|Jan. 15, 2018 -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday asked governments to treat migration as a positive global phenomenon and refrain from setting up barriers to legal international migration.
"Let me emphasize: migration is a positive global phenomenon. It powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, connects diverse societies and helps us ride the demographic waves of population growth and decline," Guterres told an informal meeting of the UN General Assembly, which is working on a Global Compact on Migration, an intergovernmentally negotiated agreement toward safe, orderly and regular international migration.
Migrants make a major contribution to international development -- both by their work and by sending remittances to their home countries, he said, noting that remittances added up to nearly 600 billion U.S. dollars last year, three times more than all development aid.
States need to strengthen the rule of law underpinning how they manage and protect migrants -- for the benefit of their economies, their societies and migrants themselves. Authorities that erect major obstacles to migration, or place severe restrictions on migrants' work opportunities, inflict needless economic self-harm, as they impose barriers to having their labor needs met in an orderly and legal fashion, he said.
"Worse still, they unintentionally encourage illegal migration. Aspiring migrants, denied legal pathways to travel, inevitably fall back on irregular methods. This not only puts them in vulnerable positions, but also undermines governments' authority itself."
The best way to end the stigma of illegality and abuse around migrants is, in fact, for governments to put in place more legal pathways for migration, he said. "This will remove incentives for individuals to break the rules, while better meeting the needs of markets for foreign labor. It will also aid in efforts to clamp down on smugglers and traffickers and to assist their victims."
Migration is also a source of political tensions and human tragedies, said the secretary-general. "The majority of migrants live and work legally. Unfortuantely, others live in the shadows, unprotected by the law and unable to contribute fully to society. And a desperate minority put their lives at risk to enter countries where they face suspicion and abuse."
Globally, migration remains poorly managed, he said. The impact can be seen in the humanitarian crises affecting people on the move, and in the human rights violations suffered by those living in slavery or enduring degrading working conditions. It can be seen, too, in the political impact of public perception that wrongly sees migration as out of control.
The consequences include increased mistrust and policies aimed more at stopping than facilitating human movement, said the secretary-general. "The fundamental challenge is to maximize the benefits of this orderly, productive form of migration while stamping out the abuses and prejudice that make life hell for a minority of migrants."
"I call for us to focus on the overwhelming positives of migration and to use facts not prejudice as the basis for addressing its challenges. Above all, I urge a respectful discourse that places our collective humanity at the center of the debate."
At the same time, development cooperation policies must take human mobility into account, he said, it is essential to provide more opportunities for people to be able to live in dignity in their own countries and regions. "Migration should be an act of hope, not despair."
He stressed the need to address the mixed flows of refugees and migrants. "What happens all too often with these movements represents a humanitarian tragedy and an abdication of our human rights commitments. They are reflective of acute policy failures: of emergency response, of conflict prevention, of good governance, of development, and of international solidarity."
"I call for greater international cooperation to remove those failures and to protect vulnerable migrants," he said. "In parallel, we must re-establish the integrity of the refugee protection regime in line with international law."
Guterres urged all member states to engage openly and actively in the negotiations ahead.
His presence at the General Assembly meeting was to launch his report titled "Making Migration Work for All," his input to the drafting of the global compact.
The General Assembly will hold an intergovernmental conference on migration in Morocco later this year with a view to adopting the global compact.
Guterres sees the adoption of the compact as "one of our most important collective priorities for 2018."
"We have an opportunity to fashion, for the first time, a truly global response to migration. It is an opportunity to maximize the contribution that millions of migrants are already making to our societies and to agree on a set of actions to ensure that the rights of all migrants are fully respected," he told the General Assembly meeting.
As a blow to the global initiative, U.S. President Donald Trump decided in early December to end his country's participation in negotiations for the Global Compact on Migration, on the grounds that the initiative was inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies and his administration's immigration principles.
The United States is home to the largest number of international migrants in the world.