Post by: Magdy Martinez-Soliman, UN Assistant Secretary General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of Bureau for Policy and Programme Support. You can follow him on Twitter at @MartinezSoliman. This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post. It is re-published here on the occasion of the International Migrants Day.
Human mobility is inevitable and unstoppable. It is also on the rise. People are moving to increase their income, study, join other family members or flee persecution, wars, violence, natural disasters and dire poverty. People have always moved. Globalization has made population movements faster, better-informed and more voluminous. Wrong policies have also made them less safe, if not outright perilous. 3.3 percent of the world’s population lives outside their country of origin, and this number is growing. Population growth, violent conflicts, climate change and other factors are driving more and more people to move within and between countries.
While we cannot prevent human migration, and why would we, it is possible to make population movements safer through the adoption and implementation of effective migration regimes—the right set of institutions, laws and policies—that also generate multiple and sustainable development benefits.
Current systems for managing the flow of migrants between countries are failing to address the fundamental needs of countries of origin, transit and destination. And this failure to adopt adequate migration regimes is arguably exacerbating crises and wars, leading to low economic growth in all parts of the world, and driving unacceptable human development outcomes for migrant children, women and men.
Migration is unavoidable. It makes eminent sense to facilitate and manage migration flows positively instead of trying to endlessly prevent them. At the same time, pragmatic considerations need to be expressed without false complexes. No Government in the world can practice an open door policy in the current economic and political circumstances—except in the context of relatively homogeneous economic zones and clusters of States, like the European Union. But that doesn’t mean replacing open doors by barbed wire and watchtowers.
Migration policies are development policies
Migration policies have been all too often seen as a security offspring, labour matters or border management issues. Yet they are complex policies that are more in the development realm than anywhere else. Without effective migration regimes, countries and communities that want to increase production and promote innovation cannot address skill and labor shortages. Without migration regimes, the human rights of migrants cannot be effectively protected, and the ability of migrants to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of the host country (and of their home country) is undermined. Aging societies (that depend on an influx of migrant workers to supplement the workforce) will not be able to maintain their standard of living, and social protection systems are threatened. A former Mexican President used to tell me that even a large river, such as the Rio Grande, cannot stop migration from a young society with fewer economic opportunities to a neighboring society which offers jobs. He was right: as soon as his nation’s economy picked up after the crisis, while the US labour market was still in recovery mode, migrants stopped crossing the river.
Without migration regimes, migrants and their families will continue to pay exorbitant sums to recruitment agencies and human smugglers, instead of investing in their own futures and their communities of origin. We will see trapped populations unable to move to safety or to places where they can sustain themselves. Economic, political and violent crises could continue unfolding in many parts of the world. In short, without comprehensive human development-centered migration regimes, everyone loses. In contrast, well-managed migration contributes to preventing crisis and supports achievement of sustainable development goals. For this reason, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development. A specific target of the SDGs measures whether countries are able to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.
This is not only relevant for migration from developing to developed countries. Migration is a truly global phenomenon. Of 244 million international migrants globally, more than 100 million live in a developing country. South-South migration is now greater than migration from poor into rich countries.
Migrants are vital for the economies of most, if not all, countries. But they are not commodities. They need to be given the rights and opportunities to fully contribute to development and to empower themselves in the process.
Human mobility is based on internationally shared responsibilities and opportunities
By its nature, migration transcends spaces of singular state sovereignty. Thus, beyond the borders of nation-states, migration regimes need to be established internationally. Bilateral agreements, regional mobility rights, and inter-regional and even global regimes on human mobility are fundamental to achieving positive development outcomes for all involved. International regimes must take into account that migrants are a shared responsibility of countries of origin, transit and destination. But migrants also present shared opportunities. All win if the financial, social and human cost of migration is lowered and if economies have easier access to recognized skills and labor force. The repercussions for regional and global prosperity and peace cannot be overstated.
In September 2016, the UN General Assembly will convene a high-level plenary meeting on large movements of refugees and migrants. The global community will hopefully demonstrate that international cooperation can harness the opportunities that lie in human mobility. Migration policies are development policies.