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A Step to Protect Migrants' Rights

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) will soon launch a US$3-million project to improve China's migration management "capacity building", IOM Director-General Brunson McKinley said yesterday.

"Capacity building means research, training, workshops and visits to places that have managed migration effectively," he said.

The project will help Chinese government agencies and social organizations improve their mechanism and services to protect the rights of migrant workers at home and abroad.

Earlier, McKinley and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai formally opened the IOM liaison office in Beijing.

The main function of the liaison office will be to maintain close contact with all parts of the Chinese governments and society, McKinley said. 

McKinley is on a four-day visit to China, during which he has held talks with heads of the ministries of foreign affairs, labor and security, which are IOM's major partners.

"We had very good talks, open and friendly, both at the ministerial and the senior working level. I must say I found a very positive attitude," McKinley said.

Set up in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration. With 120 member and 19 observer states and offices in more than 100 countries, the Switzerland-based organization is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration.

It provides services to and advises governments and immigrants.

China became an IOM observer state in June 2001, and the two sides signed an agreement on September 5, 2006, allowing IOM to open a liaison office in Beijing.

As an observer country, China can attend its council meetings but does not have the voting power.

McKinley said the Beijing project was made possible because of the Chinese government, International Labor Organization and the European Union.

IOM is looking for other "ideas, concepts or proposals" too, to help the Chinese government, economy and society.

More than 500,000 Chinese work abroad for domestic companies, and the number of those seeking employment with overseas firms has been increasing in recent years, the IOM website says.

Besides, a huge mass of people move from China's rural areas to its cities for employment, with their estimated number being more than 100 million at any point.

Correspondently, China has a large population of overseas people who work or study in the country.

Safeguarding the rights and interests of all these people and maximizing the benefits of migration for national development are today a priority for the government.

"China is now beginning to realize it's importance in international migration. It's preparing to deal with migration as a policy issue," McKinley said.

"There is a gap between the reality of China's migration and the ability of Chinese society to deal with it in an effective way. That's why our first program would be to train Chinese officials."

Problems arising out of internal migration is also an issue that IOM hopes to address with the help of the Chinese government.

Some of IOM's experiences in other countries may be useful to China, especially the question migrants' integration in the urban milieu, he said.

"IOM is not selling programs to China but asking it what it needs. First step, listen; second step, help."

The problems associated with China's internal migration integration are largely because of the shortcomings in the system, said Han Keqing, an expert on social security with Renmin University of China.

"The hukou (permanent residential permit) system, social and regional prejudices are all related to the policies. So it's good for IOM to share its experience, especially in 'capacity building' with China," Han said.

China is the last leg of McKinley's four-nation tour in Asia that has taken him to Japan, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea.

(China Daily March 21, 2007)

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