A Very Tall Order for Action

By Leonard Doyle

“Nearly a billion people rely on migration as the best way to increase their personal liberty and to improve health, education, and economic outcomes for their families. If the right policies are put in place, there is clear evidence that states can magnify these positive outcomes, while also generating significant financial and social gains for countries of origin and destination.”

That, in a nutshell, is what Peter Sutherland, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Migration says is at stake in October of this year, when for only the second time in its history, the UN General Assembly will focus on international migration. If it is to succeed, Sutherland says, the summit must generate action on how to reduce the economic and human costs of migration. It also must determine how states and other stakeholders can deepen their cooperation in solving migration-related problems—“all while avoiding the political axe-grinding typical of most migration debates.”

These are nuanced words from a seasoned public figure and they reward careful reading. As Sutherland points out in his article in the just published Migration Policy and Practice Journal for June 2013, migration is one of the hot button issues of international diplomacy. With characteristic understatement he writes that “the portents were not positive as the first-ever UN summit on migration approached in 2006.

“Knife-edged rhetoric on human rights and national sovereignty prevailed over substantive deliberations on how to improve the lives of migrants. Old animosities pitted north versus south, countries of origin against countries of destination. But beneath this political posturing lay a pent-up desire to begin addressing the problems and opportunities created by international migration—challenges that require cooperative action.”

“So when Kofi Annan and I proposed the creation of a Global Forum on Migration and Development, the conversation shifted. The Forum—informal, non-binding, and designed for policymakers rather than politicians or diplomats—was evolutionary and unthreatening. Critically, it framed migration in a positive and practical light by twinning it with development. This allowed all states to feel they had something concrete to gain by working together.”

“The Forum’s value is now self-evident: over 150 countries gather every year to consider joint action that addresses common challenges—from ensuring that migrant workers are paid fairly and treated decently, to cracking down on smugglers and traffickers, and changing public perceptions of migrants. It is a safe harbour in which governments build trust and a common understanding. In addition to the advent of the Global Forum, the 2006 summit also produced the Global Migration Group, which brings together 14 UN agencies, IOM and the World Bank to coordinate their migration-related work.”

It all adds up to more than just talk; recent years have seen real, if gradual, progress.

Now read the full article of Peter Sutherland here.