Lecture on Migration as Part of the Sustainable Development Agenda

– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at Lecture on Migration as Part of the Sustainable Development Agenda


Minister Frick,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It’s a pleasure for me to join you today. And I am honoured to present this lecture on migration.

At the outset, let me just state that I am not a migration professor. I have not done theoretical research. And today I am not about to present you with new data and findings from a ground-breaking study.

But what I hope to do is to share with you some perspectives. And in doing so, my aim is to engage you in a process; to challenge our thinking; to clarify and bring understanding.

Migration is a hot button topic. It is a sensitive issue in many places and for many reasons.

Over the past year, the issue of migration has been high on the agenda of the General Assembly. And we have done a great deal of work on the topic. So, I welcome this opportunity to speak about it today.


Before making three clear points, let me state a fact:

Migration is a reality.

People have always moved. And they have done so for various reasons; for education; for family; for employment and careers; for a better life; or even for love. Some have moved to escape tragedy; some out of necessity and yet others by force.

What we also now know is that migration has many dimensions. It is very complex. But often it is subject to false perceptions and myths. They can erase the complexities – as well as the truth.

Despite what the media may portray, most migration takes place within regions. For example, the highest portion of international migration takes place between developing countries – 34.8 per cent.

Migrants contributed 9.4 per cent to global GDP in 2017 – even though they account for only 3.4 per cent of global population. And while almost 600 billion US dollars in remittances were sent abroad, in 2017, 85 per cent of migrants’ incomes remain in their host countries – often contributing to local economies.

But I do not want to paint a picture that all is rosy and well. We know that migration presents challenges:

….Large and uncontrolled movements place a strain on countries and cities.

….There can be brain drains.. or, indeed, surpluses of labour.

…And countries of all kinds can face security risks and demographic change.

Also, migrants themselves may also face vulnerability. We have seen more than 26,000 migrant deaths since 2014. Thousands more are trapped in a cycle of exploitation at the hands of smugglers and traffickers. And, 48 per cent of migrants are women. They often face violence and exploitation.

So, like I said, migration is nothing new. It is a reality. And it has been – for a long time. Perhaps what is new is the way we see – and understand – it. And the ways and means it now takes place.

So what do we do with these trends? How do we address a global phenomenon?

I believe global issues require global action – for global solutions.

And this is the focus of what I will speak about today. Because we have just concluded negotiations on a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. That means we are closer than ever to a global response for this global phenomenon.

Migration is a reality. People have always moved. And they have done so for various reasons; for education; for family; for employment and careers; for a better life; or even for love. Some have moved to escape tragedy; some out of necessity and yet others by force. What we also now know is that migration has many dimensions. It is very complex. But often it is subject to false perceptions and myths. They can erase the complexities – as well as the truth.


President of the UN General Assembly

My first point, today, is that the Global Compact is a comprehensive response. I said earlier that migration is complex. So, the Compact takes a 360-degree approach. It addresses all dimensions of migration.

And a lot of work went into developing it. 18 months of consultations…. Reaching out to all regions. Hearing the views of countries, but also civil society, NGOs, and the private sector….

We listened to best practices from the field… We brought in data from academia….We learned lessons from the stories of migrants and service providers, law enforcers and policy-makers.

With all that wealth of information, Member States of the United Nations, held six rounds of negotiations – from February to July. They were transparent. They were inclusive. And they were substantive.

Let me pause here to commend Liechtenstein on its constructive approach during the negotiations. On this often sensitive issue, you answered my call for true engagement. Time and time again, you reached out, seeking compromise.

And in fact, the Compact has benefited from this approach. It represents the cross-roads between various views… the mix of different perspectives…a merger of competing interests.

The text is bound together by a common commitment to a people-centered approach. One that respects human rights and safeguards the sovereignty of states.

The Compact is not binding and does not create obligations. Yet it can serve as a useful tool to ensure that we no longer rely on ad hoc reactionary policies. It will encourage cooperation because, as I have often said, “no state can manage international migration on its own”.

The document we agreed on creates a Compact that can support our efforts to better manage migration comprehensively – and together.

The second point I want to make to you is this: The Global Compact is based, not on theory, but on what is actually happening, on the ground.

The consultative process – which was a big part of the process to create it – was like a fact-finding mission. Yes, there is a political element to any negotiation. But in this case, we were determined to pull together policy based on evidence.

It has 10 guiding principles and 23 objectives. Through them, the Compact offers a framework which states can use to support their own policy development. It becomes a guide for all actors to use in implementing a collaborative approach.

Look, for example, at the drivers of migration. The so-called push factors. The reasons people leave their home. These are included in the document.

….Or the issue of discrimination and social inclusion – it is in there.

….Meeting labour demands but in a balanced way – covered.

….How to prevent migrants from falling into smuggling rings and risking life and limb? Check.

….What about children, some unaccompanied, some abandoned? It addresses that too.

When it comes to migration, these are the realities. They face many of us – whether we have migrated or not. And they are all addressed in practical ways.

So, the Compact is a response to the realities. And it is a response that will enable us to be more proactive and less reactive.

It is a formula for addressing a significant global concern.

Which brings me to my third and final point.

The Global Compact was a test case for the UN, and for multilateralism. And, so far, the General Assembly has shown that it is up to the task.

We were able to address this complex, sensitive and pressing global concern. We were able to do it together. This is a win for multilateralism; a validation of diplomacy.

Because if we cannot work together to deal with global challenges, then we are wasting time. If we cannot rise above differences and seek mutually beneficial outcomes, we have failed. If we cannot deliver for people – the ones we represent – then what is the point of diplomacy?

I firmly believe that the United Nations plays an essential role in global politics. And this must continue to be the case, in the years ahead.

It is no secret that multilateralism is being challenged from many sides. And we must demonstrate that what we do matters.

In agreeing this Compact, we have shown that we can find solutions; we can work together for mutual benefit; we can bring about change to uplift the lives of millions of people.

It is the same with the 2030 Agenda. During those negotiations, many thought it was undoable. But today we have the SDGs. They too are non-binding. But look at the difference they are making. We have the channel to change lives forever.

Time and again, we have recognised that the challenges we face need cooperation…. That the concerns we have are shared…. That the real solutions are to be found in joint action.

And this is exactly why the United Nations General Assembly was created. And it remains why we must use it to work together for the good of all people.

And this is the broad objective of the United Nations: to make people’s lives better. And we do this by pursuing peace; by protecting human rights; by promoting development.

Migration is wrapped up in all 3 pillars.

In pursuing sustainable development, the SDGs recognised migration at the international level. Goal 10 calls for “well managed migration policies to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration.” It further targets the reduction in the cost of migrant remittances. And there are other related goals and targets too.

It is important to know that migration can be well managed. And that it can, therefore, become a better agent for development.

Without adequate development gains, people will make decisions to move – even irregularly. We have seen this in various places across the globe.

Development can help to counter push factors. It can ensure that people move – not out of necessity – but by choice.

We committed to achieving sustainable development for all people, for all countries. And it is a commitment we must keep.


Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The work has not ended.

The Global Compact is not a magic pill. No. But it is the first ever of its kind. And we can use it to make great strides.

World leaders will gather at a Conference in Morocco in December to ceremonially adopt the Global Compact.

But even then, the work will not be done. In fact, one may say then it will only be the beginning. Because to really make an impact, the text must come to life. To truly benefit countries, it must move from paper to practice.

I count on everyone to move this forward to make a real difference in people’s lives. For newcomers to our countries; for our people who are newcomers elsewhere; and for the societies that welcome them.

I thank you.