Message from the Director General

International Migrants Day

(Kathmandu, 18 December 2012) 

ICIMOD’s observance of International Migrants Day this year highlights the large development potential from the great magnitude of migrant and remittance flows in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, the need to raise awareness of this potential, and the action necessary to take advantage of it. 

Over the past decade, migration and remittances have progressively become more visible in the global development agenda. In the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, as in other mountain areas of the world, migration is a traditional phenomenon. It is one of the livelihood strategies used by mountain people to respond to changes and is regularly combined with other livelihood strategies. In recent times, environmental and socio-economic changes – including increased incidence and severity of natural disasters, declining crop yields and availability of natural resources, reduced diversity of mountain agriculture, declines in water flows, growing food insecurity and poverty, and increased awareness of opportunities beyond the rural areas – have led to a considerable increase in migration in this region. 

As a livelihood strategy, migration can diversify income, reduce pressure on resources in origin communities, help people to better withstand the impacts of environmental stressors, and allow for better access to information and social networks. In particular, financial remittances, i.e., money sent home by migrants, are becoming an increasingly significant contribution to the livelihoods of the mountain people in the HKH. They provide a safety net for the dependents left behind and are central to the basic subsistence needs of many mountain households. Financial remittances often add to recipient households’ income from other sources such as agriculture, daily wages, salaries, or business.

Migrants also act as powerful agents for social transformation since they import ideas, behaviours, knowledge, and skills from their destination to their place of origin. Their role in promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, and the knowledge of their families is well known. In many cases, migration not only increases capacity to adapt to change, but also enables individuals and households to build assets that help them to deal with both known and unexpected challenges

Of course migration is not without its challenges and risks. Migrants have fallen into debt while trying to meet the cost of migration. Many migrants end up in low-paid jobs because they lack skills as a result of limited opportunities for education and vocational training in their own communities. Often they consume a major share of their earnings because of the high cost of living in their destination communities. A major share of remittances is channeled through informal means such as hand carrying and ‘hundi’ (informal money transfer instruments), which are generally quicker, cheaper, and less time consuming than commercial currency transfers but are unreliable and risky. In any case formal means of remittance transfer have limited reach in mountain areas, and the bureaucratic procedures and paperwork involved in receiving money through banks can be discouraging to financially unaware family members. Lack of local infrastructure, access to markets, and investment opportunities impede the contribution of financial and social remittances to local development. 

Furthermore, migration in the HKH region is a highly gendered process: In general, men leave and women stay behind. This can have both positive and negative impacts for the social status, workload, and decision-making capacity of women.

ICIMOD with its regional partners is making concerted efforts to raise global and regional awareness of the role of migration and remittances in development, poverty alleviation, and adaptation through action research, roundtable events, presentations, and publications.

On this year’s International Migrant Day, ICIMOD would like to send a loud and clear message to regional and national policy makers and practitioners, as well as to grassroots communities: The importance of migration and remittances has to be recognized. The development potential of migration and remittances is too substantial to remain unaddressed through lack of understanding and awareness. Improvements and innovations are needed in governance and adaptive management of migration. The benefits from migration and remittances must be maximized for poverty reduction, development, and adaptation. The gender aspects of migration also require urgent attention. 

With best wishes,
David Molden