Remarks at the 5th Workshop on New Types of Urbanization and Social Inclusion of Migrants
Mr. Nicholas Rosellini, UN Resident Coordinator in
Dear Mm. Cui Li, Vice Minister of the National Health Commission (NHC),
Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentleman,
I am pleased to be here at the 5th Workshop on New-type Urbanization and Social Inclusion of Migrants, organized by the National Health Commission (NHC) and the UN System in China. I am happy to note that this is the 2nd consecutive year that the UN is collaborating with the Government of China on the issue of migration and urbanization, following the successful conduct of the first International Forum on New Urbanization, Health and the Social Inclusion of the Migrant Population last year.
During the four decades of China’s opening up and reform, the country has recorded significant social and economic progress and has developed into the world’s second largest economy, where demographic dividend generated by favourable population dynamics has played an important role. Migration of population has been widely recognized as part of this demographic dividend through relocating trained young cohorts to places where human capital will have better returns, mostly in urban areas.
During the period, the number of migrants has increased by 35 times between 1982 and 2017. Thus, the fact that there are now 244 million migrants in China, with one out of every six Chinese a migrant, has invariably led to migration and the well-being of migrants becoming a cross-cutting policy priority, for both the Government and several UN agencies.
As I mentioned at the First International Forum, while countries are working towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, migration has become a defining issue in the formulation of their strategies for achieving the ambitious goals that this Agenda sets out. Given the significance of the issue, the way countries manage migration will be an important factor influencing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs and hence there is substantial scope for strengthening collaboration and knowledge-sharing on this growing agenda.
The 2030 Agenda calls upon countries to reduce inequality, ensure prosperity for all, and to leave no one behind. In this context, countries are urged to pay special attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations. The needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants are explicitly recognized. However, it is not only their needs that are recognized. The Agenda also emphasizes the positive contribution of refugees and migrants to inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.
The SDGs that are particularly relevant for today’s discussions include: targets on ensuring universal health coverage; substantially increasing social protection coverage for the poor and the vulnerable; and ensuring equal opportunity for all by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practice.
All of these targets are about promoting equitable access to quality essential services and financial risk protection for all, regardless of where they live or who they are – migrants or local residents.
As you know better than I, while in early years, single males dominated the migrant population, it has become increasingly diversified with the joining of more women - as spouses as well as individual migrants, children and senior family members. This poses greater challenges for the receiving cities to provide the information and services necessary for decent employment and good quality of life for an expanding and yet increasingly diversified migrant population.
Massive migration, as experienced by China over the past four decades, exerts huge and complex impacts on social and economic development both at the national level as well as for the outgoing and receiving places.
Among others, these include the provision of essential social services for rapidly expanding influx of migrants, ranging from shelter, education, health, social security, and social assistance. For China where social services are largely locally financed, intense discussions have taken place as to who should pay for these services.
Secondly, at the places of origin, the departure of so many young and productive laborers leaves rural areas with women, children and senior family members, and tends to make the less developed rural areas more difficult to develop. Women, children and senior family members are among the most vulnerable groups and face more difficulties with the emigration of young and productive laborer. How to design and implement an integrated development plan to ensure balanced development of both urban and rural areas remains a big challenge.
Thirdly, at the national level, a huge “mobile” population in constant search of better employment and development chances and ready to shift location creates tremendous uncertainties for national development planning. The provision of appropriate information and services is therefore required to guide the selection by migrants of appropriate destinations and suitable employment, based on realistic expectations of life chances in cities. Besides, there is a strong need to develop a centralized social security mechanism to track the social security contributions and benefits of such a highly volatile population, which often is a big challenge.
China has made significant progress in terms of improving the health and social inclusion of the migrant population at the national, provincial and county levels. However, notwithstanding these efforts, gaps remain in ensuring full, equitable and affordable health, education, and pension coverage.
Effectively addressing these gaps calls for a well-functioning, evidence- and rights-based planning system at the receiving and outgoing locations as well as at the national level, including in particular a robust population data system to track migration trends and the needs and situations of migrants. I understand that NHC has made important efforts along the line of population registration, migrants surveillance, and future trends projection to generate evidence on the changing trends of migration and respond efficiently to the needs of migrants. We hope that the experience of NHC in this regard will be adequately analyzed for sharing with other countries that are having or will have similar experiences of population migration to support their policy responses to migration.
To respond to such a complex issue and complement the Government’s efforts, the UN system in China has made its efforts, including in particular evidence generation through support for the conduct of data analysis, as well as policy and technical advisory services for planning and piloting model interventions in selected sites across China. Some of these efforts have been carried out in partnership with Government agencies and some of the lessons learnt from them will be presented at this workshop. It is our desire to further deepen these efforts so that together we can make a bigger difference in improving the well-being of migrants and better leverage migration for sustainable development.
Migration and urbanization are just one of several complex population dynamics that China is currently facing and will continue to face in the coming decades. Others include rapid ageing and unbalanced sex ratio at birth. As part of our efforts to strengthen the UN’s support to China, we set up a theme group on population dynamics in 2017.
Co-chaired by UNFPA and UNICEF and consisting of many other UN agencies, this theme group is expected to facilitate regular dialogue and knowledge exchange on population dynamics programming, strengthen coordination and collaboration, both among UN agencies in China and with the relevant Government agencies. This 5th Workshop on New-type Urbanization and Social Inclusion of Migrants is the first activity organized between the Government and the UN system in China in the name of the UN Theme Group on Population Dynamics. I hope that more activities of this type will be organized in the future.
With that, I wish the workshop a great success in updating us on migration trends in China and the efforts by both Government, UN agencies and other institutional actors in China to improve the living conditions and life chances of migrants in China.