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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

24 March 2004

Briefing correspondents on the thirty-seventh session of the Commission on Population and Development at a Headquarters press briefing this morning, Joseph Chamie, the Director of the United Nations Population Division, said there had been remarkable change in global population trends and policies in the last three decades.

Describing population as one of the United Nations’ notable success stories, Mr. Chamie, who was joined by several of the Commission’s key participants, said the Commission was meeting at an interesting time and considering a number of issues. The session, which concludes on Friday, marked the 10-year anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, which was held in Cairo, and the 30-year anniversary of the 1974 population conference in Bucharest, the first global, intergovernmental population conference.

Using a deck of playing cards as an illustration, Mr. Chamie said the uncertainty about choosing a card from the deck of cards had many similarities to the population field. Just as in a deck of cards, however, there were certain rules and laws in population. Everyone had to die and everyone was born at age zero. In the past, for example, a woman did not know how many children she would have. Many years ago, in the developing world, women would have six children on average. Today, it was at the level of three children. By exposing all of the cards, the goal was to reduce uncertainty and give people a choice as to the number and spacing of children.

Announcing several new publications, he said the Division had issued this week the “World Population Polices 2003”, which contained a compendium of policies and population indicators for all countries of the world and provided an overview of the last 30 years of population policy and evolution. A second set of publications dealt with urbanization, he added.

Continuing, he said it was very clear that, while the number one issue of concern to the developing world was mortality and rapid population growth, the main concern for many of the developed countries was low fertility and declining population growth.

Raid Tabbarah, the Director of the Centre for Development Studies and Projects (Beirut), who is scheduled to brief the Commission tomorrow, said he had been asked to take a long-term view on population policy. He had started in the international policy business some 30 years ago with the Bucharest conference. In 1974, he had headed the United Nations population section and had been in charge of drafting the first major document on population policy.

As the international community’s involvement in population policy had started some 30 years ago, he believed it was important to review developments throughout the entire period. Studying the longer period made it possible to see if there had been any deviation from the mandate given to the international community some 30 years ago.

The Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, Brunson McKinley, who had briefed the Commission yesterday, said he had appealed for a comprehensive policy approach to migration. Driven by long-term forces and accelerated by globalization, migration would not go away. Governments and societies had to come to terms with migration and organize it better in terms of law, practice and policy.

For many developing countries, a portion of the segment of the population that had migrated represented the best educated and most dynamic part of the economy, he said. “Brain drain”, in which highly educated people left their countries for better opportunities in more developed countries, was still a big obstacle. The current trend was to help developing countries find ways to turn “brain drain” into “brain gain”. That could be done by using that segment of the population for the benefit of country they had left, whether by returning or by allowing industries to develop through the use of contacts in the more developed countries. How to use overseas talent and money in a better fashion was a big challenge.

Matching the needs for workers and professionals in richer societies with people with the right qualifications in developing countries was another important factor that held a key to the future, he added. Whether people moved to the jobs, or jobs to the people was a big debate. The goal was to make it easier for people to live, work and study in other countries. The International Organization for Migration, which also worked on the issue of forced migration, was growing in its partnerships with governments, civil society, and non-governmental organizations all the time. Migration was not managed as well as it should be, he added.

To what extent were rural areas in North Africa and Latin America producing migration to urban areas in Europe and the United States? a correspondent asked.

Responding, Mr. Tabbarah said that brain drain, not rural to urban migration, was the new issue. It was not like it used to be when less educated people migrated to developed countries to search of a better life. Today, people who were already urbanized, educated and skilled were moving to developed countries.

Mr. McKinley said it was true that many Latin Americans ended up taking jobs in the United States and many Maghrebi took jobs in Europe. While that had always been the case, there had also been a clear evolution. Lower tier jobs, often done by migrant workers, did not represent the growth sector today. People with skills in high growth areas, such as information technology, were now migrating both to Europe and the United States. The demographic trends were also interesting. With a falling birth rate in Mexico, some believed the Mexican economy would require someday outside help. Mexico was coming along fairly quickly and the old urban-rural dichotomy no longer applied.

Addressing the issue of security and the perception that migration could lead to instability, he said that migration per se was not a security threat. Some 99.99 per cent of the people who migrated to other countries were honest and innocent people who contributed much to society. Only a small percentage of people posed a threat to societies. Massive -– some would say drastic -- efforts were being made to identify and protect against that. It was not for him to judge. While it was unfair to minimize threat, one had to put it in perspective.

A separate issue was the social, cultural and psychological insecurity that people sometimes referred to, he said. While that was also a factor, it was quite different and had to be kept separate. The culture shock of diversity did exist. One saw more of that in Europe. But, it was wrong to confuse the two issues.

In the Israeli-Palestinian context, the Israelis had the view that the Palestinian population growth was a weapon. What was the strength of that point of view? a correspondent asked.

Mr. Tabbarah said demographic issues often entered into political decisions. If Israel were to take over the entire former Palestine within a few years, the Arabs would be the majority, making things different inside Israel. It was a typical case of where demographics entered into politics in a very obvious way. Demographics affected every aspect of life in a real way.

Mr. McKinely said it was necessary to keep in mind that Israel was a State created by migration. Most of Israel’s population had been gathered from all parts of the world by deliberate migration. That was how the Jewish State had come into being. It was also an advanced, liberal society, where the birth rate had declined. The differential in birth rate between the Jewish groups inside the territory and the Palestinian groups was a strong factor. The current strategy of building a wall around the country to interfere with natural trends was, at the very least, somewhat controversial. That was an extreme example, however.

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