Ambassador William Lacy Swing, director-general of the International Organization for Migration. The IOM has been asked by the U.N. General Assembly to examine the contribution of the world's 232 million international migrants and their role in sustainable development. Photo by: IOM

This week, on the heels of its annual meeting, the U.N. General Assembly will convene the Second High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

Both meetings focus in large part on the post-2015 development agenda — the global development blueprint that will follow the soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals.

They also examine the contribution of the world’s 232 million international migrants to the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. And they address the need to protect the human rights of migrants, too many of whom still suffer from exploitation, abuse of their human rights and discrimination.

As the global lead agency in the field of migration, IOM has been asked by its 151 member states and the U.N. General Assembly to contribute its thinking on these issues to the HLD, in close collaboration with 15 U.N. partner agencies belonging to the Global Migration Group.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this task. In IOM’s view, international migration is inextricably linked to global poverty reduction, one of the central goals of any development agenda.

Migration is, in fact, one of humanity’s oldest adaptation strategies to escape poverty and seek out opportunities. It can enable individuals to access education, broaden professional opportunities and generate income.

But it is also now an integral part of the global economy, which has come to depend on labor mobility. Migrants energize innovation and entrepreneurship in countries of destination; they care for children, the elderly or the sick; and they keep entire sectors of industry, such as agriculture and hospitality, afloat.

In 2012, international migrants sent home over $400 billion to their families in developing countries — three times the total official aid given by the OECD club of rich countries a year earlier. Remittances flowed from rich countries of the North to poor countries of the South, but also between poor countries of the South, visibly reducing extreme poverty.

Migrants and diasporas — communities of migrants living abroad — also contribute more than just money. IOM’s first Diaspora Ministerial Conference held in June 2013 in Geneva revealed them to be both a bridge between the developed and the developing world, and a potential pool of human, social, cultural and political capital.

IOM’s recognition of the contribution of migrants to both sending and receiving countries is widely shared by its membership. But in times of economic crisis, austerity and high unemployment, public perceptions have often turned against migrants and migration and many have become scapegoats and victims of discrimination and abuse.

The HLD and the post-2015 development agenda represent an opportunity for the U.N. General Assembly to publicly refute the widely held misperception that migration is simply a problem to be solved.

Migration is in fact a powerful tool for development with the same transformative power as trade or technology transfer. It can be managed for the benefit of all through partnerships at all levels, bringing together sending and receiving countries.

The HLD must therefore recognize the relationship between migration and the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development that will form post-2015 U.N. development agenda and set targets for the inclusion of migration in that agenda.

It should also recognize that migrants’ rights will have to be an integral part of all migration and development-related policies and programs, if everyone is to benefit fully from the process.

This is never more important than in times of humanitarian crisis, when the vulnerability of migrants, typified by the exodus from Libya in 2011 or the millions displaced by the Syrian conflict, is shown in stark relief on TV screens around the world.

The HLD therefore also needs to recognize this challenge and consider how the international community can best respond, particularly in the context of the recommendations contained in the Migration Crisis Operational Framework adopted by IOM’s governing council in November 2012.

Against this backdrop, IOM believes that countries of origin, destination and transit should opt for the high road scenario on human mobility at the HLD. They must incorporate migration into their development policies, reduce remittance transfer costs, make legal migration simpler, more accessible and more transparent, and work harder to protect the rights of all migrants, particularly the most vulnerable.

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About the author

  • William Lacy Swing

    William Lacy Swing is director general of the International Organization for Migration, an organization that has been assisting migrants worldwide for the past 65 years.