Expert voices Vol 22, No. 10 - October 2018

En route to ensure safety and dignity for people on the move

Around the world, there are 258 million international migrants. This means that one out of every 30 people, has changed his or her country of usual residence. The data also tells us that 50 million are children. To ensure their safety and dignity, the international community is preparing to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration this December. Ahead of this event, we spoke to Bela Hovy, who led the work on migration data in UN DESA’s Population Division for more than a decade, about why this agreement is so critical and what role data play to ensure the safety and dignity of people on the move.

The world will soon adopt the Global Compact for Migration. Described as a landmark agreement, why is it so critical?

“As the countries become more interdependent, migration is expected to continue to increase. On the one hand, economic deprivation, armed conflict, population growth, environmental degradation and climate change will continue to compel people to leave their homes. On the other hand, strong economies and ageing populations will continue to fuel the demand for migrant labour.

Given these trends, there is an urgent need to strengthen international cooperation to regulate the flow of people. So far, few countries have implemented well-managed migration policies. The Global Compact is the first ever agreement that seeks to guide countries to regulate human mobility in all its dimensions.”

UN DESA collects, monitors and analyzes all the official data on international migration. What do these numbers tell us about people on the move today?

“First, migration has been on the rise. According to our estimates, the number of persons living outside their country of birth increased by almost 50 per cent since 2000, reaching 258 million persons by 2017. Second, migration remains relatively rare. In 2017, only 3.4 per cent of the global population was living outside their country of birth. Third, the distribution of migrants is highly uneven. In industrialized countries, almost 12 out of every 100 inhabitants are international migrants, compared to only 2 in developing countries. Fourth, more people move between developing countries than from developing to developed countries. For instance, more than half of all African-born migrants reside in Africa. Fifth, the impact of migration on the size and composition of the population is increasing. For instance, migration has been the primary source of population growth in developed countries since the 1990s.”

Why is data so crucial in the work of ensuring the safety of international migrants?

“There is much evidence that, if properly managed, migration can bring benefits for countries of origin, countries of destination and migrants alike. Unfortunately, many of today’s migration policies are inspired by anti-foreigner rhetoric rather than based on research and facts. Even more fundamentally, registration and documentation are key for the safety of migrants whether they are in transit or in countries of destination. Undocumented migrants are highly vulnerable to discrimination and abuse, including human trafficking. Data and evidence-based studies can help to improve the plight of such vulnerable migrants.”

What are some of the biggest challenges that people who need to migrate from their home countries, face today?

“One of the biggest challenges for people who feel compelled to leave their home country is the lack of channels for safe, orderly and regular migration. While there are opportunities for refugees to seek asylum, most people who seek to leave their country do not meet the strict definition of a refugee contained in international law. As a result, asylum systems become easily overburdened. Due to a lack of alternative migration opportunities, such persons often have no choice but to resort to human traffickers and migrant smugglers.”

How will the Global Compact help overcome the challenges, and improve the lives of international migrants?

“The 23 objectives of the Global Compact deal with migration in all its dimensions. First, and critically, the Global Compact seeks to minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their homes.

Second, it aims to make migration safe, orderly and regular by facilitating legal migration, while at the same time combating irregular migration.

Third, the Compact aims at maximizing the benefits of migration for countries of origin, countries of destination and migrants while addressing migration challenges. A central objective of the Compact is to strengthen the evidence-base on migration to promote fact-based policy making and informed public discourse.

All these measures, from improving living conditions in home countries, to creating safe avenues for migration, and harnessing the benefits of migration are expected to improve the lives of migrants and communities.”

Oftentimes, the narrative on international migration points out the challenges. But there are many vital opportunities and important contributions that international migration brings. Can you share with our readers?

“Migration, when properly managed, brings significant benefits. In countries of destination, migrants fill gaps in the labour market by performing critical jobs that are often shunned by citizens. Migrants, who are often entrepreneurs, create jobs, contribute to the tax base, and initiate urban rejuvenation.

In countries of origin, migrant families use the remittances they receive to improve their health and education and to invest in small businesses. Diaspora communities generate international trade and are an important source of foreign direct investment. For migrant women, migration can be an empowering experience as breadwinners.”

For more information:

Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration

Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration

Explainer video: What is the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and regular Migration? 

Get the latest migration data from UN DESA’s Population Division

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