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Migration Conference Opens in Geneva

Geneva, May 30 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives from more than 60 nations and leading international organizations have put aside regional rivalries today to open a two-day conference in Geneva. The conference is aimed at stemming what the U.N. is calling the largest, involuntary population upheaval since World War Two.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, more than nine million people have abandoned their homes in former Soviet republics for other regions. Migration experts fear the exodus, which involves roughly one in 30 of the region's inhabitants, could grow further because an estimated 60 million people still live outside their ethnic homelands.

In an opening address to the conference, U.N. Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali said, "these vast regions have still not attained the stability which they seek and many population groups have still not found a place in which they can hope to settle permanently and to enjoy firm legal protection."

To that end, conference participants are expected to endorse a 27-page action plan to stem further mass movement and to ease the trauma of existing migrants. The plan sets out a framework for organized national migration programs with a strong emphasis on respect for human rights. It is also meant to lead to the establishment of new institutions in former Soviet republics to allow authorities to assess the size of migration movements and to deal with them.

Conference organizer Urs Zisweiler told RFE/RL he didn't believe the conference would settle all problems but he called it an important beginning.