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International Migrants Day: 18 December
by Rene Wadlow
2017-12-18 09:15:40
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Let us make migration work for the benefit of migrants and countries alike. 
We owe this to the millions of migrants who, through their courage, vitality and dreams,
help make our societies more prosperous, resilient and diverse.”

Ban Ki-moon
Then Secretary-General, United Nations

In December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 18 December as the International Migrants Day.  The day was chosen to highlight that on a 18 December, the U.N. had adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families. Although migration to and from countries is a world-wide flow of people, only  42 countries, basically Latin American, North and West African, Indonesia and the Philippines, have ratified the Convention.  The Convention created a Committee on Migrant Workers which meets in Geneva to review once every four years a report of the Convention members on their application of the Convention.  The Convention also created a mechanism by which the Committee could receive individual complaints.  Only three States have ratified this individual complaints mechanism: Mexico, Guatemala and Uruguay.

migr02_400Today, there are some 232 million persons who reside and work outside their country of birth.  The reasons for migration are diverse − most often economic, but also refugees from armed conflicts and oppression, and increasingly what are called “ecological refugees” − persons who leave their home area due to changing environmental conditions: drought, floods, rising sea levels etc.  Global warming is very likely to increase the number of these ecological refugees.

Although migration is an important issue with a multitude of consequences in both countries of origin and destination, the Committee on Migrant Workers, a group of experts who function in their individual capacity and not as representatives of the State of which they are citizens, has a low profile among what are called “UN Treaty Bodies” - the committees which review the reports of States which have ratified UN human rights conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Since the great majority of States receiving migrants − Western Europe and North America   - have not ratifies the Convention on Migrant Workers, other ways have to be found within the UN system to look at migration issues.  Thus has been created outside the UN system but in close cooperation with the UN, the Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Migration Group to address the opportunities and challenges of international migration.  Within the UN, there was the  High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development”. in 2013 and there have been a number of conferences since, given the massive flow of refugees and migrants toward Europe in 2016 and 2017.

The Governments at the Dialogue unanimously adopted a Declaration (A/68/L.5) calling for greater cooperation to address the challenges of irregular migration and to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.  The Declaration also emphasized the need to respect the human rights of migrants and to promote international labor standards.  The Declaration strongly condemns manifestations of racism and intolerance and stresses the need to improve public perceptions of migrants.

wc00UN conferences and such dialogues or forums serve as a magnet, pulling Governments to agree to higher ideals and standards collectively than they would proclaim individually.  This is not only hypocrisy − though there is certainly an element of hypocrisy as Governments have no plans to put these aims into practice. Rather it is a sort of “collective unconscious” of Government representatives who have a vision of an emerging world society based on justice and peace.

The role of non-governmental organizations is to remind constantly Government representatives that it is they who have written the text and voted for it without voicing reservations. Numerous States which ratified the International Convention on Migrant Workers made reservations limiting the application of the Convention on their territory. Thus, the Declaration of the High-level Dialogue was not written by the Association of World Citizens but by Government diplomats.

The Declaration is a strong text and covers most of the important issues, including human mobility as a key factor for sustainable development, the role of women and girls who represent nearly half of all migrants, the need to protect the rights of migrant children and the role of remittances to families.

Recently international attention has been drawn to slavery-like conditions of migrants trying to reach Europe and blocked in Libya. It is estimated that there are one million migrants blocked in Libya.  Migration is a crucial issue. Many governments prefer to turn a blind eye to the fate of refugees and migrants. Non-governmental organizations have responded with more compassion but are under strain by the number of peole involved. 18 December should serve as a moment of cooperative discussion and action so that broader policies can be undertaken.


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

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