Alejandra, a refugee and community leader, participates in a handicraft training offered by the Human Mobility Unit of the Province of Imbabura, Ecuador. Photo: JMDI

Ensuring Migration Benefits Development

So here we are, at the cusp of entering a new era on migration governance through the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) to be reached in 2018. With the development potential of migration now also firmly embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we need to ensure that we take it one step further in the GCM.

If we want to make history, we need to instigate changes in how we envision the migration and development nexus. It is necessary to move away from the traditional approach focused mainly on how migrants can contribute to their countries of origin, and start looking at how migration affects and is affected by all areas of governance using the universal lens of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This means moving towards a whole-of-government approach that considers how other policies like housing, health or agriculture affect and are affected by migration and what sectors and actors are involved.

This is now at the heart of overall development cooperation efforts in a bid to enhance coordination and effectiveness.

Given the multi-faceted nature of migration, such an approach is crucial if we are to achieve all 17 SDGs and truly ensure that no one is left behind: unhealthy migrants cannot participate in and contribute to society; irregular migrants cannot access decent work; uneducated migrants cannot reach their own individual development potential; global labour demand and supply cannot be met without safe, orderly and regular migration; migrants who are discriminated against or are subject to racism or hate crime stay marginalised and are left behind.

Migration is a global phenomenon affecting all countries worldwide and its effective governance needs global partnerships.

A tried and tested mechanism to achieve such policy coherence has been to integrate migration into development and other governance policies. This means inserting migration as a parameter across different policy areas in cooperation with all sectors and levels of government.

Indeed, this is especially crucial at the local level where the drivers and effects of migration are most strongly felt. This is best achieved when there is support and coordination between the local and national levels. This allows for local and regional authorities to feed their expertise and knowledge into national policy making for more responsive and pertinent national policies that can, in turn, be successfully implemented at the local level. 

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, and its partners have been extremely active on this, particularly through programmes such as the joint IOM-UNDP Mainstreaming Migration into National Development Strategies programme since 2011 and the UN Joint Migration and Development Initiative.

Through these, IOM has supported national and local governments integrate migration into their development plans and strategies through the provision of technical assistance, capacity building and supporting the strengthening of inter-governmental coordination.

This took place in Ecuador, for example, which presents an interesting case where a country with a mixed migration context (refugees, returnees, emigrants and immigrants) has managed to put into place an integral and multi-level approach to migration management from a human rights perspective.

This has led to the adoption of a new National Law on Human Mobility which has mandated further strengthening of institutional mechanisms. The Law has also recognised the importance of working at the local level and provided relevant competencies to this effect.

This has been due to the innovative work of the provincial governments of Pichincha and Imbabura having created specialised Human Mobility Units that unite all governance sectors, civil society, academia and more for mainstreaming efforts while also providing orientation, human rights education and specific services to migrants and displaced persons. Now recognised as a good practice, plans to replicate this in other provinces are underway. Ecuador is just one example.

As people continue to move, migration mainstreaming will remain a crucial mechanism for the successful realization of the SDGs, and the achievement of a sustainable development that benefits everyone including migrants. We can only hope that this will be considered as a central aspect of the GCM.

Cécile Riallant is a senior migration and development specialist at IOM HQ in Geneva. You can contact her at: