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Migrants' contribution to building blue economy

By Michael Pillinger | December 25th 2018

I am a migrant. I have been a migrant since my childhood. For various opportunities, from studies to work, I have spent more time overseas than in my own country of origin. I can also say that both my heart and my home are in more than one country.

As Chief of Mission of IOM (the UN Migration Agency) in Kenya, I was honored to be one of the partners of Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Global Diaspora Forum, a side event in the recently-concluded Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi. It was the first global conference on the sustainable blue economy, bringing together more than 17,000 participants from 183 countries.

The participants learnt how to build a blue economy that harnesses the potential of oceans, seas, lakes and rivers to improve the lives of all, particularly people in developing States, women, youth and indigenous people. It further taught them how to leverage the latest innovations, scientific advances and best practice to build prosperity while conserving waters for future generations. The Diaspora Forum attracted over 300 participants from the universities, embassies, civil society organisations, and media.

With the signing of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM, in Morroco from 10-11 December), which Kenya strongly supports, the Diaspora Forum and the Global Blue Economy Conference have started big steps toward the key objectives on strengthening international cooperation and global partnerships for safe, orderly and regular migration; creating conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries and empowering migrants and societies to realise full inclusion and social cohesion.

Climate change

It was heartening to see young women and men, by age or by affinity, engage diaspora from Africa, Asia and Europe, through direct questions and through the twitter world with the hashtags on #DiasporaAndBlueEconomy. I have placed a mental note for future collaboration with the sharing from the Philippine Embassy, on turning a national tragedy towards better assistance to their nationals, from institutional response to annual budget allocations.

I have been encouraged by the panel discussions highlighting their contributions beyond remittances (for Kenya that is at least $2 billion per year), such as working on climate change impacts on communities dependent on bodies of water (including effective communication with communities and finding climate-friendly business alternatives), the law enforcement challenges in maritime security, especially in cross border contexts; the opportunities under the African Union Free Movement Protocol as well as the need for portability and protection of rights, regardless of migration status.

The migrant and diaspora communities have clearly expressed, during the  forum and in various social media channels, their continuing interest to be involved in making the blue economy sustainable. All the forum's panel members have worked and are working in places that are not their countries of origin.

Public sector

Throughout the forum, we have seen and heard numerous good practices, from policy changes (like the Philippine efforts to serve better their nationals through the creation of a dedicated migrants unit within their Department of Foreign Affairs), to technology development (German Chamber’s climate-smart enterprise), to maritime security law enforcement initiatives and capacity-building (in Ghana, and with the IOM Africa Capacity Building Centre based in Tanzania).

The students, faculty and researchers from various academic and research institutions have contributed in knowledge generation about migrants and diaspora initiatives. The key is to ensure more diverse voices (including women and the youth) then scale up all the private and public sector efforts, and connect them with the Kenya National Coordination Mechanism on migration (NCM), and the targeted support to flesh out the Nairobi Statement (forged at the end of the three-day conference).

In any undertaking, to be truly groundbreaking and sustainable, we need to put people, especially the vulnerable and marginalised women and men, girls and boys – at the center. This, I have seen with the tireless work of Kenyans (civil servants and civil society groups), diaspora from across the globe, and even my own colleagues, which made it possible to hold an interactive forum with limited resources, yet armed with an inclusive vision and a big heart.

Now, all we need, aside from deeper pockets, will be a bigger heart and better collaborative skills to deepen the dialogue and expand our partnerships to make the Nairobi Statement useful for communities (geographically and by sector) threatened by resource conflicts, climate change risks, transnational organised crimes and violent extremism.

With 2018 ending on a high note for migrants’ rights, the Global Compact for Migration signing coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I am more hopeful for 2019 as Kenya and other countries and stakeholders work together (“whole of society approach) and towards safe, inclusive and sustainable communities.

Mr Pillinger is IOM Kenya Chief of Mission


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