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International Migrants Day
by Rene Wadlow
2009-12-18 07:28:57
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The International Migrants Day comes just as the Copenhagen Conference on Climate draws to a close.  The UN General Assembly has proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants Day to mark the date in 1990 when the Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.(Resolution 45/58).  In addition, there are the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions with a much larger number of ratifications protecting migrant workers. The ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration sets forth principles and guidelines to elaborate national policies.

Although migration of people due to climate change was not one of the major issues of negotiation in Copenhagen, it was on the minds of many delegates.  The small island countries of the Pacific such as Tuvalu specially brought up the need for migration if sea levels were to rise.  The government-financed Institute of Water Modeling of Bangladesh has estimated that there are 20 million people in the low-lying delta area of Bangladesh who would have to move unless there is a massive construction of embankments and the creation of deep forests.  It is likely that many people will leave before the embankments are built and the forests grown. Greater drought in the Sahel area of West Africa is likely to increase economic migration toward Europe.

The global environmental crisis is at the heart of many potential conflicts which could lead to mass migration and displacements of people, destabilizing areas and adding to poverty and social inequality.  Even without higher sea levels, there is a vast migration from Bangladesh toward the northeast Indian states and toward Indian West Bengal, despite a long network of barbed wire barriers that the Indian government has set up along its frontiers.

For the moment, migration policy and legislation is made largely at the national level. Thus we see within the European Union, recent news reports have indicated that one country declared a state of emergency because of the presence of undocumented immigrants in its territorial waters.  Another country dispatches asylum seekers to offshore islands in foreign jurisdictions before considering their applications.  The European Union has tried to develop a single European immigration and refugee policy at the Tampere Summit of 1999.  Yet in practice, the EU policy has focused on the ‘security of borders — a very limited vision.  No relationship exists between border security policies and the development of countries of origin.

Yet migration is a world issue influenced by three dynamics:  

1)Since the end of the Cold War in 1990, the pattern of geo-strategic power has shifted in the world, and migration is an issue that is inextricably linked to these changes. Migration is an issue that spans the globe and is symbolic of the new patterns of power and of the post-Cold War conflicts such as those of Iraq and Afghanistan, Darfur in Sudan and in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

2)The classical differences between the national, the regional, and the world levels have increasingly been blurred, creating new interdependencies.  While the ideal of the free circulation of ideas, trade and finance is proclaimed by many states, there is at the national level greater limits imposed on the right of entry and the right to residency. Countries of origin, such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines depend heavily upon the remittances from migrant workers.  Remittances are the most visible and tangible benefits of labor migration but often serve as an incentive for others to migrate.  Thus migrant workers often choose to remain in the host country despite deteriorating labor market conditions. There have been no massive returns despite loss of jobs with the 2008 recession.

3)The relevant political scale for dealing with and regulating migratory patters has moved to the world level while implementation remains largely at the national level.  Migratory flows have become more diverse, creating more complex and varied routes. Trafficking in persons has become a world-wide business which often entails serious violations of human rights and undermines the dignity of the person.  Trafficking flourishes amidst the hardship of the least protected and vulnerable women, men and children. Human poverty, not only lack of income but also health care, scarcity of food, obstacles to education, inequality of opportunities, including gender discrimination, affect migratory flows.

However, poverty is not the only factor that drives emigration.  Other features are important such as the existence of social and family networks woven by migrants as well as a kind of ‘migratory imagination’ to increase access to health, education and career-development.  This migration is often a choice and an opportunity. It can be an empowering experience rather than just a survival strategy.

A new quality of discussion on migration has been started by the United Nations such as the High-level Dialogue on Migration and Development in 2007.  As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has stated a world migration policy requires that we “understand what we, as policymakers, can do to maximize the benefits of migration for development, while ensuring that development leads to qualitatively better migration.”

An important challenge is the promotion of the human rights of migrants in the countries of origin, transit and destination.  When the human rights of migrants are ignored or curtailed, their capacity to contribute to the development of their own country and of host societies is undermined. Thus, as citizens of the world, we call for a true world policy on migrations in which migrants themselves have a say. Migration is an issue which does not concern governments alone but also many actors of the civil society. Thus civil society through active non-governmental organizations must be full participants in decision-making.  Migration has become a defining feature of the contemporary world, and planning is needed at the world level.


Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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Emanuel Paparella2009-12-18 12:08:39
What is the saying? What goes around comes around. The human species millions of years ago migrated out of Africa. Let us hope that as a species we do not migrate out of this world into extinction. The possibility is there grounded in man's freedom, and the Copenhagen Conference dominated by the goddess Eris is an ominous sign.

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