Migration and post-2015

Migration and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda

The Millennium Declaration, issued in 2000, saw the inclusion of migration in the human rights chapter and stated: "To take measures to ensure respect for and protection of the human rights of migrants, migrant workers and their families, to eliminate the increasing acts of racism and xenophobia in many societies and to promote greater harmony and tolerance in all societies." In 2001 however, 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 18 targets, and 48 indicators, were identified and presented to the General Assembly with no reference to migration.

The non-inclusion of migration in the MDGs may have been understandable given the circumstances at the time – lack of clear evidence and data on migration as a factor for development, and a challenge to define clear-cut goals due to the complexity of the topic. Today the international community has come a long way in formulating a coherent migration and development narrative, in assembling vast and growing knowledge on their interrelations and exemplifying how migration has contributed to the achievement of all 8 MDGs: where remittances have contributed to poverty reduction and helped in higher educational attainment for girls; where traditional gender roles have been challenged, as a result of feminization of migration; where knowledge transfer positively impacted on maternal health and infant mortality rates; and where it is an age-old adaptation strategy for communities affected by environmental degradation.

We are convinced of the importance to have an agenda that builds, in concrete terms, on the solid foundation laid down by the MDGs. We are also convinced that it is important to have an agenda that keeps human beings at the centre of the discourse and focuses on the principles of human rights, equity, and sustainability. Omitting migration in this new sustainable Post-2015 Development Agenda would exclude one of the key defining global phenomena shaping the twenty-first century.

The discussions on migration in the Post-2015 Development Agenda is crucial in the understanding of the importance of mainstreaming migration not only in the national and local development planning strategies, but also into the larger, broader international development agenda. The success and sustainability of development strategies require that countries proactively address, rather than merely react to migration. Migration can be an important enabler for social and economic development and allows people to respond to changes in social, economic and environmental conditions. In light of the above, this paper discusses the reasons as to why migration should be integrated in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Migration is first and foremost about people, their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Migration is a human experience and the cumulative outcome of individual choices and opportunities, or lack thereof. By acknowledging the pinnacle role of the rights of migrants, we not only ensure the appropriate focus on human rights as essential pillars for development but also avoid that migrants are viewed only as economic commodities to address labour market gaps or demographic needs rather than individuals entitled to the full enjoyment of their human rights. Accordingly, when discussing migration and development we should consider both economic development which leads to economic growth as well as human development, which focuses on expanding individual capabilities and choices through health, education, a decent standard of living and work.

Migration affects and is affected by gender roles, relations and inequalities. Today almost half of the migrants in the world are women. Gender equality has helped in the empowerment of women as contributors to their families and to the communities in both the countries of origin and destination. Also, as a result of migration in the family, women have assumed roles that break gender stereotypes within societies. However, poor immigration policies may also push unskilled and low-skilled female workers into precarious situations. Gender roles, relations and inequalities, sex-segregated labour markets and gendered policies affect male and female migrants differently. Measures (including specific targets) to address the social, economic benefits of migration should include gender-sensitive migration policies and practices which enable women as well as men to take up opportunities that safe and regular migration may offer, and which will foster the positive impacts of migration for economic and social development. It should take into consideration the protection and empowerment of female migrants and family members left behind, the prevention and combating of gender-based violence in migration contexts (such as verbal, physical or sexual abuse or human trafficking and domestic work), and access to sexual and reproductive health services.

Migration matters for human development and poverty reduction. Evidence from various regions of the world highlights the fact that remittances contribute to the reduction of poverty and stimulate economic development. Migration has a positive impact on education (e.g. higher girl's schools attendance due to remittances[1]) and on health (for instance, in Nicaragua and Guatemala, data shows that remittances improve children's health, particularly in low income families[2]). But migration is also about transfer of knowledge and technology, about filling critical gaps in labour markets and responding to demographic changes in our societies, it is about stimulating trade and investments – essentially it is a phenomenon that has the potential of transforming lives in a sustainable, positive way in countries of origin and destination alike. An important aspect of Swiss foreign migration and development policy is to recognize the advantages of migration to further the development policy objectives of Switzerland and partner countries and empower migrants to become drivers of development.

Migration is about social equality. The long term growth and development of a country is not sustainable if, first and foremost, the issue of social inequalities is not adequately addressed. Many migrants who travel, live and work in unequal, discriminatory and marginalised conditions are often bypassed by development. A Post-2015 agenda that stays true to the motto of the High-level Panel[3] to "leave no one behind" needs to pay specific attention to the outcomes of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, including oftentimes vulnerable migrants, refugees, and displaced persons.

Migration also has a negative side which needs to be addressed. There is no denial that migration also has negative side effects – from 'brain drain' and 'brain waste' to human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Receiving societies may encounter challenges in ensuring social cohesion and effective integration policies. Furthermore, migration may generate social costs and conflict with limited natural resources thus requiring a proactive management by governments. Migrants are also often the most vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation. Equally, racism and xenophobia continue to be realities around the globe. The psycho-social effects on families left behind as a result of migration has a detrimental effect on development as a whole. Activities which are not in compliance with the legislation or regulation of the destination country should be addressed through legal channels with access to justice for all migrants. Countries of origin and destination should work together, to support migrants residing in the destination country without authorisation in facilitating the return to their countries of origin and foster programmes that provide reintegration assistance in case of voluntary return.

Migration matters for more than just the 3% of the global population. Today an estimated 234 million people are international migrants – or roughly 3% of the global population.[4] Migration is however also a relevant factor for the estimated 750 million[5] people which have moved within national borders. In many cases, internal migration has been an important cause for movement across international borders whether they may be through natural disasters, conflicts or even in facilitating the movement of labour migrants across borders. In any case, if we add the many millions of family members benefitting directly from relatives who have moved, especially from those abroad, and the much bigger number of people benefitting from goods and services provided by migrants, it is fair to assume that migration impacts the lives of the majority of people around the world.

Migration is a global phenomenon. National development is shaped by, amongst other things, megatrends in the area of population dynamics. These include the continued growth of the world population and increase in absolute numbers of people migrating, which have implications for all countries. Migration is simply a fact of our lives. It is a reality as people continue to migrate from poor, middle-income, and rich countries. Migration channels extend from the north to south, south to north, south to south, and north to north. Migration is thus an epitome of a global phenomenon which has to be addressed in a global agenda firmly rooted in the realities of local communities.


[1] Acosta, P. 'School Attendance, Child Labour, and Remittances from International Migration in El Salvador', The Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 47 (6) 2011.

[2] Acosta, P., Fajnzylber, P. and Humberto Lopez, J. 'The Impact of Remittances on Poverty and Human Capital: Evidence from Latin American Household Surveys', World Bank Policy Research Working Papers, 4247, 2007.

[3] http://www.un.org/sg/management/pdf/HLP_P2015_Report.pdf.

[4] http://esa.un.org/unmigration/.

[5] UNDP (2009)


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