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We Need a Migration Compact That Reduces the Need for Deadly Voyages

In the second part of his op-ed, political economy professor Behzad Yaghmaian outlines a plan for the global compact on migration – to reduce flows through debt relief, while facilitating safe passage for people on the move.

Written by Behzad Yaghmaian Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Bangladesh migrant worker life photo gallery1
Bangladeshi laborers work at an aluminum recycling factory on the outskirts of Dhaka with no safety equipment or masks to protect them from the fumes and aluminum dust. The dangerous work conditions and low pay force many to leave the country and head to Europe in search of stability. AP/A.M. Ahad

The U.N. Summit for Refugees and Migrants last month set out a two-year path to agreeing two global compacts at a 2018 intergovernmental conference – one on refugees and another on migration.

In the first part of this op-ed, I outlined three main features that the Global Compact for Refugees needs to establish a more effective protection regime: remapping the vulnerabilities of people on the move; setting up a global quota system that distributes the burden among states across the world; and generating new economies for refugees and their communities, wherever they are located.

In the second part, I will lay out three main features for an effective Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The agreement should take a proactive approach that reduces the financial burdens on migrant-producing countries, puts pressure on migrant-receiving countries to facilitate safe passage and provides legally ratified protection to all types of migrants.

We must start the process of building such a compact by reducing the need for international migration. This can be largely achieved through debt relief for migrant-producing countries.

Most migrants and asylum seekers today risk their lives and those of their families to escape dire and unsustainable social and economic conditions at home. Poverty and economic marginalization created by protracted conflict, political instability and policies that only benefit the elite have produced an insatiable urge for international migration among millions of people in Africa and elsewhere in the developing and underdeveloped parts of the world. Reiterated international declarations that promise to alleviate poverty and achieve sustainable development have failed to reduce the economic and structural stressors that have led to the current migration flows.

It is likely that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will follow the same unhappy fate of the Millennial Development Goals for 2015. Meanwhile, international migration will continue to grow. Concrete actions can change the fate of those risking their lives for economic security in Europe and other prosperous regions of the world.

Moving towards a global compact on migration requires a concrete commitment towards debt relief by international creditors, including private banks, states and intergovernmental agencies. Debt is a real ailment that sucks much-needed resources – including intellectual and skill-related ones – out of the migrant-producing countries. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without meaningful debt relief. It is the first step in injecting new blood into countries on the front line of producing economic migration. It is the perfect substitute for international aid.

A metal plate with serial numbers identifying dead migrants stands above a grave in Catania's cemetery, southern Italy, October 2016. (AP/Mystaslav Chernov)

A metal plate with serial numbers identifying dead migrants stands above a grave in Catania’s cemetery, southern Italy, October 2016. (AP/Mystaslav Chernov)

Next, migrant-receiving states must make real commitments towards facilitating safe, orderly and regular migration.

Debt relief will help reduce the number of people crossing international borders seeking stable livelihoods elsewhere in the world. But it will not end international migration. Tight border control in rich countries and the lack of regular channels for labor migration will continue to push many migrants into the arms of human smugglers. The wealthier states in the world can change the situation through a sober and honest reassessment of their labor-market needs based on their demographic changes.

Today, the tight migration policy of rich countries has resulted in economic and non-economic migrants – in other words, refugees and crisis migrants – to pay the same smugglers, use the same boats and arrive together at the same borders. This has increased confusion and muddled assessments by receiving states and ultimately reduced protection for people in need. The regularization of economic migration and the creation of a more viable venue for accepting non-crisis migrants will ease the task of assessing vulnerability and protection needs for people who are fleeing extenuating circumstances.

While many western states are facing a deficit of young working populations, Africa and parts of Latin and Central America are grappling with a surplus. Orderly migration through official channels from surplus to deficit countries would go a long way to saving lives and economies.

France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Japan and other wealthy nations relied on orderly labor migration to save their economies from acute shortages at various points in their recent histories. Once again, various sectors and industries in many rich states are facing shortages of labor. But unfortunately, tacit acceptance or turning a blind eye towards irregular migration has replaced regular migration methods in most places. Deaths at sea and widespread human rights and labor market abuses are consequences of such shortsightedness.

Increasing visas for skilled and unskilled jobs and guest worker programs are tangible and concrete measures that will protect migrants’ lives, help economies of receiving states and contribute to the economic development of sending states through orderly remittances. Quantifiable commitments by states with labor-shortages should be among the primary goals of any future compact on migration.

Finally, states must ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Their Families, a U.N.-sponsored agreement designed to protect the rights of economic migrants.

Unfortunately, as of today, this convention has been signed and ratified only by migrant-producing states in the world. The rich, migrant-receiving states have all but ignored it.

The 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants makes repeated statements towards upholding and respecting the human rights of all refugees and migrants irrespective of their legal status and other distinctions. A future Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration must include real commitments and timelines by these states to sign and ratify the convention.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.

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