Global Forum on Migration & Developement: A hard journey of policy

The Global Forum on Migration and Development, at its third edition, was recently held in Athens on 2-3 November 2009. Looking through the pages of recommendations generated, the forum's conclusions seem to be positive and discouraging at the same time.

by Angela Zarro

The discussion was structured in 3 main tracks focusing on migration in relation to: MDGs, integration/reintegration issues and institutional and political coherence. Issues such as the role of Diaspora, integration, protection and empowerment of migrants, the effectiveness of circular migration and reintegration for development, amongst the others, were addressed during the two-day meeting.

Looking through the pages of recommendations generated, the forum's conclusions seem to be positive and discouraging at the same time. Despite the progress made in the last years in the policy debates and the greater awareness reached on challenges and opportunities of migration for development (throughout the UN HLD and the forum itself), the overall debate seems stuck in rhetoric. The discussion as reported in the conclusive documents - although recognizing migration as a priority issue in the international agenda - presents a series of repetitive proposals and ideas when dealing with policy measures and recommendations. The establishment of databases and observatories to collect data, the promotion of circular migration, a greater engagement of diaspora groups, are some of the major indications emergine. The need for research and information sharing is also confirmed as well as the need for greater coordination and policy coherence within and among governments. In a sense such recommendations give a sense of the little progress made so far in the policy debate worldwide and suggest that there is much work ahead. In a sense, the debate as it emerges through the little documentation available, seems to reflect an agenda of the past. To give an example, circular migration and reintegration programmes - as proposed and implemented so far - have often failed because the achievements were completely at odds with the original expectations and purposes. For many reasons: financial resources were insufficient and most of the times programmes were inconsistent with migrants' aspirations. Furthermore, the migration policy agenda of origin and destination countries is most of the times at odds.

Beyond the general commitment to strengthen their cooperation, the European and African continents for instance, do not share the same concerns: the former is essentially interested in halting irregular migration; the latter aims to prevent and minimise brain drain. In other words, the first focuses on migrants workers, while the second focuses on professionals. Did the forum acknowledge and address such stunning divergence? Do the participants speak a common language? It would have been worth reflecting during the forum on whether and how the proposed measures (including circular migration) can effectively reconcile such dichotomy? Significantly, bilateral agreements and regional initiatives are indicated as potential channels to be strengthened in the decision making, while the multilateral channel is barely mentioned. What does this mean? Bilateral agreements can probably be a more effective means to manage human flows, border control and programmes of return.

However, it may happen in some cases that important issues like the protection and recognition of legal, social and economic rights of migrants are downplayed or left aside due to the lack of interest in dealing with such issues. Bilateral vs multilateral is thus another dichotomy that needs to be addressed and reconciled when dealing with migration in such fora. On the other hand, from a more optimistic perspective, the summit looks promising given the UN Secretary General's opening speech: Vision of Migration. If only for the fact that human mobility is put in relation with some of major problems in today's society. Human mobility is ever more challenged by economic crisis, climate change and human trafficking — Ban Ki-moon said. Slower remittances flows, less job opportunities, environmental degradation together with forced labour, slavery conditions, abuse and exploitation, are increasingly threatening migrant's life and well being as well as making more difficult for people to move freely.

The risk, one may argue, is to use climate change and the economic recession as arguments to prevent or counter people's movements. On the contrary, the major goal nowadays is -as stated by the Secretary General - 'to harness the power of migration to reduce poverty and inequality and to achieve the millennium development goals'. Migration is not just a journey of people, it is a journey of policy. Our destination is a global system of mobility that allows people to move in legal, safe and orderly way, with full respect for their dignity and human rights.

The challenge now is to move from talk to action.


Photo: Dr John2005/flickr