Towards a World Where Migration is a Right

IMA Submission to UN General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development

On 3 and 4 October 2013, the UN General Assembly will be holding the second High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (“HLD”) in New York.  Below is the submission of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) to the HLD, calling for an alternative development framework, the protection of a full range of human rights of migrants, and greater democratic and transparent participation of grassroots migrant works in governmental and intergovernmental policy-making.   Click below to read more.

Towards a world where migration is a right, migrants are accorded the full range of human rights, and their sustainable contribution to further development is realized

Submission to the General Assembly High - Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development 2013


To date, it is a foregone conclusion that the world is far behind in achieving the outcomes targeted by the Millennium Development Goals. Despite its popularity, high commitment and general optimism when it was first introduced, countries are still hard-pressed to meet the targets of the MDGs
– eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child
mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and, global partnership
for development.

While the UN remains positive in achieving the MDGs with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphasizing on the MDG-8 (global partnership for development) as a key towards achieving the MDGs, the Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 also indicated that the advances in the
MDGs are unequally distributed among regions and among countries and that the multiple crises that continue to impact the world have actually slowed down the progress of the MDGs(United Nations, 2012).

The impacts of the financial crisis that exploded in 2008 remain in most of the countries, from the highly developed to the least, in the world. Touted as comparable to the Great Depression in the 1930s, the crisis has led to displacement, job loss, even more aggressive plunder of the natural resources, severe austerity measures, cutbacks on social services, and other adverse impacts to the lives of peoples. While the people clamored for social protection, many states chose to bailout and support businesses, banks and financial institutions with the hope that the economy could be
reinvigorated and ultimately, the benefit would trickle down to the ground.

But five years after the financial crisis, the world is still mired in serious economic, social, political and even environmental problems. There is no clear resolution in sight for the multiple crises plaguing the world as countries continue to use the same neoliberal economic paradigm to pull the world from crisis – the same framework that, ironically, brought forward the crisis itself.

Thus, when it comes to the completion of the MDGs by 2015, hope is a
hard sell if not totally improbable. Slowly, the people are already being conditioned to look forward to the post-2015 development agenda that may be called an indirect admission of the failure of the MDGs.

Parallel to the heightened crisis, more regular discussions on the interrela
tionship between international migration and development have also been conducted by United Nations agencies, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and by the international financial institutions such as the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Although migration has been a recurring theme for the past two decades, with its relevance to socio - economic development and other basic concerns of countries highlighted in the later years, it was only after the first UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in 2006 that attempts to explore deeper the migration- development nexus have intensified with more states, international agencies, and private actors participating in the discussions.

Most notable of such meetings were the annual Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) that was put into motion by the first UN HLD. The GFMD that had its first meeting in Belgium in 2007 continued and is only taking a break this year to give way to the UN HLD 2013. It became the
broadest and most regular platform for discussion on themes revolving around the migration-development nexus.Currently, state participants in the GFMD are in the process of evaluating the GFMD and the implementations of its resolutions.

It is of no coincidence that the discussions on migration have steadily been revolving around its relationship to development. In a crisis-ridden world, states are scrambling to find solutions to mitigate if not resolve the frequent economic shake ups that the world experiences. With 215 million of the world’s people living and working as migrants in countries other than their country of birth, and remittance as a financial capital source out pacing the rate of increase of official development assistance and now ranking second only to foreign direct investments, states, intergovernmental institutions and international finance institutions are turning their eyes towards using migration to contribute in achieving the MDGs and even for the post -2015 development agenda (The World Bank, 2011) 

The pragmatism of migration for development

In past meetings on migration and development, states have vowed not to make migration a substitute for genuine development. For instance, when the first GFMD was convened after the UN HLD 2006, its avowed objective was “to enhance the positive impact of migration on development (and vice versa) by adopting a more consistent policy approach, identifying new instruments and best practices, exchanging know-how and experience about innovative tactics and methods and, finally, establishing cooperative links between the various actors involved” (Global Forum on Migration and Development website).

While the so-called potential of migration to contribute to development is exhaustively discussed, extensively researched and widely promoted, no similar effort is made on looking at how migration, is in reality, an outcome of underdevelopment.

States, international financial institutions, intergovernmental bodies and even some civil society organizations are choosing to take the pragmatic view that since migration is already present, it might as well be maximized for its potential benefits to development.

Current discussions on migration and development are focused on migration as a process. Thus, most of the recommendations and actions implemented revolved around better management of the migration process – from recruitment to sending of remittance - that is considered as key towards maximizing the developmental benefits of migration and reducing its negative costs.

With the said operative framework, migration tends to be a seen as a process to be reformed and not an economic, political, and social development concern that must be addressed. An extreme result of this framework on migration is the linking of migration and security concerns that is currently implemented in the forms of militarization of borders, arbitrary surveillance and tracking of movements, restrictive visa policies and procedures, and even development of unjust prejudices towards migrants.

While there are sporadic discussions on the rights and welfare of migrants, these are not sustained and no effective action is conducted, thus putting to question the seriousness of states to address the violations of the rights of migrants.

It is important to note that the report of the 2006 UN HLD stated that,

Participants felt that it was essential to address the root causes of international migration to ensure that people migrated out of choice rather than necessity. They observed that people often had to migrate because of poverty, conflict, human rights violations, poor governance or lack of employment. There was widespread support for incorporating international migration issues in national development plans, including poverty reduction strategies. Participants noted that international migration could contribute to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, but cautioned against viewing international migration by itself as a long-term development strategy. The need to generate jobs with decent working conditions and to ensure that sustainable livelihoods were possible in all countries was emphasized. (United Nations General Assembly or UNGA, 2006, p2, para # II.9)

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General in his report to the General Assembly prior to the UN HLD on International Migration and Development in 2006 said that,

A major principle of migration policy is that everyone should have the option of staying and prospering in her or his own country. To that end, all countries should strive to create more jobs and decent jobs for their people. (UNGA, 2006a, p17, para # C.82)

Furthermore, it was reiterated in the UNSG Report in 2008 that,

Although the High-level Dialogue stressed that international migration could contribute to development, it recognized that international migration was not a substitute for development. All too often, migrants were compelled to seek employment abroad because of poverty, conflict or violations of human rights. Peace and security, good governance, the rule of law and the provision of decent work in countries of origin ensured that people migrated out of choice instead of necessity. (UNGA, 2008, p4, para # II.5)

While these are noteworthy expressions of noble sentiments, these were merely presented as caveats to the agenda of making migration play a major role in development.

Arguments favoring the utilization of migration for development can be classified into two broad points: a) Migration results to remittances that can spur beneficial economic activities from the individual remittance recipient household level (consumption, human capital development, capital for entrepreneurship) to the macroeconomic level thru remittance’s multiplier effects; and b) transfer of knowledge and skills upon return of migrants to country of origin.

But these arguments failed to account the basic condition where migration exists right now – that is the prevalence of poverty and the perpetuation of neoliberal economic development agenda that are unsound, unsustainable and keep the world’s economy tethering on the brink of crisis, if not massive collapse.

While private consumption, human capital development and, in some cases, creation of small businesses can be seen as immediate impacts of remittance to households, basic structural weaknesses of countries of origin make it hard for remittance recipients to make these immediate impacts prosper. Even the transfer of skills and knowledge require a suitable environment to be fully realized.

Moreover, actual negative impacts to development of reliance on migration far outweigh its potential benefits.

The influx of large sums of foreign currency fosters over reliance of countries of origin on remittance for economic growth instead of adopting development plans that are dependent on national capacity, responsive to national needs, and sustainable in the long-term. The development of labor export programs and the overemphasis on remittance to inflate the GDP reflect this overreliance on migration to address the structural problems of poverty, unemployment, weak economic fundamentals, etc.

Aside from the quasi-Dutch Disease that remittance creates, it can also push inflation further in countries of origin with the creation of demands for consumption goods and real estate. Coupled with income inequality that results from migration, the condition further erodes the economic capacity of the non-recipients of remittance that still constitute the majority of the population of countries of origin, as well as of migrants who come from poorer families.

Meanwhile, the potential for the transfer of skills and knowledge is outweighed by the actual brain drain phenomenon that is part of the current migration trend.

On top of the abovementioned consequences, the negative social impacts of migration to families and communities should also be noted.

Click here to continue reading, including access to the recommendations to the UN HLD.


The International Migrants Alliance (IMA) is a global movement and alliance of grassroots im/migrants, refugees’ and displaced people of different nationalities in more than 25 countries including 32 NGO's and institutions that work for the protection and promotion of migrants ' rights and their empowerment.  Karibu partner the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) is a member.

Posted by - Last updated 12.08.2013