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Making the Global Compact on Migration Count

In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18
 
Earlier this month the news tickers were abuzz with the ‘breaking news’ that the United States has withdrawn from a United Nations pact to improve the handling of migrant and refugee situations, deeming it inconsistent with its policies; claiming immigration as a sovereignty issue. It is somewhat ironic that this announcement came just two weeks before the International Migrants Day on Dec 18th.

In 2016, the 193 members of the UN general assembly unanimously adopted a non-binding political declaration, the New York declaration for refugees and migrants, pledging to uphold the rights of refugees and migrants, help them resettle and ensure they had access to education and jobs. The initiative had the enthusiastic backing of President Obama, and was embraced by UN Secretary General Guterres as one of his major challenges for 2018. The aim was to publish a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration next year in time for adoption by the UN general assembly in September. Very much a global requirement and eagerly awaited especially by sending countries.

Is that objective off the table now? Will there be enough countries that continue to back the need? It’s after all been on and off the global table for years and it looked like finally we were getting some ‘movement’ on it. Like it or not, the issue of mobility is here to stay. Globalisation demands it. So do corporates. It brings the best of human resource from around the world to ensure sustainability and competitiveness for the economy. And yet migration continues to be seen through the filter of border control and internal security. This suits political positions of domestic protectionism but continues to be a short-term response to the larger demands of the 21st century knowledge economy. Many countries don’t get it – mainly because they don’t want to. Many do, because they have to. That is the reality of migration.

Interestingly, on December 6th at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico concluded the three-day global stocktaking conference on the global compact. This was very well attended from across the globe and the Press Statement released on the conclusion was both aspirational and hopeful. The President of the UN General Assembly clearly stated that the current response to international migration is not sustainable and this is a global phenomenon that needs an international response. The negotiations next year will show if such a response actually comes about where member States while formulating their own migration policies do align these to a global position that is both sustainable and humanitarian.

At the moment, a more practicable solution seems to be two-fold. First, at a regional level, the response to these voluntary submissions is being subjected to the scrutiny of defining of priorities. In the South and South East Asian countries, many are not exclusive sending or receiving countries. For example, in the region, India is a major source and destination country. What is implementable is being debated. For these countries, ethical recruitment and reducing the vulnerabilities in the migration cycle are high on the agenda. Similarly, mutual recognition of skills and harmonisation of standards are also important issues. The second and extremely important development is the interest and participation of the private sector in regional fora such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development’s Business Mechanism, the Colombo Process meetings and the Abu Dhabi dialogue. This is important because it is only with the involvement of the private sector in migration policy that we can move forward on these priorities that have been identified. Without the private sector at the high table of migration, little can be achieved at a national, regional and global level.
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(Dr. Singh, Chair of the Diaspora Thematic Working Group of KNOMAD is a former Secretary to Govt of India and former Secretary General FICCI, the Apex business chamber of India)