Asia’s Migration Morass

NEW YORK – This summer, 17 Pakistani asylum seekers died when their boat capsized en route to Australia. Given violence at home – exemplified recently by the Pakistani Taliban’s effort to kill 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out in favor of girls’ education – it is not surprising that migrants are willing to take great risks in pursuit of new opportunities abroad. In fact, thousands of migrants cross Asia’s numerous and porous frontiers each year with the help of expensive brokers who secure their passage.

As Asia becomes increasingly interconnected, migrants have the potential to contribute to all sectors of society. But government-imposed restrictions on cross-border mobility are generating negative outcomes.

Despite talk of strengthening regional cooperation, a framework for dealing with migration remains an elusive prospect. Given their diverse economic and political circumstances, Asia’s leaders have been unable to agree on a strategy that addresses migration’s fundamental cause: people’s natural inclination to pursue the best available opportunities by any means possible.

Last month, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar outlined their views on regional linkages at the Asia Society’s New York headquarters. While both demonstrated an understanding of the value of cooperation, their strategies have little in common.