Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:

No Simple Place to Pin Blame for Iraq Oil-For-Food Problems (May 10, 2004)
"The U.S. General Accounting Office is documenting what a shambles the U.S. made of the oil-for-food program after it took over in November, and warning that the new Iraq must be watched closely or history will repeat itself."

Reducing Poverty Takes More Than Just Money (May 3, 2004)
"Poverty has so many other facets beyond what it takes to live from day to day.... Unless all countries and international financial institutions look at the big picture, people in developing countries don't stand a chance of significant gains."

Losing Faith In Democracy: A Warning From Latin America (April 26, 2004)
"The publication last week of an alarming report ... from Latin America will only confirm for many that the euphoria of the early 1990s over the spread of democracy is now history."

Oil-For-Food: Where Was the Security Council? (April 19, 2004)
"Some U.N. officials may have been complicit in Saddam Hussein's illegal profiteering from the 'oil-for-food' program that sustained Iraqi civilians from 1997 until last November."

Corruption's Threat to Democracy (April 12, 2004)
"In March Transparency International released a list of ten top corrupt leaders of the last quarter century. Except for Ukraine and Yugoslavia, all were in Africa, Asia and Latin America."

The UN's Real Blunder in Iraq (April 7, 2004)
"It has been demonstrated that irresponsibility, a lack of integrity, and a careless inattention to duty can, tragically, carry a deadly price."

More from U.N. Notebook.

U.N. Notebook | May 17, 2004
from U. N. Wire Millions of People Worldwide on the Move

by Barbara Crossette

UNITED NATIONS—Think of a country worried about illegal immigration, human trafficking, open borders and the threat of terrorist infiltration. The United States? No, in this case the nation concerned about migration is one of the world's poorest, smallest and newest—East Timor.

The situation in East Timor—the former Indonesian territory that declared its independence in 1999 and joined the United Nations in 2002—serves as an example of a reality now gaining more international attention, which is that the gigantic numbers of people on the move in the world affect the fortunes not only of industrial nations but also of many fragile countries still struggling to develop.

Making sense of the hugely complex subject of migration worldwide is the job of a new commission appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan in December. The co-chairs of the panel, which has just begun its work, came to New York a few weeks ago to brief diplomats, U.N. officials and representatives of intergovernmental and private organizations, and to ask for the broadest possible input from the many diverse groups and institutions that deal with the movement of people.

Laborers, professionals, refugees and those fleeing natural disasters and wars all fit the description of migrant. Whatever their reasons for moving, they may run into unwelcoming resistance in places where they go looking for hope. There doesn't have to be any logic in this. Europe, with an aging and shrinking population in need of labor, is tightening rather than loosening its immigration and asylum laws.

Mamphela Ramphele of South Africa, who co-chairs the Global Commission on International Migration with Jan O. Karlsson of Sweden, said that the world has not done enough to gather and analyze data worldwide. She sees a need to end an era of immigration/migration policies based on popular sentiment and political opportunism. "We hope to close the gap between myth and reality," she told the gathering of experts. The commission's report is expected to be finished at the end of July 2005.

East Timor's story, one of dozens among developing nations, is the subject of a new online report by Kimberly Hamilton, managing editor of the Migration Information Source, a one-stop site for nonpartisan data and insight on many countries. The report, East Timor: Old Migration Challenges in the World's Newest Country, describes how issues of refugee return, asylum, sex trafficking, unemployment, a weak economy and the effects of a large (for a nation this size) U.N. assistance mission (now being wound down) all play into even a small country's policy mix.

East Timor, with a total population of about 800,000, saw two-thirds of its population displaced after violence broke out in 1999, fomented by pro-Indonesian militias. About 220,000 of them have come home, but to what? There are few jobs for a nation where half the population is under 15, promising even more demand for jobs ahead. The new country has to tackle a range of problems all at once, from building institutions to curtailing immigration to expanding industries and recreating public services lost when skilled Indonesians left. All of these relate to the mass movement of people.

Around the world, the U.N. Population Division found in a 2002 survey that 175 million people were living in countries where they were not born. The number of migrants has doubled since 1975, with one in every 10 people in richer nations a migrant and one in 70 people in the developing countries. More than 11 million people moved into industrialized nations between 1995 and 2000, and more than 5 million of them landed in North America.

Migrations, particularly illegal movements of people, are cause for concern in every region, most frequently for cultural or economic reasons. India fears perennial influxes of Bangladeshis, South Africa and Botswana send back Zimbabweans and Mexico does not want to be known as a transit stop for Central Americans and boat people from as far away as China. Australia has drawn opprobrium for not allowing refugees to land on its shores, or detaining them in camps if they do.

In 2001, the United Nations found, 44 percent of developed countries had policies aiming toward reduced immigration. So did 39 percent of developing countries.

Rolf K. Jenny, the executive director of the new global commission, which is based in Geneva, told the meeting of experts and other interested parties in New York that the panel hoped to lay the groundwork for an objective debate involving governments, the media, nongovernmental organizations and others. The commission hopes to weave together disparate strands into a coherent picture of a world in motion, linking issues as seemingly unrelated as human rights, the roles of women, national security concerns, trade policies, the economic impact of remittances migrants send home, labor markets and cultural integration.

There has never been a migration study this big or ambitious. It was not welcomed by every nation, either. The topic of migration has some built-in tensions, and opening it up for world scrutiny risks some hazards. There are countries that will argue that people should have the right to move freely in search of work, relieving population pressures in their homelands and contributing their earnings to development there. At the other end of the spectrum are nations and population experts who argue that this kind of open safety valve does nothing to encourage governments to improve economies, cut population growth and remove hurdles like corruption from national life. With 98 percent of population growth in this century predicted to take place in the developing nations, such arguments find broad resonance in the developed world.

Karlsson says that there is "enormous knowledge out there—the problem is getting people to read the right pages." The commission is traveling to regional forums in five areas of the world, planning mostly to listen to local concerns. Karlsson calls it "a search for a common ground."

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More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National Journal Group. For information on National Journal Group publications, see

Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.