MARRAKECH, Morocco, 11 December — With a far-reaching Global Compact on Migration now adopted by a majority of countries, it is up to Governments — in partnership with civil society groups, business leaders and migrants themselves — to push back against the distorted narratives dominating the global news cycle, stressed participants during an interactive dialogue today.
Keynote speaker Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Chair of the High-Level Panel on International Migration in Africa and former President of Liberia, warned that migration has become a “flashpoint” with some politicians using images of migrants to create a climate of fear. In reality, she said, most of today’s estimated 258 million international migrants move safely and legally, while also transferring $596 billion annually in remittances — three times the total amount of official development assistance (ODA) provided to States.
Ancient peoples migrating out of Africa gave birth to the world’s many ethnicities, cultures, languages and forms of Government, she said. Migrants — including Albert Einstein, Mahatma Ghandi and yesterday’s keynote speaker, Madeline Albright — have made major breakthroughs in human history. In Africa, many countries are welcoming migrants by breaking down border restrictions and developing a unified trading system. Far from exacerbating insecurity, those changes have boosted development benefits across the continent, she said, warning Governments across the globe to avoid “constructing fortresses”.
Following the keynote address, a panel discussion — and a subsequent interactive dialogue among Government representatives, civil society leaders and United Nations entities — focused on the theme “Partnerships and innovative initiatives for the way forward”. Speakers recalled that multi-stakeholder partnerships and the inclusion of migrants themselves are among the Global Compact’s guiding principles. The agreement also highlights the potential of new technologies to help Governments devise inclusive, human rights-based migration policies, many said, agreeing that the challenges of migration must be tackled both collectively and humanely.
Panellist Joanne Liu, President of Doctors Without Borders, reported that, last week, her organization was forced to stop its search‑and‑rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea following a “concerted, sinister campaign of legal challenges and administrative obstacles”. The same week, 15 people stranded in a boat off the coast of Libya died of thirst and starvation.
While citizens and mayors around Europe have mobilized to receive rescued people, she said, some European Governments refuse to provide search and rescue capacity, or worse yet, actively sabotage efforts to save lives. “Saving lives is non-negotiable,” she stressed, emphasizing that States are bound by international law whether or not they choose to adopt the Compact. Voicing concern that groups seeking to help migrants have been smeared, bullied and threatened, she emphasized that “migration is not a crime” and urged States that adopted the Compact not to give up.
Manuela Carmena Castrillo, Mayor of Madrid, agreed that local governments shoulder an immense responsibility in managing migration flows. Emphasizing that all countries — and particularly cities — are the products of true diversity, she said Madrid is home to 3.2 million people, only 1 in 5 of whom was born there. Calling on the world to wake up to the reality of migration, she said Madrid is working to ensure that alternative services and crucial resources are made available to all people, including migrants. It also provides a full range of programmes and services in partnership with the United Nations and other organizations, she said.
A third panellist, Tarik Yousef, Director of the Brookings Doha Center, cautioned that the discussion on migration has, in many countries, been hijacked by demagogues. The challenges posed by migration cannot be addressed by one country alone, nor by the international system in an age when the liberal order appears to be “tearing up at the seams”. Instead, multisectoral approaches and innovative ideas are required, with communities, non-profits and non-governmental organizations working hand in hand with local governments and cities.
Pointing out that most of the innovation taking place today appears to be highly localized, he said new technologies present an opportunity to widely disseminate promising, effective solutions to migration-related challenges. Among other things, such solutions can help migrants better understand their legal rights, fight discrimination and avoid exploitation. “You don’t need the presidents of countries to approve this; what you need is the right actors to work across spaces to alleviate bottlenecks,” he stressed.
During the day-long interactive discussion, many delegates and civil society leaders described locally led, technology-driven alliances that are improving migrants’ lives or helping countries prepare for their arrival. Several projects spotlighted included a partnership among Thailand, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a local real estate company — which creates educational opportunities for children near a construction site where their parents work — as well as a project run by Denmark and IBM that uses data modelling to predict future migratory flows.
SHAHIDUL HAQUE, Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and a Co-Chair of today’s dialogue, said the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration on 10 December represented the first time the international community has collectively recognized the challenges posed by migration. “This is an issue that all of us need to tackle together.” While migration itself is an individual endeavour, successfully guiding it requires partnerships at all levels. Today’s discussion will focus on those partnerships, he said, asking participants to consider which specific partnerships will be most useful and how they can best serve those who have chosen — or been forced — to leave their homes. The question of safe, sustainable voluntary returns is another matter that may be considered, he said.
COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), the dialogue’s second Co-Chair, said that the issue of migration is a complex, controversial and — at times — divisive one. However, with the development of appropriate partnerships, it can also be well managed and bring people together. Mutually beneficial and strategic partnerships — along with the development of strong mechanisms and policies that cut across boundaries — are crucial. Stressing that youth must also be engaged in this collective endeavour, he recalled that several speakers at the 10 December dialogue made the “business case” for well-managed, orderly migration. Strategies based on partnerships at the local, national, regional and global levels will be critical, as migration is among the most critical tests facing the international community today. Expressing hope that the panel will shed light on those matters, he said their comments can help guide the future development of such critical partnerships.
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF, Chair of the High-Level Panel on International Migration in Africa and former President of Liberia, said migration has been a driving force throughout human history. Ancient peoples migrated out of Africa to Europe and Asia and eventually to the Americas, giving birth to many ethnicities, cultures, languages and forms of Government. “The United States is famously a nation of immigrants” with most of it citizens able to trace their ancestry outside its borders. Albert Einstein, for example, immigrated to the United States after fleeing persecution in Germany, and the Indian activist Mahatma Ghandi was himself an immigrant from India to South Africa. The keynote speaker at the 10 December dialogue session, Madeline Albright, was born in what is now known as the Czech Republic. However, she said, migration today has become a political “flashpoint” that dominates the news cycle, with some politicians using images of migrants to create a climate of fear. That “unfortunate political tool” continues to paint migrants as a threat to the status quo, she said.
Describing such narratives as counterproductive to both development and progress, she said most of today’s estimated 258 million international migrants move safely and legally in search of new opportunities. Migrants transfer an estimated $596 billion annually in remittances around the world — three times the total amount of official development assistance (ODA) currently being provided to countries. Migrants also pay taxes, injecting 85 per cent of their earnings into the economies of their host countries. In Africa, she said, most migration happens within the continent’s borders, and many countries have welcomed migrants by adopting common passports, easing visa restrictions and establishing unified customs and clearance regimes. The soon-to-be-established African Continental Free Trade Agreement will create a more open trading system. Noting that those changes have not exacerbated insecurity — but rather boosted development benefits across the continent — she called on States to “avoid constructing fortresses” that can lead migrants seeking opportunities to heart-wrenching deaths at the bottom of the sea.
A panel discussion titled “Partnerships and innovative initiatives for the way forward”, featured the following speakers: Manuela Carmena Castrillo, Mayor of Madrid; Joanne Liu, President of Doctors without Borders; and Tarik Yousef, Director of the Brookings Doha Center.
Ms. CASTRILLO said that, as mayor of a great city, she welcomes the Compact noting the immense responsibility local government faces in managing migration. All countries, and particularly cities, are a real product of true diversity. Madrid is home to 3.2 million people, but only 1 in 5 was born in the city. The great reality of migration obliges the world to think about why migration is becoming a cause for confrontation between countries and across continents. The migration of people and capital has always existed. Noting that people leave their homes in search of a decent life, she said it is essential to include all sectors of society in seizing the immense opportunity presented by migration. “We are standing at a turning point,” she continued, calling on the world to wake up. There is not a confrontation against migration. There is a confrontation against poverty, she added.
She underscored the need to fight extreme poverty, adding: “That is what is crucial.” Madrid is working to ensure that alternative services and crucial resources are made available to all people, including migrants. Care for citizens must be prioritized. Where national laws lack the specific competencies to deal with migration, local governments must step in to provide services. Madrid provides a full range of programmes and services in partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Mediterranean organizations. Services include the provision of a phone on arrival and a citizenship card. “It falls on the shoulders of cities and local governments to work on this,” she added.
Ms. LIU said the challenges posed by migration must be tackled collectively and humanely. Last week, Doctors Without Borders was forced to stop its search‑and‑rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea as a “concerted, sinister campaign of legal challenges and administrative obstacles” prevented its ship from leaving port. “With the sabotage of the Aquarius, gone is the most basic humanitarian and legal commitment — saving lives at sea,” she said. The same week, 15 people stranded in a boat off the coast of Libya died of thirst and starvation. “How many may be similarly dying or drowning without anyone even aware?”, she asked, stressing that while citizens and mayors around Europe have mobilized to receive rescued people, European Governments have refused to provide search and rescue capacity, or worse yet, actively sabotaged efforts to save lives. Emphasizing that “saving lives is non-negotiable”, she said that States are bound by international law whether or not they choose to adopt the Global Compact.
“Across the world, tens of millions of people are on the move, and they will not just disappear,” she continued. Official policies aimed at ending the phenomenon will only deepen suffering and strengthen the corrupt officials and criminal gangs who profit from vulnerable people. Describing harrowing scenes of men and women packed into filthy rooms, she said many migrants speak of extreme violence. Women are raped and then forced to call their families to beg for money, while unaccompanied minors and pregnant women are locked in basements, weeping and begging for their freedom. Between January and October, Libya’s coast guard sent more than 14,000 refugees and migrants trying to flee across the Mediterranean to detention centres where abuse is rampant. In Mexico and Central America, people flee violence and threats at home only to enter a nightmarish cycle of exploitation and abuse. Outlining the severe mental health impacts of such situations, she stressed that groups seeking to help migrants have been smeared, bullied and threatened. “Migration is not a crime,” she said, urging States that adopted the Compact not to give up. “We cannot pretend we don’t know what is happening,” she concluded, adding that “lives depend on it”.
Mr. YOUSEF said that the discussion on migration in many countries has been hijacked by demagogues. The vast gaps between what needs to happen and what needs to be done and what is actually taking place cannot be approached, handled or managed by any one actor alone. It cannot be managed by Governments who are feeling the brunt of fiscal contractions. It certainly cannot be dealt with by the international system in an age where the liberal order appears to be “tearing up at the seams”. Multisectoral approaches and innovative ideas for dealing with the objectives outlined in the Compact are essential. It is precisely the communities, non-profits and non-governmental organizations working hand in hand with local governments and cities. There is a growing recognition that policies that are stagnant require experimentation. The objectives laid out in the Compact must be effectively managed and addressed in the coming period.
Much of the innovation that brings in technology and unites actors from the private and public sectors appears to be taking place in cities, he continued. Mayors and village leaders are working with community organizations to provide practical and promising solutions, including in housing, legal services and health care. Most of the innovation taking place in the world appears to be highly localized. Technological innovation makes promising solutions effective and widespread. Such programmes allow migrants to know their legal rights and legal standing. It allows migrants to fight discrimination and exploitation. Much of this is in the hands of local communities and village leaders. “You don’t need the presidents of countries to approve this, what you need is the right actors to work across spaces to alleviate bottlenecks,” he added. Perhaps the kind of solutions outlined seem too minimalist or simplistic, but this set of objectives are doable and may be the only pragmatic spaces where the world can come together.
As the floor opened for an interactive discussion with the panellists, many speakers described innovative partnerships designed to improve the lives of migrants or help countries prepare for their arrival. Some also outlined policies aimed at eradicating poverty and other conditions that lead to large migration flows in the first place.
Other delegates highlighted the importance of including civil society groups — and migrants themselves — in discussions and partnerships, noting that high-level Government negotiations alone will not lead to meaningful change. Meanwhile, several speakers joined the panellists in calling upon media outlets to disseminate realistic, non-discriminatory narratives, combating false — and often deliberately spread — impressions about migrants.
A member of Parliament of the European Union — voicing regret that some of her organization’s members rejected the Global Compact, and praising those who have stood by the agreement despite opposition at home — said it is incumbent upon all leaders to combat xenophobia and fear. “We live in a post-truth time,” she said, emphasizing that the Compact neither calls for more migration nor erodes State sovereignty. Instead, it calls for long-term, durable solutions. In that regard, she pledged the Parliament’s commitment to serve as a bridge, helping countries “move from confrontation to dialogue”.
The representative of Germany, stressing that “migration unites us more than it divide us”, reiterated her country’s commitment to work alongside the other Global Compact stakeholders to implement the principles enshrined therein. Those partners must include Governments, parliaments, media and civil society groups, as well as the migratory diaspora community which builds bridges between their countries of origin, transit and destination, she said.
The representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) described the Compact as a historic new platform for Member States to establish strong migration policies and protect migrants themselves. Its most innovative element is the explicit link between migration and development, he said, noting that the agreement specifically highlights the role migrants can play in fostering sustainable development in origin, transit and destination countries alike.
The representative of the Sudan echoed that point, noting that most countries have at some point been places of origin, transit or destination. Emphasizing that Sudan is currently all three at the same time, he agreed that there exists a strong link between development issues — including extreme poverty — and outward migration flows. In that context, his Government is working to combat poverty in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said.
The representative of Nepal said the Compact’s adoption has opened a historic opportunity for a wide range of stakeholders to address the multifaceted nature of migration. New innovations are needed in such crucial areas as training and capacity-building, complaint and redress mechanisms and efforts to reduce the costs of remittance transfers. Noting that his Government is working closely with civil society in the design and delivery of its migration policies, he described a newly developed online platform that links various stakeholders and provides them with crucial real-time information.
The Vice-President of Panama — recalling that the Compact obliges States to develop strategic policies for safe, orderly and regular migration — agreed with other speakers that creative, strategic partnerships will be critical to its effective implementation. To that end, she said, emerging technologies have created new opportunities for civil society and the private sector to get more involved.
The representative of Denmark was among several speakers who presented concrete examples of such technology-driven, cross-sectoral alliances. In his country, for example, a partnership led jointly by the Government and IBM uses data modelling to help Denmark predict and prepare for future migratory flows.
The representative of Thailand described a partnership between a major Thai real estate company, the Ministry of Health, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and local non-governmental groups, which creates educational opportunities for children near a construction site where their parents work. Migrants in Thailand are also tapped to serve as health volunteers assisting other migrants, he added.
Ms. CASTRILLO, responding to some of those comments, said the positive, innovative ideas shared today should engender a sense of optimism that States will, in fact, be able to implement the Compact. A network of connected cities also stands ready to assist, she said, calling in particular for stronger technological connections between cities of destination and origin.
Ms. LIU said all the participants agreed on the need to move forward. Welcoming the commitments expressed today, she urged Member States to accelerate improvements in caring for migrants “at ground zero”.
Mr. YOUSEF agreed that participants are largely on the same page in terms of their strong commitments, their innovative visions and the robust efforts being put forward to support migrants.
In the afternoon, speakers from Governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations continued to share their points of views and highlight the plight of migrants, particularly women and children. They further called for greater international cooperation to ensure that migrants are treated with dignity and respect.
The representative of Bangladesh highlighted the importance of partnerships and the need for genuine and sincere interagency cooperation. She said that parliamentarians can mobilize public opinion especially in countries where the issue of migration is not objectively understood.
The representative of the United States Council for International Business said his organization was actively engaged in every session of negotiations in the Compact. Migrants have immense potential in terms of contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. “Now we need regular migration pathways to work better — better for business and better for people,” he added.
The delegate of Indonesia said strong governance of international migration can only be achieved through international cooperation. It is important to step up efforts to eliminate exploitation practices. The private sector must be encouraged to strengthen the protection of migrants, as well.
The observer of the Holy See said it is important to protect and defend migrant rights, foster their skills development, and empower them to contribute to the sustainable development of their communities.
The representative of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations said it would have been very beneficial if migrants were a part of today’s discussion. Partnerships with migrants are vital and it is essential to hear directly from them.
The representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) underscored the importance of remittances, welcoming the goal to lower the cost of transfer fees. The evidence shows that migrant remittances and investments could have a major impact on achieving the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of the Association of Italian Organizations of International Cooperation and Solidarity called the Government of Italy’s withdrawal and refusal to participate in the Compact unacceptable.
The representative of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called the Compact a historic opportunity for children and States alike to protect and integrate and empower migrant children. “We can remove the barriers that prevent children from accessing education and health care,” she added.
The representative Belarus said it is timely that the world decided to create a network for migration, which should work closely with regional organizations and Member States. Welcoming the links between the Global Compact and the 2030 Agenda, he emphasized the importance of United Nations specialized bodies reacting to and helping address any challenges that might occur.
The representative of Doctors of the World said that, for the Compact to be successful, what is needed is the translation of States’ commitments into financial contributions. That will make the Compact a game changer for those who need it the most.
The representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that large migration flows, when not managed in an adequate manner, have the potential to cause instability. He stressed the importance of including diverse voices, including to civil society and migrants themselves, irrespective of their legal status.
Responding to the participants, panellists from earlier in the day said it is important to have instruments that can better channel remittances. They also stressed the importance of local, national and international partnerships, citizen participation and educating all stakeholders.
Mr. YOUSEF said there is a very rich menu of ideas and proposals at the both the national and international levels. It is incumbent upon the United Nations to help organize the working agenda. That starts with prioritizing targets at the international, national and local levels. Different sectors have different strengths and assets and must act accordingly. The outlook is positive and the momentum is widely felt. People out there in the world — including migrants themselves — are waiting to see if Member States can build the future they have committed to.
Also participating in the interactive dialogue today were representatives of Mali, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, Bolivia, Cameroon, Peru, Guinea, Canada, Eritrea and Morocco.
Representatives from the following organizations also delivered statements: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Centre for Migration Policy Development, United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), International Labour Organization (ILO), University College of London Institute for Global Health, Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, International Organization for La Francophonie, International Trade Union Confederation, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Ohaha Family Foundation, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Academic Council of the United Nations System, Children and Youth International, Public Services International, Pacific Islands Alliance of NGOs, Save the Children, Fundación Cepaim, Migrant Flow in Asia, Women in Migration Network, International Conference of Voluntary Agencies, Soul Sustainable Progress, Red Acoge Espana, Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, Club de Madrid and the Map Foundation.