Message to World Leaders: A New Agenda for Migration

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Written by Giuliano Amato and Maria João Rodrigues

“Rather than talking about putting up a fence. Why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems?” This was not a rhetorical question by a bleeding heart, liberal European politician, but rather from a Republican candidate for U.S. President. This 1980 statement by Ronald Reagan reflects the driving force behind a United Nations push to address international migration through the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration.

Decades later from when President Reagan said those words, we see immigration used as a boogieman to build barriers within communities and drive discord, racism, and division against immigrants. Yet, it is only at the global level that migration can be effectively governed. We don’t just need a new agenda for migration, we need a new approach.

Most countries of the world are, at the same time, countries of origin, transit, and destination. An effective, humane, and sustainable migration policy that is the reflection of comprehensive dialogue among countries of origin, transit, and destination, may help build partnerships on the basis of shared interests. Looking at this phenomenon from a single perspective—usually that of the countries of destination in the Global North—will only lead to a partial, one-sided, and inadequate response.

The contribution that migrants offer to host countries is usually largely underestimated when not ignored altogether. If the nexus between migration and the potential for development is not yet fully clear, more and more research is being undertaken to analyze and understand the correlation, and there is a growing consensus on the very positive role—in financial, labor, skills, intellectual, cultural, and social terms—that migrants play for countries of destination, but also for countries of transit and origin.

In terms of contribution, it must also be stressed that the needs of ageing societies, the consequent shortfall in local labor, and the survival of national welfare systems can be addressed through migration. Despite the challenges, migration policies are considerably easier to manage and control—particularly in the short-term—than attempting policy initiative to stimulate demographic growth, by increasing fertility and slowing human mortality.

The public misinformation about the interplay between demographic projections and social and economic sustainability must be addressed. The economy is not a zero-sum game, in which a job that goes to a migrant is a job lost for a local worker. Rather than a narrative that plays one group against the other one, we must help others understand that both are on the same side in the face of the economic and corporate globalization that has generated and benefits from divisions and inequalities.

This isn’t to say that states should have no say in their borders. It is vital that states be in control and that their people perceive them to be in control. Being in control, however, does not mean closing borders, resorting to arbitrary detention, or arbitrarily expelling newcomers. At the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) we advocate for smart policies that recognize the human need for order and structure must lie at the very heart of any migration policy. This means developing and managing legal migration channels, efficient asylum policies and practices, but also border controls. It means having in place and being able to implement precise rules and smooth functioning procedures, that are clear and transparent for all, migrants and law enforcers, in the full respect of the rule of law and of the rights of the migrants, and in a context of political accountability.

America needs migrants. Europe needs migrants. Asia needs Migrants. Africa needs migrants. Migrants are a necessary and distinctly powerful asset of the future we all hold together. Fences do not work more than walls or trenches. Because fences do not recognize the mutuality of the problems facing the global community today.

On International Human Rights Day, 10 December, world leaders met in Marrakesh, Morocco to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in what we hope provides an opportunity to develop a shared vision and understanding of the global dimension of migration, of its global drivers and global implications. Yet world leaders must go beyond words in paper into action and show their personal commitment to affirm that no person is illegal and never forget that migrants, like all of us, are human beings.

About the authors:

Giuliano Amato served as the Prime Minister of Italy from 1992 to 1993 and again from 2000 to 2001. He currently serves as chair of the FEPS Global Migration Group.

Maria João Rodrigues is Member of the European Parliament, Vice-President of the S&D Group and President of FEPS – European Foundation of Progressive Studies. She was Minister for Employment of Portugal from 1995 to 1997.