18 December 2017

International Migrants Day

December 18th is International Migrants Day. Even if migration has become easier due to globalization and transportation options, the issue draws increasing attention in the world, particularly due to the large number of people who have the aspiration but not the ability to move to – and be accepted in – counties other than their own.

People migrate for many different reasons. Some are in search of economic opportunities. Some are looking for quality of life or to be reunited with family. Many are forced to move to escape persecution and conflict. There are also those who migrate due to natural disasters or changes in the environment, leading to resource scarcity, famine and disease.

The different circumstances that surround human movements have an impact on the potential outcome of migration and should also be taken into consideration as policies and programs are developed for those who want or need to start a new life in another country.

Dangerous routes

Between the years of 2007 and 2010, individuals from approximately 136 different nationalities were trafficked and identified in 118 countries—women accounted for 55–60 per cent of these trafficking victims and 27 per cent of all victims were children. Around one quarter of these victims was trafficked inter-regionally, assuming the majority of those being migrants.

Trafficking is not the only danger that threatens migrants.  The long trip to a new land can be frightening and perilous. Boats carrying migrants often capsize, sink or get lost at sea, leading to loss of life along migration routes. Lives are also in danger while travelling afoot.

Even if they make it to other countries, migrants’ rights are often ignored or even denied. They face discrimination and have trouble accessing culturally appropriate services. Additionally, services restrictions related to migration laws are becoming more and more common, even in nations whose economies are reliant on migrant labor.

Chasing a dream

Not all of those who migrate do so in search of refuge.  The appeal of a well-paying job in a wealthier country largely influences international migration.

The total number of international migrants was approximately 175 million persons in 2000, but it increased to 244 million persons in 2015 and continues to increase. Almost two thirds of all international migrants live in Europe or Asia.  One of every ten of these migrants is under the age of 15.

Although one may think otherwise, increased poverty does not directly lead to higher migration, because the poorest people usually do not have the resources to withstand the costs and risks of international migration. International migrants are typically from middle-income households.

When migrants establish themselves abroad, they help friends and relatives to follow, lowering costs and making it possible for poorer people to migrate as well.

Escalating proof shows that international migration is generally positive both for countries of origin and of destination. The initial process of moving into a new country can be stressful, frightening and difficult.

Once they arrive to the hosting country, migrants are often denied the services they need, including healthcare. Moreover, migration can be perceived as an extra burden on services and infrastructure in hosting countries.

Migrating in the same numbers as men, many migrant women take on personal care work in informal and home-based settings – often without social protection, labor rights, or health care. A new report by the World Health Organization shows an emerging paradox: that migrant women carers support health and social systems, while their own health care and other needs may be unfulfilled.

Collective action

The challenges and difficulties of international migration require enhanced cooperation and collective action among countries and regions. The United Nations is playing a catalyst role in this area, with the aim of fostering dialogue and interaction within countries and regions, as well as propelling experience exchange and collaboration opportunities.

As part of such efforts, a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is being developed.  United Nations Member States, civil society and other stakeholders are reviewing and distilling information, data and recommendations gathered during consultations between April and November 2017 and engaging in a constructive analysis that will inform the process going forward.

According to the United Nation Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, “Changes in population structures, climate change, changes in the nature of jobs and other economic factors, alongside fundamental human aspirations for self-fulfillment will shape much of the future nature of migration.  Not only is migration here to stay but it is also likely to increase in the future.”

Migration has become a very sensitive issue around the world, she went on to say during a stocktaking meeting earlier this month in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “Policy decisions need to be made on the basis of fact, not perception, fiction, and myth,” she said, adding that the Global Compact for Migration “is an opportunity to reorient the often toxic narrative against migrants towards a more accurate narrative on migration that recognizes its overwhelmingly positive impact and is prepared to address its challenges in a sober, realistic way”.

The Global Compact will set out a range of principles, commitments and understandings among Member States regarding international migration in all its dimensions.  The results of the stocktaking phase will be a Chair’s summary of the meeting.  That and a forthcoming report of the United Nations Secretary‑General to be released in January 2018 will inform the co‑facilitators’ draft of the global compact for migration, leading to intergovernmental negotiations, which will start in February 2018 and conclude in July.  The Compact will be presented for adoption at an intergovernmental conference on international migration at the end of 2018.

The origin of the Global Compact for Migration lies within the New York Declaration adopted at a High‑level Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, in September 2016, in which 193 Member States unanimously agreed on the need for two compacts, one for refugees and one for migrants.