Migration and the 2030 Agenda: How a pipe-dream turned into reality

Migration and the 2030 Agenda: How a pipe-dream turned into reality


​​Pietro Mona, Deputy Head, Global Program Migration and Development, Berne

The journey which started in 2012 faced numerous challenges from the beginning. While the migration and development community had, over the years, developed a fairly well structured narrative on the topic, the issue itself was still predominantly neglected by the development community leading the post-2015 process. It also did not help that migration was not selected as a stand-alone topic for the global consultations organized in 2012 and 2013 as part of the process. Migration was instead subsumed under the topic of “Population Dynamics”. Furthermore, the High Level Panel of eminent persons tasked by the UN Secretary General to set out a bold and practical vision of the post-2015 development agenda presented their report in May 2013, and it did not include any significant reference to migration.
At that low-point, things started to change.  A landmark report by the UNSG presented in July 2013 not only had several references to migration, but also identified “enhancing the positive contributions of migrants” as one 14 transformative actions that would be required for a visionary sustainable development agenda. This success was mainly the result of the work of the UNSG Special Representative on International Migration and Development, Peter Sutherland.
In 2008, when the decision was taken to organize the second UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (UNHLD), nobody really thought about the Post 2015 process. It turned out to be a real game changer to have it in October 2013. The first ever UN Declaration on Migration and Development, unanimously adopted at the UNHLD, gave the needed political impetus in a crucial phase of the process.

Inclusion of migration in the Agenda would not have been possible without the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). This platform for global dialogue has contributed enormously over the years to deepening understanding on migration and development and establishing a common narrative. The 7th GFMD, chaired by Sweden and held on May 2014, reconfirmed the outcome of the UNHLD and contributed to the political process.

Already in summer 2013, the Swiss Government defined a set of priority topics for negotiations in the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development (OWG), which included migration and development. The Swiss delegation consistently made concrete suggestions on how to include migration and migrants’ contribution to sustainable development in the outcome document of the OWG. The OWG finalized their document in summer 2014, with various references to migration.

In autumn 2014, Switzerland began advocating for comprehensive and forward-looking policy recommendations related to remittances, moving beyond asking for the reduction of transfer costs. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda included a paragraph outlining a broad and inclusive vision on remittances, including references to financial inclusion of migrants and their families and the need to strengthen financial literacy, as suggested by Switzerland. The outcome document, adopted in July 2015, also includes a paragraph on migrants’ contributions to sustainable development, addressing issues such as unscrupulous recruitment, the transfer of benefits and the recognition of qualifications.

Finally during the intergovernmental negotiations on the 2030 Agenda, we continued the excellent cooperation with the Swiss Special Envoy for sustainable development and his team, and with the Mission in New York. Especially in the final phases of negotiation, this well-established cooperation was critical in obtaining some last minute changes in the text (for example on protecting the rights of migrants). Equally important was the coordination with other stakeholders. Regular exchanges with international and civil society organisations and  governments such as Sweden and Bangladesh, , allowed for strategic planning of our interventions, the sharing of speaking points to mutually reinforce our statements and exchange of information.

The inclusion of migration in the 2030 Agenda is a watershed moment for the governance of migration and development. It represents, first and foremost, recognition at the highest political level that migration enables sustainable development. It acknowledges the positive contributions of migrants for economic and inclusive growth, while enshrining the protection of their human rights as prerequisite thereof. The 2030 Agenda codifies a paradigm shift, moving from migration being perceived as a failure of development towards migration as a factor for development. This will impact the narrative and the perception of migration worldwide. We have, for the first time ever, globally accepted and nationally applicable targets on migration and development. The scale of this success is huge, ranging from protecting the labour rights of migrant workers, in particular women migrant workers, and combating unscrupulous recruiters, to ensuring safe and regular migration, ending human trafficking, reducing the costs of migration and protecting the human rights of all migrants. Finally, the 250 million international migrants globally are no longer side-lined. They are now integral part of the global agenda, not only as beneficiaries of but also as actors for sustainable development. The agenda is therefore also a call to include the voice of migrants in all processes at all levels.

What started as a pipe-dream by Switzerland and few other partners, has turned into reality. This reality, however, still only exists on paper. What we now need is a truly committed global partnership between governments, international organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector to work with migrants and for migrants in order to achieve sustainable development which leaves no one behind.

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