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In Praise of Migration, UN Misses the Net and Bangalore While Going Soft on Financial Exclusion

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 6 -- The dual role and constraints of the UN system are on display in its just-released Report on International Migration and Development. The report highlights the global rise in migrants, from 155 million in 1990 to 191 million in 2005, and in remittances back to their countries of origin, from $102 billion in 1995 to $232 billion in 2005. Kofi Annan's introduction to the report recites that "it is for Governments to decide whether more or less migration is desirable" -- then headlines "benefits at both ends of the voyage."

Other wires' Migration Report coverage: AP  Reuters  AFP  BBC

            The report does not address the accelerating trend of corporations in developed countries outsourcing back-office and other skilled work to countries like India. A call to customer service is increasingly answered in an offshore call center, as is live on-line help. X-rays can be read and diagnoses delivered by lower-cost doctors overseas, over the Internet. Now investment banks' stock analysis comes from overseas, and Reuters business stories about mergers in California have Indian datelines. The trend may be that while some can ply their trades over the Internet, telecommuting on steroids, less skilled workers still need to migrate, by any means necessary.

            The reason for the Secretary-General's and other UN officials' statement that "it is for Governments to decide whether more or less migration is desirable" is to be found in the anti-immigrant political debates in France, Germany and the United States. The UN does not want to be accused of promoting open migration right at the time that both Houses of the U.S. Congress, to differing degrees, are trying to substantially slow and problematize entry into the United States.

            The report will be taken up by the UN General Assembly in September. The General Assembly has already spoken -- without strong-arming Capital-G Governments, of course -- on the question of remittances, urging countries to bring about more competition and impose fewer restrictions. The just-released report states that

"Governments can do much to increase competition in the remittance market and maintain pressure on fee reduction, including... requiring all money-transfer agents to disclose all charges and fees before a transaction is made; and disseminating information on costs in a systemic manner... Governments of both countries of origin and destination can reduce regulatory constraints hindering the use of banking institutions by migrants."

            Governments can do these things -- but do they? Following 9/11/01, the United States made it much more difficult to open a bank account, particularly for migrants. Al Barakaat, the major remitter to one of the poorest countries on earth, Somalia (see below), had its assets frozen. Officials implied that informal but longstanding remittance networks like South Asia's hawala system were rife with money laundering for terrorism.

            Money laundering and it cousin, tax evasion, may play some unexamined explanatory part the Report's Table 11 of the Top Twenty Countries in terms of receipts of remittances. The first three are no surprise -- India, China and Mexico -- but Number Four jumps out: France, with $12.7 billion remitted to it in 2004. This compares to only $3 billion having been remitted to the United States, a figure the UN report's table 11 cites to the World Bank. The World Bank table is here in PDF; more detailed remittance data is available here, in Excel format. Neither the World Bank report nor the just-released UN report answer, where is the money of American expatriates going?  A question for another day.

Forced migration

            The question of the day at the Secretary-General's Spokesman's noon press briefing was Somalia. A statement was read out, from the elusive SRSG Francois Lonseny Fall in Nairobi, that

"members of the international community welcome reconciliatory statements from the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) and encourage a similar approach from the Union of Islamic Courts and other parties in Mogadishu."

            The facts on the ground are that Islamic Courts drove the warlords out of Mogadishu, and that the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism warlords were thrown out of the ever Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa. So to what "reconciliatory statements" was Amb. Lonseny Fall referring? The spokesman said he would find and identify them, but nothing was received by the expiration of the embargo on the UN Report on International Migration and Development at 4 p.m.. [Inner City Press was instructed, by a spokesperson for the General Assembly president, not to call any countries' missions for responses to the Report prior to 4 p.m.. Therefore we link to this response, to a separate but related UN migration report: "Austria's representative, Hannah Liko on behalf of the European Union, notes that, 'while the [Report] covered a number of important issues, it had missed a deeper analysis of the root causes of migration.'"

            Also at the noon briefing, the spokesman was asked if there is any update on the plight of the seven UN peacekeepers taken hostage in Ituri in the Congo. "No," the spokesman said. We'll keep asking...

  Other wires' Migration Report coverage: AP  Reuters  AFP  BBC

UN-reported post-embargo post-script: With the embargo lifted, Hania Zlotnik was asked how the International Organization for Migration relates or not to the report. "They are not part of the UN system," Ms. Zlotnik said. "We've tried to swallow them but we get indigestion." Responding to expressions of regret that she, as the report's author, could not (easily) be quoted, except it was projected and confirmed by one paper of record (which quoted her that "societies don't ask themselves enough what they would do without migrants"), Ms. Zlotnik shrugged, "That's how they do it," and headed down the escalator from the UN's third floor...

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UN Sees Somalia Through a Glass, Darkly, While Chomsky Speaks on Corporations and Everything But Congo

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 5 -- Most of Mogadishu fell over the weekend to so-called Islamic Court. They declared victory over the also so-called Anti-Terror Alliance, also known as warlords. From the Transitional Federal Government in Baidoa, the warlords were expelled. A corner sees to have been turned and so at UN Headquarters at noon the question was asked: what is the United Nations' or its Secretary General's view of Islamic Courts' takeover of the putative capital of all Somalia?

            Four hours later, the answer came in writing, in three sentence here quoted in full:

"The Secretary-General continues to be concerned about the violence in Mogadishu and its environs. He appeals to all sides to stop the fighting and enter into negotiations. He stresses that all parties to the conflict should resolve their differences and address outstanding issues in accordance with the Transitional Federal Charter of Somalia."

            To some, the statement is both empty and besides the point. Already Puntland and Somalialand are hardly in the orbit of Mogadishu, much less Baidoa. Now Mogadishu falls to Islamic Courts. What may be being cooked up in the Pentagon is anyone's guess.

East Congo / Monuc

            Also over the weekend, reports emerged that the seven Nepali UN peacekeepers taken prisoner in the Congo had been released. This came from Nepal's permanent representative to the UN, but turned out to not be true. The perhaps-accurate names of the Nepalis were, unlike the soldiers, released: Gir Bahadur Thapa, Prem Bahadur Thapa, Tuk Jung Gurung, Chhatra Bahadur Basnet, Sher Bahadur Bista, Jhalak Kunwar and Kale Sarki. At the Secretary-General's spokesman's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked for an update. Unfortunately, they are still being held, was the response. There are rumblings of military action, and of attempts, not by the UN, to pay ransom. Still the US representatives in Kinshasa characterize events in East Congo as a sideshow, that will not impact the election slated for July 30. Some say: wishful thinking.

            The status of the Democratic Republic of Congo was raised to Noam Chomsky on Monday, when he took questions from the UN Correspondents' Association. Inner City Press noted that neither Congo or DRC is in the index of the professor's new book, "Failed States." Mr. Chomsky acknowledged that the DRC is "perhaps the worst ongoing atrocity in the world" and that it is not mentioned in his book -- because, he said, "I can't think of any sensible way to do anything about it." He mentioned strengthening the "weak" UN force, and stopping other countries' interventions. Afterwards, one of Prof. Chomsky's more combative interlocutors opined that if the U.S. is not the major negative actor, a situation is not of much interest to the professor. In his answer, Chomsky put it differently, saying "we should focus on our own responsibilities" and on "our own society." The UN Correspondents' Association, however, includes journalists from all over the world. A philosophy that as one of its seven main points urges that the UN be lead-actor on world crises should have something to say about wars like the Congo's. And the West is not without responsibility: DRC resource extractors include U.S.-based Phelps Dodge Mining Corporation, Adastra Mineral f/k/a American Mineral Fields, Ivanhoe Nickel & Platinum and Canada's Kinross Gold Corporation, among others.

            To Inner City Press' other question, on the regulation of corporation, Prof. Chomsky replied that corporations are "private tyrannies" that have come to dominate most stakes.  "It is not a law of nature," he said, "that corporation must serve only their shareholders... What about stakeholders?"

            There was much back-and-forth about the Middle East, and a prediction by Chomsky that China is ascendant, and that India will have to choose. (.wmv file being processed; available.) Asked at the end about the Uighurs in western China, Prof. Chomsky said it could be followed up by email. We'll see.

In Congo, Peacekeepers Turned Hostages: Interview with Jean-Marie Guehenno by Inner City Press

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 30 -- In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one UN peacekeeper is dead, three wounded and seven taken hostage by the forces of Peter Karim, known for hauling the DRC's resources east into Uganda. At UN Headquarters on Tuesday, Inner City Press interviewed Jean-Marie Guehenno, Under-secretary general for peacekeeping (click here for WAV file). Earlier, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Kofi Annan what is being done to secure the peacekeepers' release, and how the DRC election, slated for the end of July, can take place in these circumstances. The Secretary General replied that Karim has been implored to release the peacekeepers, and will not have impunity. He added that the UN is doing the best that it can for the election, the first in 40 years in Congo.

            An hour later at Kofi Annan's spokesman's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked about reports that Karim is demanding $20,000 per peacekeeper. We do not pay ransom for our personnel, the spokesman replied, and there will be no impunity.  Asked about MONUC's own report that it is government soldiers who are responsible for most of the rapes in the Congo, the spokesman referred to training, and repeated that there is and will be no impunity. That was the word of the day. To inquire further, Inner City Press asked at the noon briefing if Jean-Marie Guehenno would take questions after he briefed the council. "We've asked," was the answer.

            At 1 p.m., Inner City Press asked Jean-Marie Guehenno as he rushed into the Security Council if he would answer questions at the stakeout after he briefed the Council. Mr. Guehenno replied that he was not going in to brief, but rather to find an Ambassador.  It was past three p.m. when the briefing began. Kofi Annan and Mr. Guehenno went in, and at 4:08, the Secretary General came out, waving.  At nearly five o'clock Mr. Guehenno emerged, with a half-dozen staffers in his entourage. For eight minutes Mr. Guehenno answered Inner City Press' questions, all on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

            Asked about the status of the seven kidnapped peacekeepers, Mr. Guehenno said the militia leader involved would be held personally accountable if the Blue Helmets are not released. Asked if this militia leader is, in fact, Peter Karim, Mr. Guehenno replied, that is the assumption. He described an ambush in Ituri in which one peacekeeper was killed, three injured and seven surrounded and captured. A helicopter that arrived thereafter could not free them, due to the surrounding jungle.

            Asked to clarify a recent quote that there are not that many deaths in Congo, Mr. Guehenno distinguished between "direct" deaths, by shooting or machete, and more indirect impacts of war, including the breakdown of the state and health system.

            Asked if the elections, slated for the end of July, are on track, Mr. Guehenno replied "as much as can be," and described logistical and political obstacles. Mr. Guehenno asked rhetorically, Will it be a Westminster democracy? No, he answered. He said that what gives him hope, when he goes "beyond Kinshasa," as the ten Permanent Representatives visiting DRC in the second week of June apparently will not, is excitement about voting, and the mobilizing of voices "who have no voice."

"Ituri Explorer" / MONUC Mr. Guehenno

            Asked about the calls in Kasai for a boycott of the election, Mr. Guehenno replied that the leader of the UDPS had been given many opportunities to participate, but unfortunately has chosen not to. Asked about President Kabila's allegation that the three dozen foreign bodyguards, including three from Orlando, Florida-based AQMI Strategy and others from South Africa's Omega Risk Solutions, were attempting a coup, Mr. Guehenno said he only knows the news he reads. One wonders if others in a position to impact Congo even read the news. Click here to hear Inner City Press' interview with the UN's Jean-Marie Guehenno, recorded on a $20 MP3 player and edited on open source audio software, with an voiceover introduction recorded in an echo chamber on the UN Headquarters' third floor. Watch -- and listen for -- this site.

At the UN, Too-Rosy Light on Myanmar, More Clarification on Timor L'Este

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 24 -- Myanmar was illuminated, briefly, by rosy light at the UN Headquarters on Wednesday. Following his visit to Myanmar including its new capital Pyinmana, the UN's Ibrahim Gambari told journalists that Aung San Suu Kyi, who he called A.S.S.K., is in good health, that the military regime is working well with the UN's anti-drug office and, generally, that things are looking up.  Inner City Press asked Mr. Gambari if he raised to the regime the issues of press freedom, and of the Karen and stateless people, and about reports that Myanmar is defaulting on payments to the state-owned Ukraine arms supplier UkrspetsExport and on construction of its new capital in the jungle. Mr. Gambari said his visit was not about the defaults (or, by implication, about arms sales), but he was willing to describe his one hour visit to the new capital, stating that although most ministries have moved there, it is still fairly empty. Mr. Gambari made an analogy to when his country, Nigeria, moved its capital.  But the Myanmar regime's move seems not about rural economic development, but rather about staying in power.

Refugees from Myanmar (c) UNHCR

            Relatedly, Mr. Gambari was repeatedly asked about his and Kofi Annan's involvement in seeking an endgame for the Mugabe era in Zimbabwe.  While the spokesman turned questions away, Mr. Gambari appeared to respond that he's involved, then backed away.  We talk to a lot of people, was essentially the answer. Ah, diplomacy.

            Also diplomatic was the UNAIDS director's spin on more than fifty countries' failure to respond to UN surveys on AIDS. At a briefing on Wednesday he characterized such an inquiry as pessimistic. While tomorrow can always be a better day, for the UN to excuse failure to provide basic information seems counterintuitive.

            On an issues raised at the noon briefing, the UN's reaction to disturbances in Timor L'Este which has now invited back in foreign forces from four countries, in light of the critique that the UN left too quickly, the Secretary General's spokesman subsequently had an answer, on- and off-line. It was the U.S. and Australia which wanted to pull out when they did. He also stated, in the briefing, that the UN would not look kindly on the reported coup attempt by foreign mercenaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Well, unlike on Somalia and even Montenegro, it is a response. On Tuesday as Monday, the spokesman declined to comment substantively on the weekend's vote in Montenegro, despite Russia and now Serbia conceding the result.

            An observer noted that perhaps the UN made little of Montenegrin's vote for independence because the victory and credit for the peaceful transition, so far, is for the European Union and even Serbia.  Another noted that Timor L'Este is considered one of the UN's coups, so to speak, so perhaps the UN is reticent to highlight the temporary unraveling of things there. But what explains the lack of information from Somalia, in particular from the UN's envoy Francois Lonseny Fall? Most recently his office still has no comment on the UN-backed transitional government inviting in peacekeeper -- from which it seems fair to infer that the UN was not involved in this development. He still has no comment on the attempted sale by the breakaway region of Puntland of mineral rights to the Australian company Range Resources Ltd. In fact, the UN system insists on characterizing those who flee into Puntland as "internally displaced persons" and not full fledged refugees. (Click here for the wider humanitarian issues.) It was however observed: if you're going to play politics and put more energy into always siding on a one-state solution for Somalia, you should at least fully play the game and both be involved in seeking peace(keepers) and in speaking out against a breakaway region's sale of resources to a first world corporation, in what others in the UN have called a vulnerable conflict zone. If the UN doesn't speak on these matters, who will?

In Brussels --

The Place of the Cost-Cut UN in Europe's Torn-Up Heart;
Deafness to Consumers, Even by the Greens

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, in Brussels

BRUSSELS, April 28 -- Ears ringing with the talk of waste within the UN system, an Inner City Press reporter yesterday visited the consolidated, scaled back and renamed UN Regional Information Center (UNRIC) in Brussels, to see how an early attempt at cost-saving is working out.

            On narrow, car-filled Rue de la Loi, just passed the European Commission, the UNRIC is tucked in on the 7th and 8th floors of a stately building in the Residence Palace compound. Outside are construction zones, the city literally torn-up to build office space for the ten new EU members. Inside UNRIC it is spacious, with hardwood floors and uncaptioned photos of each Secretary-General. The UNRIC's deputy director is an engaging Dane who is among other things the answer to the UN system Jeopardy question: who was the spokesman for the president of the General Assembly when the World Trade Towers were demolished by hijacked plane? Who is... Jan Fischer. Mr. Fischer also served the UN in Iraq in 1993, along with a stint in Australia. He knows the System, and the context of the cost-cutting he's witnessed at the UNRIC.

            The travel budget the more than half-dozen country desk officers based in Brussels is $16,000 for six months. This has resulted in fewer trips to the countries covered by each desk officer, and even to them staying with family and friend on such trips. There's a striking correlation between surname and country covered: Carlos Jimenez for Spain, Fabio Graziosi for Italy, Dimitrios Fatouros for Greece and so forth. The desk officers were once "national information officers," which required this consonance. Now that they've had to move to Brussels, they've been "professionalized," in the parlance of the UN civil service. Still some stay with friends and family on their UN trips back home.

            In Brussels some 15,000 journalists cover the doings of the European Union and to some degree NATO. It is hard, Jan Fischer says, for UN news to break through. They hold press conferences, and briefings by visiting UN envoys, from conflict diamonds to the rights of the child. Across from the well-guarded United States embassy, there's a storefront for UNICEF, with its tell-tale blue sign. The UN's refugee agency, it appears from a list, has a dozen Brussels employees, seeking EU funding for their far-flung operations. UNRIC tries to get their stories told. Mr. Fischer says he'd rather say too much than too little; he suggests that the media not abandoned UN staffers who go off script and speak their minds. It's a plan that makes much sense, and one that we will follow. This series of occasional visits with continue from Inner City Press, consonant with the cost-cuts as they come.

Footnote: in a third-floor room in the European Parliament on April 27, Green party delegate Heide Ruhle listened while nodding to consumer advocates despairing of non-bank input into the pending Consumer Credit Directive. When asked, with an administrative colleague, about merger review in the Euro zone, the Green response was that review by particular nations is outmoded. Will Brussels' review consider predatory lending? That remains unclear.

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

AIDS Ends at the UN? Side Deals on Patents, Side Notes on Japanese Corporations, Salvadoran and Violence in Burundi

On AIDS at the UN, Who Speaks and Who Remains Unseen

Corporate Spin on AIDS, Holbrooke's Kudos to Montenegro and its Independence (May 31, 2006)

Kinshasa Election Nightmares, from Ituri to Kasai. Au Revoir Allan Rock; the UN's Belly-Dancing

Working with Warlords, Insulated by Latrines: Somalia and Pakistan Addressed at the UN

The Silence of the Congo and Naomi Watts; Between Bolivia and the World Bank

Human Rights Council Has Its Own Hanging Chads; Cocky U.S. State Department Spins from SUVs

Child Labor and Cargill and Nestle; Iran, Darfur and WHO's on First with Bird Flu

Press Freedom? Editor Arrested by Congo-Brazzaville, As It Presides Over Security Council

The Place of the Cost-Cut UN in Europe's Torn-Up Heart;
Deafness to Consumers, Even by the Greens

Background Checks at the UN, But Not the Global Compact; Teaching Statistics from Turkmenbashi's Single Book

Ripped Off Worse in the Big Apple, by Citigroup and Chase: High Cost Mortgages Spread in Outer Boroughs in 2005, Study Finds

Burundi: Chaos at Camp for Congolese Refugees, Silence from UNHCR, While Reform's Debated by Forty Until 4 AM

In Liberia, From Nightmare to Challenge; Lack of Generosity to Egeland's CERF, Which China's Asked About

The Chadian Mirage: Beyond French Bombs, Is Exxon In the Cast? Asylum and the Uzbeks, Shadows of Stories to Come

Through the UN's One-Way Mirror, Sustainable Development To Be Discussed by Corporations, Even Nuclear Areva

Racial Disparities Grew Worse in 2005 at Citigroup, HSBC and Other Large Banks

Mine Your Own Business: Explosive Remnants of War and the Great Powers, Amid the Paparazzi

Human Rights Are Lost in the Mail: DR Congo Got the Letter, But the Process is Still Murky

Iraq's Oil to be Metered by Shell, While Basrah Project Remains Less than Clear

At the UN, Dues Threats and Presidents-Elect, Unanswered Greek Mission Questions

Kofi, Kony, Kagame and Coltan: This Moment in the Congo and Kampala

As Operation Swarmer Begins, UN's Qazi Denies It's Civil War and Has No Answers if Iraq's Oil is Being Metered

Cash Crop: In Nepal, Bhutanese Refugees Prohibited from Income Generation Even in their Camps

The Shorted and Shorting in Humanitarian Aid: From Davos to Darfur, the Numbers Don't Add Up

UN Reform: Transparency Later, Not Now -- At Least Not for AXA - WFP Insurance Contract

In Congolese Chaos, Shots Fired at U.N. Helicopter Gunship

In the Sudanese Crisis, Oil Revenue Goes Missing, UN Says

Empty Words on Money Laundering and Narcotics, from the UN and Georgia

What is the Sound of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War at UN

Kosovo: Of Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of Ferronikeli Mines

Abkhazia: Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia

Post-Tsunami Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives

Who Pays for the Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN

Citigroup Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

For reporting about banks, predatory lending, consumer protection, money laundering, mergers or the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), click here for Inner City Press's weekly CRA Report. Inner City Press also reports weekly concerning the Federal Reserve, environmental justice, global inner cities, and more recently on the United Nations, where Inner City Press is accredited media. Follow those links for more of Inner City Press's reporting, or, click here for five ways to contact us, with or for more information.

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