Increasingly populist leaders portray migrants as a burden at best or at worst as a threat. This week, States will gather in Geneva to discuss the human rights of all migrants, as well as social inclusion, cohesion and all forms of discrimination under the auspices of the Global Compact on Migration. The current narrative on migration warrants a discussion on these topics, like never before.
The Global Compact is one example of the growing interest in integration. It aims to bring forward an informed and hopefully balanced discussion on some of the key challenges toward the adoption of actionable commitments to humanely manage migration.
Migrant flows are increasing both in number and complexity, and not addressing this with coherent policies can result in missed opportunities. A recent report by the European Network against Racism (ENAR) concluded that discrimination, specifically when it comes to failure to recognize foreign qualifications, only serves to widen the employment gap between migrants and nationals.
A tepid response to these challenges leads not only to lower economic prospects for migrants but also exploitation and potential employment in the informal market. Discrimination ignores the reality that economic gains for migrants also bring economic prosperity to their host communities. One of the key recommendations in the IOM thematic paper on social cohesion and integration is to apply solid mechanisms for measuring acts of anti-migrant discrimination, as well as to evaluate the outcomes of integration policies on the wellbeing of newcomers and their host communities.
The Global Compact paves the way to actions beyond just national policies. It promotes initiatives such as the UN TOGETHER, which aims to advance solidarity with migrants by facilitating neutral and vibrant spaces for intercultural dialogue.
While in certain contexts it would be easy to argue that migration is increasingly becoming a contentious topic, there is certainly room for optimism. The 2015-2016 report EU-IOM Cooperation on Migration and Mobility shows that integration programmes are a top priority for the European Union when it comes to funding.
There is heartening news coming from other regions too. Last week, Zed Seselja, Australia’s Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, took part in an IOM pre-departure orientation session held in Thailand for soon-to-be resettled refugees. He took this opportunity to speak about the new talent and perspectives that newcomers bring to Australia and the importance of mutual respect between all parties involved.
When government officials visit refugee camps and attend pre-departure classes, they witness first-hand the benefits of IOM’s interactive teaching approach whereby migrants are engaged participants in learning about their future homes.
Such field visits may be short but they resonate back home, and serve to inform host populations about how States are addressing migration challenges in ways that are both responsive and relevant. When these stories gain wide local coverage, they pave the way for a richer and more transparent dialogue between governments, newcomers and their host communities.
IOM is continuing to do its part by enhancing the capacity of local authorities and preparing them for new arrivals, as well as providing the tools to migrants to develop accurate and well-informed expectations about their future life.
It is important to remind ourselves that policies work best when they view integration as a two-way street, placing an equal share of the responsibility on migrants, governments and local communities.
As States sit down and talk about terms like social inclusion and discrimination, it’s time for them to hold up their end of the bargain.
Pindie Stephen and Jorge Galindo - UN Migration Agency (IOM)’s Labour Mobility and Human Development Division