Should Migration Have Been a Separate Goal?

  • 2015•09•25

    Parvati Nair

    The Global Goals

    This article is part of UNU’s “17 Days, 17 Goals” series, featuring research and commentary in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, 25-27 September 2015 in New York City.

    Goal #16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

    Even as the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 are being adopted at the UN summit, a humanitarian crisis of migration repeats itself across the globe. In and around Europe, on seas and in deserts, at borders and along uncharted routes, people displaced by poverty, conflict, political oppression, environmental factors, and other triggers are on the move. In parallel, the fortification of state borders is propeling those who do not meet the criteria for legal migration to travel risky and illicit routes, rendering them vulnerable to smuggling and trafficking.

    In cities throughout the world, migrants live ghettoised and underprivileged lives. All too often, they labour in the informal economy, in conditions of indignity or without due rights. Migration has already proven one of the most pressing issues of the century. It is also an issue that reveals the urgent need for the efforts highlighted by SDG #16. 

    For sustainable development to be effective, migration must be better acknowledged and managed as a means to furthering peace and inclusivity at all levels. This requires states to understand the many cultural, transnational, and economic contributions that migrants make — to both the societies they come from and the societies they relocate to. It requires a reframing of thought around development, not only in terms of the movement of goods, capital and services, but also of people.

    While it is difficult to gather exact numbers of migrants, it is thought that over 1 billion people are currently engaged in either internal or international migration. Given that one seventh of the global population are migrants, it is surprising that a specific SDG was not formulated to address migration.

    With the High-Level Dialogue of 2013 on Migration and Development and the inclusion of migration in many parts of the Secretary General’s Synthesis Report of 2014, The Road to Dignity, it is clear that migration is now seen as a key aspect of development — thus demanding urgent attention for the sake of peaceful and inclusive societies supported by effective institutions. 

    Migration is an issue that cuts across many other goals, and their achievement would together address many, if not most, migration-related issues. Indeed, many of the focus areas of the SDGs are addressed by ongoing research in the UNU Migration Network. Our aim in working towards these goals is to create a context for the vital shift from responsive to pre-emptive research.

    Due to UNU’s role as a think tank in the UN system, the UNU Migration Network works to inform and support proactive work on migration by regions, states, and localities. UNU-GCM, for example, addresses issues linked to statelessness, transcontinental migration, cities, and migration, as well as gender issues relating to the contributions and challenges for migrant women. The UNU Migration Network’s interaction in the Global Migration Group (GMG), a forum of 17 UN agencies, together with the International Organization of Migration, gives UNU a platform to share its research-based proposals with migration policymakers.

    Migration will again be the focus of the General Assembly’s attention on 30 September 2015, when a side event to the High-Level Dialogues will address critical issues in this context. In working with other members of the GMG to offer a position paper, an immediate priority for UNU and other agencies is to emphasise the need for more concerted efforts to save all lives. This relates to mixed flows of migration, caught in dangers that affect refugees, migrants, and/or asylum seekers — regardless of the triggers, motivations, or causes that displaced these groups.

    Another urgent issue is the need to establish more safe and legal migration channels that can safeguard people from illicit routes. Such a strategy would also render underground smuggling operations redundant. This, however, requires commitment from, and collaboration between, regions and states so that safe and legal corridors for travel might be forged.

    There also is a clear need to identify vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied children or minors, and to offer them support. In the longer term, questions of rights, representation, and dignity must be addressed at all levels. A key area of focus in this context is labour, where decent work and rights for migrant workers have yet to be established. 

    If societies are to be peaceful, just, and inclusive, a revision needs to be made: in policy, in the media, and in the minds of many. Migrants (I refer here to all those on the move, regardless of why) must cease to be viewed as a problem, and somehow against the norm. To migrate in the face of injustice, conflict, poverty, and inequality is human.

    The responsibility now lies with policymakers at regional, national, local, and city levels to ensure the just treatment of migrants, with human rights prioritised. This, in turn, means rethinking the concept of borders, so that the passage of migrants can be dignified, humane, and secure.


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    Should Migration Have Been a Separate Goal? by Parvati Nair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.