Global migrations and their discontents

Global migrations and their discontents

Global migrations and their discontents

Migrants who survived an incident arrive at the harbor of Piraeus. Migration should be a part of the new partnership for development, says Türk.

Migration is one of the megatrends of the globalizing world. At the same time, it is surprising that the existing dimensions of this phenomenon are rarely discussed and much less considered among the major issues affecting global policy making. The approaches usually taken in international debates are dictated by its specific aspects i.e. most often economic, legal and humanitarian. However, these “aspect-specific approaches” cannot be expected to produce adequate policies without a proper understanding of the global scope of the phenomenon and a debate of its effects on global development.

Therefore, let me first take a quick look into these two basic questions: First, the scope of the global phenomenon of migrations today and second, the nature of global discussions about them.

In a recent statement made on the occasion of the International Migrants Day, on Dec. 18 last year, the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, William Lacy Swing emphasized that human mobility - domestic and international - has grown to unprecedented levels. There are 232 million international migrants today. If the numbers of domestic migrants are added, the total number comprises around one billion people - about a seventh of the whole global population. Several billions more are affected by migrations - family members who stay at home and may be dependent on migrant remittances and the people in countries of immigration who depend on goods and services provided by the migrants.


Professor Danilo Türk, 
Former President of
the Republic of Slovenia

The economic effects of international migrations have become enormous. Let us take only the example of migrant remittances: At $400 billion in 2012 and the expected $515 billion in 2015 the levels of migrants’ remittances are many times higher than official development assistance (ODA) and roughly equivalent to the total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

These are the figures provided by the International Organization for Migration. It is worth quoting them here in Turkey, a country which has for the past decades been among the most active countries of emigration and a country which has experienced all the effects of migration and its effects on society.

The future is likely to bring additional demands. The ongoing demographic changes and economic transformations, both in the countries of emigration and the countries of immigration, will lead to new needs of matching the skills at an ever increasing variety of job levels. The times when unskilled labor was by far the main feature of migration are over.

It is surprising that the international community has so far not addressed the megatrend of migrations comprehensively. In the U.N., there have been only two high level dialogues on migration - the first in 2006 and the second in 2013, in October last year. The latter one resulted in a U.N. declaration on the subject. It is expected now that migration will be given an adequate place in the process of preparation of the U.N.’s post 2015 Development Agenda. Certain key concepts are already emerging and gaining general support: Migration should be a part of the new partnership for development. Good migration governance must be based on respect for human rights and characterized by safe, humane and orderly migration. This is an imperative both for governments and for the business sector. The fact that such governance does not exist in most places in our world should be a sufficient reason for a call for change. The post 2015 Development Agenda will be a good opportunity for a policy debate to generate the necessary change.

At present, it is important to reflect upon the conceptual approach proposed by the recent High Level Dialogue and on its implications. Human rights of migrants are the first concern identified in the High Level Dialogue. This is fundamental. Countries of immigration far too often perceive migrants only as labor and not as equal human beings - people with rights and needs and legitimate aspirations. This has to change. The world of the future will have to integrate migrating people fully and the principle of non-discrimination, so fundamental in all human relationships, will have to guide the processes of integration. It is said human rights are universal. Therefore, they must apply fully to migrants. In the time of hardship and financial uncertainty such as we presently experience in Europe, it is particularly important to pay due attention to the rights of the most exposed and the vulnerable.

There are specific human rights violations that have to be combatted and eliminated. Many of them are connected with involuntary migration. In fact, involuntary migration is in itself a violation of human rights. It violates the right to freedom of movement that is based on the premise of the free will in decision making on movement and selection of residence as well as, very importantly, the right to return. Various forms of denial of the right to leave any country and to return to one’s own country have traditionally been considered as egregious violations of human rights and have been combatted accordingly.

In the post-cold war era, i.e. at the time when the practical scope of freedom of movement has become much broader, the focus of attention has shifted to violations of human rights related to involuntary migration, in particular to human trafficking.

Here, the world needs full clarity: Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery and must be eliminated. The traffickers and all those who are abetting them, including - as the case may be - public officials, must be prosecuted and punished. The argument that some of the trafficking might be, in fact, voluntary is highly dubious. Victims who incur high debts to pay “fees” to the traffickers or employers lose their ability to make decisions voluntarily. Coercion, including various forms of indirect coercion, deprives people of their ability to exercise their freedom to decide and represents a violation of human rights. Further violations and criminal acts against victims occur in the process of trafficking.

The world needs an effective mechanism of cooperation to combat human trafficking. The existing international standards that have been developing throughout the 20th Century and have found contemporary expressions in the international instruments against internationally organized crimes are welcome. But they are insufficient. National governments and nation states have the decisive role. It is for the nation-states to define adequate legal instruments and development policies designed to reduce and eliminate human trafficking in their territories. Territorial sovereignty has not lost any of its importance with regard to the need to fight the crimes involved in human trafficking.

In a world in which migration is likely to grow, the world needs to be attentive to the dark sides of migration, hence the need to place great emphasis on the problems of violations of human rights and of crimes affecting the victims of human trafficking. Before concluding, I wish to make the following point: In the present statement I do not deal with the problem of refugees and internally displaced persons resulting from wars and political instability. The tragedy of refugees stands alone as a humanitarian problem of primary order, which requires both effective and massive humanitarian response, as well as political solutions. The current tragedy of Syrian refugees is a case in point. All humanitarian efforts to alleviate suffering must be supported and all political attempts to end the war must be continued. Refugees and internally displaced people will continue to be a major concern of the international community.

This is the speech by Danilo Türk at the 17th Eurasian Economic Summit.