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Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

I wrote this article from Zimbabwe, where I was attending a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) on migration. The meeting had participants from the private sector, trade unions and different arms of government from across the region, with many ministers in attendance.

The main observation I took away was how much there is to do. Take the issue of skills. There is a real issue of skills recognition by different Sadc member states and a strong need to align accreditation systems. Often what this can result in is someone with a higher skill doing a low-skilled job because the country they are in doesn’t recognise the accreditation body. Fixing this would greatly help the movement of necessary medium and higher skills around the region.

Connected to this is how difficult countries can make it to allow critical skills into their countries, or even just people who want to invest in the country. I had to jump out of the meeting to take part in an excellent Business Day Dialogue on the tourism sector in SA, which was supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO). One issue that came through is the increase in people wanting to live in SA but work for existing employers  (remote or nomad workers). These workers don’t take jobs from South Africans; they just spend foreign currency in the country, much like retirees.

Yet persistent issues with visas are occurring that are discouraging this kind of inward investment. The same goes for highly skilled individuals.

A British friend of mine who works in SA as a specialised scientist is leaving, as while he has a permit his wife (who is a consultant and works globally and remotely), cannot get one. The precarity of the situation as they have a young baby is too much. They are leaving.

A second example: a friend of my son had to spend eight weeks in Germany (six weeks out of school) to get a South African work permit. His father is a skilled engineer. He didn’t get the permit on the first attempt, and they had to go back last week and secure it. This stuff is just nuts.

A second observation was the need to connect opportunity with supply. Take the Seychelles (a Sadc member state) which is a dependent migrant country. Yet most migrants to the Seychelles (and Mauritius to a lesser extent) come from outside the Sadc, such as the Indian subcontinent rather than from fellow Sadc countries.

My last observation was how the issue of xenophobia loomed large over the discussions. I was struck (as a non-African) how emotional delegates got when speaking about the issue. Migration is a global reality. There are about 300-million international migrants in the world. In addition, there is a total population of more than 100-million people worldwide who are either refugees (fleeing a war or persecution), asylum seekers (seeking political asylum), internally displaced people or stateless people. Collectively that amounts to about 5% of the global population.

There are solutions if policymakers think rationally and using a “whole of government” approach. For example, there is an opportunity to support refugees with remote work. Globally the private sector could provide jobs to refugee populations and advise on the skills required for these jobs. Quite often refugees can be skilled individuals. Remote work has the potential to change the narrative of employment for the displaced.

Granted, many refugees will not fit into this medium-higher skilled bracket, and many will be climate refugees. According to the UN high commissioner for refugees, an annual average of 21.5-million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related events since 2008. Some forecasts  predict that 1.2-billion people could be displaced globally by 2050 due to climate change and natural disasters. Those are enormous numbers.

Support for these refugees must come from those countries that have caused the problem, namely the largest carbon emitter nations. A trillion dollars was the figure bandied about in Sharm el Sheikh at the COP27 summit. Those funds must include direct support to climate refugees and the states that host them.

Migration and movement of people, forced or otherwise, has always been with us. It is an emotive topic, one where facts are often set aside. Yet it can be economically, socially and culturally beneficial if facts are focused on and rational conclusions drawn.

• Rynhart is senior specialist in employers’ activities with the ILO, based in SA. He is author of  ‘Colouring the Future: Why the UN plan to end poverty and wars is working’

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