launching a series of real, informed stakeholder forum to strengthen advocacy and action on youth migration taking stock of progress since the observance of this day.

It is important to note that young people make up a significant share of the global number of international migrants. In 2010, there were an estimated 27 million international young migrants. While migration can often offer valuable opportunities and contribute to the development of communities and society at large, it can also pose risks and lead to unacceptable situations, including discrimination and exploitation. This is why national programmes and strategies must be put in place to recognize the issues, advocate for a change and chart a way forward.  The issue of migration especially youth migration and how it is contributes its contribution to moving development forward entails, evidence, advocacy and internationalization in national strategies as well partnership commitment on the part of the government.   But advocacy requires empowering the mind and will to see change.  Therefore, I will begin by giving some conceptual issues about migration and present some stylized facts 

The 2009 Human Development Report which was launched globally in Bangkok, Thailand put the spotlight on migration, one of the most recurrent themes in domestic and international discourse and with huge implications for human development. Migration, both within and beyond borders, has become a complex global issue that has not only enhanced the interdependencies between and amongst countries, but also raised new questions on the need for a regime that not only promotes emigration, but ensures the protection of the basic rights for migrants, lowers the transaction costs of migration, making it easier for people to move within their own national countries and, above all, mainstreams migration into national development strategies.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2009 HDR examined issues that have affected us or people known to us in a rather personal manner. For many people in developing countries, and especially in Africa, moving away from their home town or village can be the best – sometimes the only – option open to improve their life chances.   It notes that most people move in search of better opportunities hoping to combine their own talents with resources in the destination country so as to benefit themselves and their immediate family members, who often accompany or follow them. The displacements and travels of those who are looking for a better life presents one of the largest challenges many countries are facing today. Owing to the prolonged conflict, Liberia has had its own share of experience of not only cross-border migration, but also internal displacement.  We must therefore create the opportunities for people to have decent living conditions and the environment where they can feel safe.  Movement in Liberia has been motivated by search for opportunities and search of safety and security.

In many cases, this human mobility has been highly effective in raising people’s income, health and educational prospects. There is a range of case evidence illustrated in the report, about the positive impacts of migration on human development, including access to increased household incomes; improved access to education and health services; empowerment of traditionally disadvantaged groups, in particular women, etc.

At the same time, however, often migrants face loneliness, may feel unwelcome among people who fear or resent newcomers, may lose their jobs or fall ill and thus be unable to access support services they need to prosper. National and local policies play a critical role in enabling better human development outcomes for both those who choose to move in order to improve their circumstances, and those forced to relocate due to conflict, environmental degradation, or other reasons.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2009 HDR has a startling revelation. Contrary to the widespread opinions on migration, the report reveals that most movement in the world does not take place between developing and developed countries; it does not even take place between countries. The overwhelming majority of people who move do so within their own country. It estimates that approximately 740 million people are internal migrants – almost four times as many as those who have moved internationally. Even among those who have moved across national borders, just over a third moved from developing to a developed country – fewer than 70 million. Most of the world’s 200 million internal migrants moved from one developing country to another or between developed countries.

Viewed from rights and human development standpoint, the point to note, and which is well covered in the report, is that the global distribution of opportunities is extraordinarily unequal, and thus a major driving force for the movement of people. Migration can expand their capabilities, choices and entitlements —in terms of incomes, accessing services and participation, for example— but the opportunities open to people vary from those who are best endowed to those with limited skills and assets. In addition, host country restrictions can raise both the costs and the risks of migration resulting in negative outcomes such as denial of basic civic rights, like voting, schooling and health care to those who have moved abroad to work and live. The 2009 HRD demonstrates how a human development approach can be a means to redress some of these risks that would otherwise erode the potential benefits of mobility and/or forced migration. Voluntary migration flows are clear indicators of the degree of freedom people enjoy.

With the onset of globalization, ladies and gentlemen, international migration has never been easier.  The cost of travel has dropped; information about opportunities in destination countries has increased; the incentives to migrate are high, etc. These incentives are shared by those with the skills that are sought by destination countries as well as by those who do not possess them, or who migrate for other reasons, for instance as refugees, asylum-seekers, or family dependents. As a result of such different push-pull dynamics between sending and receiving countries, we see both “legal” and “illegal” migration flows throughout the world. But there are challenges too. Migration not only introduces new workers into a labour force but also new people into a society The globalization of migration means that newcomers are often from culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse backgrounds. The report provides a number of country case studies to highlight this point. 

In addition, more countries are now accepting migrants, most often for temporary work, but sometimes for permanent residence. Not that long ago, many countries in the West denied the need for immigration. This sentiment is now largely history as labour supplies in these countries are being stressed by retirements and low fertility rates. Migrants are now being seen as the answer to how countries can maintain their economic prosperity. Italy and Spain for example have recognized unskilled workers contribute to their societies and have regularized the status of those at work. Others like Thailand and the United States tolerate large numbers of unauthorized workers.

Students, Youths of Liberia, Ladies and gentlemen, let me touch on the question of conflict, insecurity and displacement in relation to the theme. Often, people displaced by insecurity and conflict face special challenges. Accordingly, there are an estimated 14 million refugees living outside their country of citizenship, representing 7% of the world’s migrants. Most remain near the country from which they fled, typically living in camps until conditions at home allow their return, but around half a million per year travel to developed countries and seek asylum there.

 For Liberia, an estimated 250,000 people were displaced.  Many youth today were among that group, making it difficult for them to acquire the skills and education they needed to survive. A much larger number, some 26 million, have been internally displaced. They have crossed no frontiers, but may face special difficulties away from home in a country affected by conflict or natural disasters. Another vulnerable group consists of people – mainly women – who have been trafficked. Often duped with promises of better life, their movement is not one of free will but of duress, sometimes accompanied by violence and sexual abuse. While not a burning issue for the time being, women and child trafficking is creeping at our door steps.

In discussing moving development forward, it is important to understand the risk and opportunities associated with youth migration. Of the annual total of some 214 million international migrants, young people constitute more than 10 per cent, yet too little is known about their struggles and experiences.

The Secretary General’s message for 2013 is quite revealing, touching on several reasons why young people migrate:  Some are fleeing persecution, others are escaping economic hardship.  Some are alone, others part of a family – with parents, siblings and even children of their own.  Some have communities to go to, others must make new connections.  In transit and at their final destinations, many young migrants face equal or greater struggles, including racism, xenophobia, discrimination and human rights violations.  Young women, in particular, face the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. 

On the down side, poverty, crowded and unsanitary living conditions and the challenges of finding decent employment are regular features of the migrant experience.  These challenges are exacerbated by the current global economic and financial crisis.  Migrants are also often accused by communities and politicians of taking jobs from local people, exposing them to further risk of discrimination.  In other cases, young people left behind by migrating parents face psychological and social challenges and greater vulnerability.   Hence, this is why this year’s global human development report will focus on addressing vulnerabilities and strengthening resilience

On the up side (the good news) young migrants have made positive contribution to societies of origin, transit and destination – economically and by enriching the social and cultural fabric.  Most work hard to earn a living and improve their circumstances.   For example, the remittances they send to support families in their home countries are a major contributor to economies worldwide.  When they return home, young migrants often enhance development by applying skills and ideas acquired abroad.  And, in many cases, women are empowered through migration as they gain financial and social independence.  Notwithstanding the negative impact of migration, there is strong support for it in terms of the positive aspects.   Therefore, the world should see reason to foster migration by overcoming the barriers to human mobility to promote human development. 

According to Secretary General, youth led organizations and other stakeholders should act to promote the rights of all young migrants and maximize the development potential of youth migrants.   The call to act now reinforces the Secretary Ban’s 2012 message for the international day youth recognizing that given large of number of youth have no immediate prospects and are disenfranchised from the political, social and development process, the world risks creating a lost generation of squandered talents and dreams.  You will agree that many young people seated here today have great potential to advance the well being of their families.  Yet, many of young people (even the highly educated included), suffer from vulnerable employment, low skills, low wage, dead end or indecent work and unemployment.  The global economic crisis has had its toll on the youth, and many are so discouraged by rising levels of inequality- wide gap between the haves and the have not.

The 2009 human development report:  overcoming barriers:   human mobility and development  outlined who, where, and why people move, how movers fare,  how mobility fosters development, the impact on both the origin and destination and the policies and  strategies for improving human development outcomes.  The report pointed that people have always been on the move and they will continue to do so.  There are several drivers- positive and negative that cause people to move:  insecurity, development-induced displacement, human trafficking and so forth.

As we celebrate the international day of youths, please keep in mind the some stylized facts about migration:

• Large gains to human development can be made by lowering the barriers to mobility and improving the treatment of movers

• The poorest have the most to gain from moving, but they also move less

• Gains in schooling are greatest for migrants from low-HDI countries- comparing enrollment ratio at origin and enrollment ration at destination:  low- HDI is 47%vs 95% while medium HDI is 66%vs 92%

• Barriers to mobility are especially for people with low skills.

• Share of international migrants in the world population has been stable at around 3 percent over the past 50 years.

• Most migrations occur within the regions- in ECOWAS for cross border trade, safety and security, search of work, way of life.

• Over a third of the countries restrict the right to move

• To integrate movement into national development strategies, there is often a systematic consideration of the profile of migration and its benefits, costs and risks.

• Some regions are creating free movement zones to improve freer trade while enhancing the benefits of migration.  In ECOWAS to further the treaty and protocol on free-movement, ECOWAS has set up a common approach to migration, developed a migration and development action plan, there is a regional fund to finance cross border cooperation,

• In terms of migration and deprivation, young men are usually migrant workers; there is a correlation between migration and livelihoods, and migration is a social process

• Migrants all over the world are seeking a better standing of living, a safe environment and freedom from want and fear (UNFPA, 2005)

• Some compelling factors that cause people to move include:  differences in wages and employment and cost of migration, conditions in various markets including labour, insurance and capital; economic globalization

• West Africa is an area with long traditions of population mobility. Survival strategies have depended for centuries on movements in search of new land and pastures, for trade and conquest.  However,  one needs to be so concerned about skills, migration, return migration, the importance of remittances, child and women trafficking and the menace of HIV/AIDS

• In Liberia, unemployment among youths due to low skills and limited job opportunities and training programmes that most often not responsive to the job market, is a threat to stability.  The huge vulnerable employment of about 78 percent especially among youths needs to be attended to.  While the government and the partners are doing something ( the UNDP and MYS for instance had a national youth volunteer service programme) much needs to be done.

• Colonial taxes increased the need to earn cash and increased population mobility. At present, an estimated one-third of West Africans live outside their district or village of birth. Of the World migrants, nearly 7 millions are from West Africa. Migration in West Africa has been a way life, dating back to the pre colonial era.  The colonial rule created boarders that divided tribes; thus tribes across borders regarded migration across borders as internal movements- the Mende in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Hence there is cultural affinity related movement.

• For Liberia, there are more half a million people between the ages 15-24 (defined as youth according to the UN definition of youth); more that 1 million people are aged 15-34

• The trend in Global migration has tended to increase from 178 million in 2000, to 195 million in 2005 and 214 million in 2010.  Of this female migrants have been 88.3 m, 96.1m and 104.8m respectively.  The change in world migration stock since 2000 has been relatively stable at 1,8 percent.  For Africa, migration during the same years has been 17.1 m, 17.7m, and 19.3m.  Female migrants have accounted for 8, 8.3 and 9.0 respectively, while the change in migration stock has been 0.8 and 1.7 for the periods 2000-05 and 2005-10.  For Liberia, migration trends have been declining, from a peak of 160 thousand in 2000 to 96 thousand in 2010 with female migrants dropping from 71 thousand in 2000 to 43 thousand in 2010.

• Steps can be taken to overcome barriers to mobility in order to improve human development outcomes: liberalizing and simplifying regular channels that allow people with low skills to seek work abroad, ensure basic rights for migrants, reduce transactions cost associated with migration; improving outcomes for migrants and destination communities, enabling benefits for destination communities, and making mobility an integral part of the national development strategies

• Some factors that influenced migration flow in West Africa before 1975:  loosely demarcated boundaries dividing ethnic groups, absence of travel documents, and liberal attitude toward African migrants by colonial administration.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me now touch on progress made in advancing dialogue on human development in Liberia. As you might be aware, the last National Human Development for published in the 2006 with theme: “Mobilizing Capacity for Reconstruction and Development”. This report, the first to be published in the post-war era and the second ever for Liberia, not only won a global award for excellence in analysis in a post-conflict context, but has also been the foundation for advancing the national capacity development dialogue which has resulted in the formulation of a long-term 10-year national capacity development strategy that is now at an advanced stage and spearheaded by the leadership of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs (MPEA). The United Nations family reiterates its commitment to advancing this dialogue in the interest of advancing human development in partnership with the government and people of Liberia.   The UNDP and MYS initiated the national youth volunteer’s programme; other organizations are working to advance the cause of youth.  The Federation of Liberia Youth- the umbrella youth organization has development the national youth policy.  Others include the TVET, the President’s Young professionals programme,  the Fly Girls in Radio  and other capacity building programmes.

Liberian Youth, Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make a number of observations:

1. There is widespread consensus that the best way to afford protection to migrants is to ensure that migration can happen in a legal and orderly manner;

2. The social and cultural effects of migration are not always positive. A counter example is deadly voyage to Europe ,the deportation of youth from the United States back to some African countries, including Liberia, which has been likened to the export of gangs and gang cultures;

3. Just as migrants enrich the social fabric of their adopted countries, so too they can act as agents of change if they return with new values, expectation and ideas shaped by their experience abroad. This is the expectation that underlies such Diaspora targeted programmes like TOKTEN, SES and LECBS.  The skilled youths have played pivotal roles in the development their country and thus youth migration can contribute to moving development forward

4. While Migration has historically been viewed as a survival strategy, increases in mobility in the last decades have turned migration into a global social issue that cannot be ignored;

5. Remittances, which are linked to migrants, have an impact (as a complement to public aid) on poverty reduction and development in many countries. It is estimated remittances to developing countries are four times the size of the total official development assistance, and that in more than 20 developing countries, including Liberia, remittances exceed the earnings from the main commodity export, I need not tell you remittances were so vital to keeping families alive in Liberia during the heat of the war; and even today.

6. The linkage between poverty, inequality and migration notwithstanding, many countries have  not yet integrated migration into national development strategies and agendas or into international assistance programmes,

Let me close here with these parting words cued from the 2012 message of the UN Secretary General:

“Young men and women are not passive beneficiaries, but are equal and effective partners. Their aspirations extend far beyond jobs; youth also want a seat at the table — a real voice in shaping the policies that shape their lives. We need to listen to and engage with young people. We need to establish more and stronger mechanisms for youth participation. The time has come to integrate youth voices more meaningfully into decision-making processes at all level”.

Around the world, there is growing recognition of the need to strengthen policies and investments involving young people. On International Youth Day, we call on Governments, the private sector, civil society and academia to open doors for young people and strengthen partnerships with youth-led organizations. Youth can determine whether this era moves toward greater peril or more positive change. Let us support the young people of our world so they grow into adults who raise yet more generations of productive and powerful leader.

Above all the youth must determine where they want to go.  They must raise their voices to be heard and be held responsible for their actions. Self determination is the way to succeed.  Given its important implications of for the advancement of the youths, efforts must be made to operationalize the national youth policy and action plan without further delay.

As we celebrate this day, I would like to propose that you further debate, bringing key stakeholders, including the youth, employer associations, chambers of commerce, civil society organization as well as local level leaders.  The recommendations from that exchange reflecting on youth migration and development   could help enrich national dialogue on these issues that will ultimately tackle the associated human rights and fundamental freedoms of youth’s migrants, sharing experiences, and suggesting policy actions needed to ensure the protection of migrants especially youth. The UN stands ready and prepared to facilitate this process as part of advocacy and public outreach on this area of human development, to address vulnerabilities and strengthen resilience.

 I thank you

Contact Information

For further information contact

Augusta Pshorr

Communications Analyst

UNDP Liberia

Tel: +231-886-521425/77-000-38-19



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