Migration, Inequality and the New Development Goals

The Italian Coast Guard rescues migrants bound to the coasts of Italy. © Francesco Malavolta/IOM

By IOM Deputy Director General Laura Thompson

A major breakthrough in the new development agenda is that migration has been incorporated into mainstream global-development policy, rectifying the omission made 15 years earlier in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In the 17 new and comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the most salient reference to migration is in SDG 10, which sets out a target for "facilitating orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies." The overall aim of this goal is to reduce inequality within and among countries, more so than reducing poverty, with an emphasis on promoting social, economic and political inclusion. Given the inequalities and inherent vulnerabilities that migrants face, this is a key priority for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Over the past few years, the international community has paid more attention to how migrants can contribute to the development of their countries of origin through the money migrant workers send to their loved ones back home. Remittances are recognized as a significant contributor to human development, and Goal 10.c seeks to eradicate remittance corridors where transaction costs are more than five per cent, with the aim of reducing the costs that migrants bear. The impact of remittances is undeniable. They can increase standards of living as well as act as a lifeline for recipients.

Notwithstanding, remittances can actually exacerbate inequalities between remittance-receiving households and poorer sections of the population. They are all too often seen as the means to afford basic services such as education and healthcare, whereas these services should be the responsibility of the state and not the migrant. A lack of basic service provision only serves to worsen these inequalities.

Moreover, the positive effects of transfers can be reduced, however, when individuals become overly dependent on them as a source of income. The social and domestic pressures that migrants face to send money back home to cover basic needs lead many to undertake significant risks in the migration process and to endure conditions of work that cannot be considered decent and increase their vulnerable condition, simply to pay off debts incurred and to remit to those left behind. Migrants, who are particularly susceptible to their basic rights being infringed or denied, are for the first time specifically recognized in the new Sustainable Development goals, which puts empowerment and respect for human rights at the centre of its agenda.

Remittances are only part of the equation, and form part of a new comprehensive set of SDGs that emphasizes the need for countries to acknowledge their duties to provide social protection, education and healthcare equitably and universally to all sectors of their populations, as well as to ensure that migrants are given the opportunity to migrate safely. Only as part of this wider development agenda can remittances have greater potential to reduce inequality.

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This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations'Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals(2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 10.

First published in Huffingtonpost.com