An Inter Press Service Feature
By Alecia McKenzie
CAIRO, Sep 9 (IPS) - Cairo is not simply a conference on abortion and much more important matters such as migration and the North's unsustainable consumption patterns should be the focus of debate here, according to a representative of the Council of Europe.
''With racism and xenophobia on the rise in many countries because of people's antagonism to migrants, governments need to make a commitment to deal with the root causes of the problem,'' said Robert Guthrie, the Council's Director of Social and Economic Affairs on Friday at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
''People are very sensitive in Europe to the migration issue, and while it is up to each country to set its own migration policy, our job is to make sure those policies meet human rights,'' he added.
The Council of Europe is a pan-European organisation of 32 countries. He added that the Council is working to ''minimise the fears of Europe''.
On Thursday the ICPD main committee announced that there was wide agreement on the migration issue, except for certain aspects of the language dealing with whether migrants' families should have the same rights as they do.
Some countries do not agree with the idea that a migrant's immediate family also should be permitted to reside in the host country. This is because allowing families in would only increase numbers they are already trying to limit.
In the past year, for instance, many Western European countries have taken tough steps to curb immigration, but the European Council says that such policies should be re-examined.
''Against a background of closed borders and a growing refusal to accept migrants, we need to ask ourselves what role migration can play in creating the political, economic, ecological and human conditions for sustainable world development, of which one of the keys is harmony between nations,'' says a report by the Council's Parliamentary Assembly, on demographic change and sustainable development.
Compiled by Swiss Parliamentarian Leni Robert, the report says that migratory movements in Europe are ''far from representing the lion's share of international migratory movements, as some claim''.
Leni Robert said Friday that European politicians apparently lacked the courage to ''tell people not to fight against those who come to us for help''.
''We need to tell people that poorer countries have even worse migration problems,'' she said. Statistics from the United Nations and the Council itself show that it is developing countries that have most of the international migrants, including refugees.
But because some Western politicians fan the flames of racism to get elected, many Europeans are ''now afraid of all those people who they think come from abroad to take advantage of our riches,'' Robert said.
This fear manifests itself publicly in attacks against foreigners, such as the savage killing of five Turkish immigrants in 1993 and the firebombing of refugee hostels.
Such violence has led the Council to work for an international convention against racism.
The ICPD Draft Programme of Action, too, calls for governments to ''ensure protection against racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia'', but the whole migration issue is being overshadowed by the abortion debate.
Whatever the final outcome, the Council of Europe would like to see increased development funding for countries that produce migrants.
''There should be a higher percentage for social concerns such as health services, education, gender equity,'' Leni Robert said.
''We must change our thinking, our laws and our fiscal and trading systems to solve the problem,'' she concluded.