6 September 2012, New York, USA – When talking about labour migration, the discourse tends to focus either on the conditions which force migrants to leave their home countries or on their situation in the host country. There is another critical side to migration, however, which is often neglected: the return of labour migrants to their home countries. As UNITAR New York Head of Office, Yvonne Lodico, explains, the reintegration is often stressful, even when the return is planned. When the return is based on exigent circumstances, reintegration can be very difficult not only for the migrant, but for the home country government. For example, the Libya crisis in 2011 forced approximately 800,000 migrant workers to leave the country, facing their countries of origin not only with the big challenge of reintegration, but often also adding to burden of existing food insecurity and underemployment. Currently, similar situation is happening with labour migrants who are seeking to leave the crisis in Syria, showing once more the urgent need for comprehensive and integrated policies and programmes which can assist returning migrants to overcome the difficulties of repatriation.
In order to shed light on the numerous challenges of reintegration and to discuss possible strategies to meet them, the UNITAR New York Office, in a collaborative effort with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and with the financial support of the MacArthur Foundation, brought together migration experts from UN institutions and the academic field in a “Seminar on the Reintegration of Labour Migrants” held at the UN Headquarters on 6 September 2012. Amy Muedin, Programme Specialist, IOM, illustrated the variety of problems, migrants face when returning to their countries of origin: Returning with empty hands often confronts migrants with situations of psychological stress, caused by the feeling of embarrassment or even by the rejection of their home communities. This requires an integrated approach to reintegration, which focuses not only on providing economic opportunities to the returning migrants, but also includes working with the home communities to prepare them for the difficulties which the return of friends or relatives might present. Especially vulnerable to the risks of exploitation and abuse by employers in the receiving country are unskilled workers with a low educational level, as Ms. Shabana Har-Rahman from the Bangladesh Poverty Elimination and Community Education (Peace) Foundation explained. She called for a greater focus of migration programmes on ensuring human rights.
Ms. Natasha Iskander, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at New York University, further pointed out economic costs for reintegration, and these include differences and appreciation of skills: skills obtained in one country do not translate back in the country of origin. In a survey among Mexican construction workers, conducted by Iskander’s research group, a great number of migrants complained that Mexican companies did not recognize or appreciate the skills acquired in the US, and often they have to start again at the same or at a lower position when returning to their old field of employment. Therefore, according to Iskander, supporting entrepreneurship is not enough to ensure a sustainable reintegration of returning migrants into economy: repatriation programmes should include mechanisms to match the potential of returning migrants.