Informal interactive hearings took place at UN Headquarters in New York on 15 July 2013, in advance of the second High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD), to be held 3-4 October 2013. The hearings were attended by 440 organizations, including NGOs, trade unions, migrant diaspora, academics, as well as by Member States and representatives of the UN system.
The time has come to move from “constructive” to “transformative” dialogue between civil society and Member States on the issue of international migration and development, according to non-governmental organization representatives who addressed the hearings. President of the General Assembly (GA) Vuk Jeremić remarked during the opening session: “If current trends continue, migration may enhance current inequalities between various categories of States.” Mr. Jeremić urged representatives of civil society to contribute to shaping the debate on migration and development, especially in harnessing the benefits of this phenomenon for the common good and for the prosperity of all nations.
In his opening statement, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson outlined five priority areas for the hearings and the subsequent discussions in October: engagement within and cooperation between States; strengthened research and data gathering; the integration of migrants into our societies and economies ; coordinated national migration policies and mainstreaming migration into national sectoral policies and plans ; and the development of a framework for managing migration from countries and regions affected by crisis and violence. Mr. Eliasson referred to the role of civil society as “fundamental,” and along with several other speakers, stressed the importance of partnerships linking Member States, the United Nations and its agencies, civil society and migrants themselves.
William Gois, Regional Coordinator of the Migrant Forum in Asia, said civil society had engaged in significant preparation for the High-level Dialogue, aiming to arrive with a united message. Such an approach was necessary because not enough has changed for migrants in the previous seven years, he continued. Mr. Gois outlined the eight-point, five-year action agenda agreed by civil society and migrant organizations, adding that collaboration and partnership with governments will be important in its achievement. On the basis of these concrete policy recommendations, Mr. Gois shared his hope that October’s meeting would put the “finishing touches to the blueprint of a work plan,” for the sake of all migrants worldwide.
Gibril Faal, Chairman of the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD), said that, despite the obvious positive benefits of migration, “grumblings” by host country officials persisted, as did “disgruntled diasporas,” their discontent arising from the absence of effective common methods for working together. He emphasized the importance of integrating migrants into their host countries, and called for less suspicion and more substantive engagement to build real partnerships.
More humane border management, reduced willingness to detain migrants and better protection of human rights was also stressed as Eva Sandis, Chair of the NGO Committee on Migration, called for immediate international action to help those experiencing crises or stranded in a host country. Other speakers on the subject expressed deep concern that migrant women with irregular status lack basic services and rights. They face the risks of exploitation and abuse, while children were not guaranteed education and justice simply because of their migrant status. “Often when we talk about immigration and security, there is a tendency to blame the immigrants or migrants. Migrants are not choosing to migrate purely voluntarily. Many migrants, especially in the United States, are economic refugees,” said Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida.
In her remarks to the panel discussion entitled “Youth perspectives, Voices of Change,” Ola Orekunrin of Flying Doctors Nigeria said her experience of travel had led her to the unshakeable conclusion that the world got “smarter” when people moved. She wondered why restrictions on migration in Africa were tougher for Africans than for North Americans and Europeans, pointing out that, as a tool for redistributing wealth, relaxing border controls would make foreign aid look like “child’s play.”
Other speakers pointed out the impact of remittances from diaspora groups to the communities they had left behind. Martina Liebsch pointed out that remittances had amounted to $400 billion in 2012 despite the poor global economy. Claudia Lucero emphasized such challenges as the unwillingness of many undocumented migrants to take part in community activities for fear of deportation due to the criminalization of immigration. The delegation of Education International noted that despite their well-documented positive contributions to society, migrant workers are quite often victims of discrimination, abuses and violations of their rights. Inequality, xenophobia, exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking are were on the rise. The diaspora wished to be social actors with civic and political rights, and must participate fully in policymaking, with access to all forms of participation.
During a period of interactive dialogue, speakers noted the removal of three non-governmental organizations from the list of organizations who had applied to participate, saying there had been a lack of transparency in drawing up the list. It was vital to ensure that civil society voices were heard strongly at the United Nations, especially on the issue of migration, speakers continued. The representative of Israel concurred that the “non-objection basis” by which participants had been chosen for the dialogue and these hearings meant that States could use the system politically. The High-level Dialogue should be a chance to exchange views and best practices, she added.
Cathi Tactaquin, Executive Director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, summed up the day’s hearings, saying she had been inspired by the range of ideas expressed, but stressing that they would remain only “aspirationalist” without commitment by States to begin the hard work of strategizing, planning and taking action. Emphasizing that civil society was committed to engaging, she assured, “we are here for the long haul.” With less than three months to go before the High-level Dialogue, there was much to be done towards launching a “new era of constructive cooperation” towards common goals and objectives, Ms. Tactaquin concluded.
Photo Credit: BWI.