(Submitted by SVG Diaspora Committee of New York Inc.)

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York Inc. recognises International Migrants Day, which will be celebrated on Dec. 18, 2013. The International Migrants Day aims to highlight the significant migrant segment of the global population, especially its meaning for the development of countries around the world. Furthermore, the International Migrants Day is indicative of the international community’s recognition of the importance of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants. About 232 million international migrants or people are living outside of their homeland or country of birth or origin. In addition, there are 740 million internal migrants. This global migration population is a critical component of the global population impacting on the political, economical, social, cultural, and environmental affairs of all regions of the world.

It is estimated that over 300,000 people of Vincentian heritage reside outside of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Vincentians living abroad or in the Diaspora predominantly live in North America, United Kingdom, and the Caribbean. Vincentians also reside in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and other countries in Europe.

Over many decades now, Vincentians in the Diaspora have been making philanthropic, financial, intellectual, and humanitarian contributions to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Government has established a special office to focus on Diaspora affairs called the Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit (RIDU). To get the involvement of Vincentians abroad in the policy making process in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a host of consultative activities have been conducted in the Diaspora covering policy initiatives such as Constitutional Reform, National Economic and Social Development Plan, National Cultural Policy, sports, investments, linkages between Vincentian NGOs in the Diaspora and NGOs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and other policy matters. It must be noted that Vincentians living in foreign countries have established themselves as professionals in the private sector, public sector, cooperative sector, and civil society sector, including academia, of these foreign countries. International Migrants Day could serve in the future to highlight these contributions of the Vincentian Diaspora and to pay more attention to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Vincentians living abroad.

Globally, emigrants contribute to the development of their country of birth and also contribute to their host country. They send home remittances, which are estimated to have worth US $500 billion in 2012. They also contribute ideas, technology, and skills to their country of birth and serve to facilitate trade between their country of birth and their host country. Importantly, immigrants make contributions also to the countries they live in. They provide labour, entrepreneurship, talents, and cultural diversity to the host societies. For instance, it is estimated that 28 per cent of new businesses in the United States in 2011 were started by immigrants, even when immigrants make only 13 per cent of the America’s population. President Barack Obama, on January 29th, 2013 stated: “We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. That’s who we are — in our bones. The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths. It keeps our workforce young. It keeps our country on the cutting edge. And it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.”

Countries around the world are paying close attention to migration issues. All major national sectors such as Governments, private business, cooperatives, and civil society organizations are linked to the migration process. They are forging stronger links between migration and development. Many have established governmental offices, policies and activities that directly address issues related to their Diaspora. The United Nations General Assembly for the second time in history convened a High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, which took place October 3-4, 2013 at UN Headquarters in New York. The first of this kind was held in 2006. This process led by the international community will pick up a lot of speed in the months and years ahead.

But it must be pointed point out that migration can have negative effects and it is associated with inhumane practices. Many educated people leave their country of birth, resulting in critical shortages of human resources. The countries of origin lose actual and potential taxpayers and wealth generators. The social fabric of local communities and nations are weakened when so many qualified and capable citizens migrate. In addition, the process of migration could involve human rights violations. Migrants’ human rights and dignity are usually violated on a daily basis. Many migrants work in the informal sector, which is known for poor working conditions. The smuggling and trafficking in human beings are also inhumane activities associated with migration.

Despite these negative features of the migration process, it is very safe to proclaim that all is not lost. The negative effects of migration could be lessened and eliminated. Both sending and receiving countries can put in place policies that will address these negative effects in a human rights and development based framework. A systematic approach is necessary if the full benefits of migration are to be felt. The Diaspora could play a great role but it has to be organized to play this role well. Moreover, the International Migrants Day could play a huge role in raising awareness of the contributions and plight of migrants; and it could serve to mobilize resources to facilitate the contributions of migrants to their countries of birth and to their host country.

For these reasons, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York Inc. will continue to raise awareness through advocacy.