Need for Shift to ‘Transformative’ Dialogue between Member States, Civil Society Stressed during General Assembly Hearings on Migration and Development

15 July 2013

Need for Shift to ‘Transformative’ Dialogue between Member States, Civil Society Stressed during General Assembly Hearings on Migration and Development

15 July 2013
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Informal Interactive Hearings

AM & PM Meetings

Need for Shift to ‘Transformative’ Dialogue between Member States, Civil Society

Stressed during General Assembly Hearings on Migration and Development

The time had come to move away from “constructive” to “transformative” dialogue between civil society and Member States on the issue of international migration and development, according to non-governmental organization representatives who addressed the General Assembly today.

With the Second General Assembly High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development scheduled for this October, the informal interactive hearings offered representatives of civil society, the private sector and non-governmental organizations a chance to exchange recommendations and hopes for the outcome of the main event with Member States and the United Nations.

Co-moderating the hearings were Susan Martin, Professor at Georgetown University,and Dennis Sinyolo, Education and Employment Coordinator at Education International.

William Gois, Regional Coordinator of the Migrant Forum in Asia, said civil society had engaged in significant preparation for the High-level Dialogue, aiming to arrive with a united message.  Such an approach was necessary because not enough had changed for migrants in the previous seven years.  An eight-point agenda had been agreed, he said, adding that he wished to work with Governments over the next five years to achieve it.  On the basis of civil society’s “concrete policy recommendations”, it was to be hoped that October’s meeting would be a chance to put the “finishing touches to the blueprint of a work plan.”

Several other speakers also stressed the importance of partnerships linking Member States, the United Nations and its agencies, civil society and migrants themselves.  Gibril Faal, Chairman of the African Foundation for Development, said that, despite migration’s obvious positive benefits, “grumblings” by host country officials persisted, as did “disgruntled diasporas”, their discontent arising from the absence of effective common methods for working together.  He called for less suspicion and more substantive engagement to build real partnerships.

Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, said civil society had “upped its game”, adopting a focused, smart and practical approach as a “true partner” in policy change.  Nothing could happen within the United Nations unless the “dynamic political action” came from within Member States, and civil society needed to apply its “life experience”, focusing on action rather than rhetoric, he said.

During the opening segment of the informal interactive hearings, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić ( Serbia) noted that migrants were often “trapped behind walls” of discrimination, xenophobia and racism, as well as reprehensible labour, medical and housing conditions.  Yet, migrant numbers continued rising and contributing economically to their host countries.  He pointed out, however, the potential effects of brain drain on origin countries, and warned that the continuation of current migration trends could lead to greater inequalities between States.  He strongly encouraged discussion on how to influence Member States to incorporate migration into their debates on bridging the gap between rich and poor countries.

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stressed the power of partnership and strategic cooperation, emphasizing the “fundamental” role that civil society would need to play in achieving that.  Civil society members were fighting for equal treatment and fundamental human rights, as well as for labour rights for more than 200 million migrants.  Today’s hearings were a chance for them to be heard by Member States and to “give a human face” to the issue, placing the man, woman and child to the fore.

Taking up the theme of migrant labour and mobility, speakers stressed the need for ethical and responsible recruitment of migrant workers, and for the regulation of private recruitment agencies.  Voluntary compliance was not enough, said Ana Avendaño, Director of Immigration and Community Action of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.  Governments must prioritize the monitoring and enforcement of labour standards.  Other speakers echoed her views, agreeing that States must ratify, implement and enforce various International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.

The theme of protection was sounded as speakers took up the criminalization of immigrants and the plight of the most vulnerable migrants.  Philippe Nanaga of Un Monde Avenir stressed the need for Government policies to be in keeping with internationally agreed norms and human rights, noting that many migrants were considered criminals and outcasts simply because they wished to enjoy a better life.

More humane border management, reduced willingness to detain migrants and better protection of human rights was also stressed as Eva Sandis, Chair of the NGO Committee on Migration, called for immediate international action to help those experiencing crises or stranded in a host country.  Other speakers on the subject expressed deep concern that migrant women with irregular status lacked basic services and rights.  They faced the risks of exploitation and abuse, while children were not guaranteed education and justice simply because of their migrant status.

With discussions turning to focus on youth perspectives on migration, Clariste Soh-Moube of the Centre Amadou Hampate Ba in Mali shared her story of leaving her home and family in Africa.  While migrating through the desert would seem suicidal to some, it had been far easier and much less dehumanizing for her than seeking help in some Western consulates.  It was “okay” to leave, but better to stay, she said of her migration experience.

On the other hand, Ola Orekunrin of Flying Doctors Nigeria said her experience of travel had led her to the unshakeable conclusion that the world got “smarter” when people moved.  She wondered why restrictions on migration in Africa were tougher for Africans than for North Americans and Europeans, pointing out that, as a tool for redistributing wealth, relaxing border controls would make foreign aid look like “child’s play”.

Youth was also a prominent theme in discussions of diaspora groups.  Karim Saafi, representing African diaspora youth living in Europe, noted that 60 per cent of all diaspora groups were young.  They had the power to spearhead and catalyse action on migration, he said, calling for the inclusion of young people as essential parts of every element of discussion on the subject.

Other speakers pointed out the impact of remittances from diaspora groups on the communities they had left behind.  Martina Liebsch pointed out that remittances had amounted to $400 billion in 2012 despite the poor global economy.  Claudia Lucero emphasized such challenges as the unwillingness of many undocumented migrants to take part in community activities for fear of deportation due to the criminalization of immigration.  The diaspora wished to be social actors with civic and political rights, and must participate fully in policymaking, with access to all forms of participation.

John K. Bingham, Head of Policy at the International Catholic Migration Commission, said that, before the High-level Dialogue, it was important to “take a fresh look” at the perspective of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on migrants in transit.  He was among several speakers throughout the day — and during discussion of migration governance and partnerships in particular — who called for strengthening of the ILO as a practical instrument of governance.

However, for Isabel de Sola, Senior Knowledge Manager at the World Economic Forum, migration governance could no longer rest on the shoulders of the United Nations and its Member States.  Businesses were “at the heart” of migrant development, especially when the private sector realized that migrants could be drivers of innovation, she said, calling for strengthening the implementation of migrant rights at the workplace.  Many employers were already engaged in bringing migrant voices and concerns to the global debate, she said, emphasizing that “employers or employment are a window into integration”.

During a period of interactive dialogue, speakers noted the removal of three non-governmental organizations from the list of participants, saying there had been a lack of transparency in drawing up the list.  It was vital to ensure that civil society voices were heard strongly at the United Nations, especially on the issue of migration.  Israel’s representative said the “non-objection basis” for including non-governmental organizations meant that States could use the system politically.  The High-level Dialogue should be a chance to exchange views and best practices, she added.

Cathi Tactaquin, Executive Director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, summed up the day’s hearings, saying she had been inspired by the range of ideas expressed, but stressing that they would remain only an “aspirational list” without the commitment by States to begin the hard work of strategizing, planning and taking action.  Emphasizing that civil society was committed to engaging, she assured, “we are here for the long haul”.  With less than three months to go before the High-level Dialogue, there was much to be done towards launching a “new era of constructive cooperation” towards common goals and objectives.

Delivering closing remarks was Dejan Šahović, Deputy Chef de Cabinet in the Office of the President of the General Assembly, who said the hearings had proved that it was a time to identify “concrete measures on which we can all agree”.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 July, for the sixth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.