By:Thandiwe Kubere

IOM-UN Migration in collaboration with United Nations and the government of Lesotho commemorated the International Migrants Day under the theme: honoring the contributions of migrants and respecting their rights. The event took place on Monday at Lancers Inn Hotel, Maseru.

The intention of the day was to honor the efforts of migrants in improving the state of their respective countries as well as their host countries. It gave an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the contributions of migrants around the world. Present at the event, were over fifteen migrants associations around the world represented’; from China, Philippine, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as Basotho Diaspora living in other countries.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director General Amy Pope showed migration is as old as humanity itself and that throughout history people have migrated in search of better lives, to flee conflict, to escape persecution, or to find economic opportunities.

She said, “Yet today, migration is getting more complex. From the shores of Djibouti to the jungles of Darien Gap, the world in 2023, has seen historic increases in the number of people on the move. Because of climate change, conflict and pronounced economic disparity, many people have little choices but to find safety and livelihoods elsewhere by moving.”

Therefore, Pope declared this as a critical moment for those people and others who would be on the move in future as well as those who want to stay in their host countries. “We must come with people-centered and evidence-based solutions. Solutions that will work for people to stay in their communities and for those who want to or must move. At IOM we are committed to helping resolve these complex challenges. We do it because we know when it is managed well, migration is a cornerstone of sustainable development, prosperity and progress. People on the move are powerful drivers of development in both their origin and destination countries”, she expressed.

Migrants are workers, students, entrepreneurs, family members and more. Migrants are said to often maintain strong connections to their home countries while embracing their new communities, where they bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and skill. All of this creates a unique blend of cultures and perspectives.

 “So for this International Migrants Day, we are focused on unlocking the power of migration. Migration is part of the solution to greater economic prosperity. It is the key part of the solution of climate change. So working together, our collective efforts today can prepare us for a better tomorrow. On this day, let us work together to harness the power of migration. We know every person can make a difference and be an agent of change”, said Pope.

Minister of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs and Police, Hon. Lebona Lephema explained that the day also served as an opportunity to highlight some of the important issues affecting migrant communities. “As a host country that is receiving migrants, we remain committed to ensuring they get adequate protection in Lesotho. We continue to improve our immigration policy and legal frame works to be more accommodating to immigrants”, he said.

Hon. Lephema declared migration can propel economic growth, reduce inequalities, and connect diverse societies. He mentioned that labor migration has had immense socio-economic benefits for Lesotho. It has been a source of employment and livelihoods for Basotho migrant workers in South Africa, addressing skills gap and bringing in the much-needed remittances into the country. “Between 2019 and 2022, remittances contributed about 21 percent, to Lesotho Gross Domestic Product. Remittances continue to be a stable source of income for migrant families, contributing to children’s education, health care, housing, and entrepreneurial activities”, he said.

Giving testimonies, one of DRC migrants in Lesotho, Dr. Shungu Shungu, stated he received a very warm welcome coming to Lesotho. He came as a refuge because there was a conflict in his country of origin and was a protected by the government of Lesotho since.  He was assisted with getting the right documents and proper services. He has opened his practice which employs and gives health services to Basotho.

Mosotho migrant in Canada, Professor of Science Medicine and Health Sciences Dr. Lehana Thabane indicated that there are lots of Basotho Diaspora who are contributing immensely in the development of this country and its economy. “My journey as a migrant started in Lesotho. This very country was established through migration of people who fled instability in their place of origin and were brought together by our founding father King Moshoeshoe. All of us are migrants.” He further explained this country was founded from people coming from different areas who celebrated culture diversity.

In his profession, DR. Thabane has trained students from sixty countries around the world and ten countries in Africa, providing statistical leadership in various areas of population health research, clinical research, health services and outcomes research. He is a research methodologist with research interests in the development and application of statistical methods health research. He collaborates with researchers in cardiology, internal medicine, nephrology, HIV-AIDS, evidence-based medicine and health technology assessment.

Giving her remarks, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Lesotho, Ms. Amanda Khozi Mukwashi said migration goes back such that migrants are children of migrants, whose children eventually become migrants.

“We must celebrate those who have done well because they contribute significantly in the countries they serve. Maybe out of a hundred migrants, one becomes very successful and popular, but that does not mean the ninety-nine does not contribute”, she said.

She further revealed that life is sometimes tough for migrants who are at times obliged to hide their true nature. The process can either break one or teach them humanity. She noted that even though she emerged as a successful migrant, the journey is still difficult at times. She therefore encouraged migrants to be the best they can be when they get to their host countries and never hide their true identity regardless of challenges.

Ms. Mukwashi further encouraged Basotho to keep giving their warmth and living nature to every migrant who steps into their country because when a conducive environment is created for migrants, the host country gets to benefit from the skills, knowledge and different cultures. “This is most important because we are in an era where there is no tolerance for other races and we see many lives of people in search for better lives getting lost in the hands of violence. Let us not make migrants feel like they need to hide. Let us make them feel safe in hope that Basotho migrants will receive the same love and warmth in other countries.

To migrants she said it is key for them to have space and room for one another. “Let us be honest with each other and be good citizens who uphold the law and respect the structures in the country and contribute what we know. Let us not bring bad habits as some migrants do to host countries, and when those host countries react towards that, we assume they do not want us. I hope everyone who steps into this country will know and commemorate our founding father King Moshoeshoe’s legacy of peace and unity.”

She further noted that the effects of migration are multifaceted and that economically, migration can be a doubled-edge sword. On one hand, remittances from Basotho living abroad are a critical source of income for many families, contributing to poverty alleviation and economic stability.