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Global Migration Group. When the curtains close in Copenhagen: Making migration a safe choice
Date: 22/02/2010 - 19:49
On the occasion of International Migrants Day, 18 December 2009
While not focused on migration, the commitments of Copenhagen may have a decisive impact on where people will be able to live in the future - and homes they will have to leave behind.
Estimates of the number of people that will be forced to move because of climate change vary widely, from several millions to over a billion. A large share of those movements will be internal rather than international. Crossing borders usually requires networks and resources. Those hardest hit by the effects of climate change are likely to lack both. This is because they are already poor, sick and marginalized, and they tend to live in the poor countries of this world.
Climate change and environmental degradation are likely to reinforce the global inequalities that drive much of international migration today. Climate-related migration not only means people fleeing from the imminent threat of a hurricane or flood. It also means that pockets of people, like West-African seasonal migrants, move in search of alternative sources of income because the land they used to cultivate can no longer support them. The line between forced and voluntary, or so-called 'economic migration' becomes blurred.
In the face of climate change, movement must be a possibility, but it must also remain a choice. Governments have an interest and a responsibility to ensure that migration takes place under legal, safe and orderly conditions with respect for the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their immigration status. Particular attention should be paid to the needs of vulnerable groups such as children, adolescents, women and the elderly.
For when migration takes place in decent conditions, it can be more than a survival strategy. Migration can be a powerful opportunity for trade and development, benefiting countries of origin, transit and destination, as well as migrants themselves.
First, migrants contribute to global prosperity by filling critical skills and labour market gaps in economies around the world. Oftentimes, they do the work that nationals shun. Especially for ageing societies in Europe and Asia, migration is crucial in replacing ageing workforces and maintaining social security systems.
Second, migration can be an important factor in alleviating poverty in developing countries. The Millennium Development Goals spell out eight specific development targets to be achieved by 2015.
Migration supports the achievement of these goals mainly through the vehicle of remittances that is the money that migrants earn and send to their families and friends back home. Amounting to $420 billion globally in 2009, remittances have been found to support nutrition, health care and schooling for families and children left behind. Although decreasing during the global recession, they have remained relatively resilient compared to other financial flows.
Third, migration offers important potential gains for migrants, their families and communities of destination, such as freer choices over their lives and the ability to realize aspirations for better education, health care or professional development, for example.
For this to happen, migrants need legal migration opportunities. While people with specialized skills are sought after in the global market place, those with little or no formal skills and education often find the doors shut. However, their labour is in demand in agriculture and services sectors, including construction and care.
Migrants need to be able to move in safety and dignity. Like all other human beings, they have human rights under international law, such as the right to leave any State and enter their State of origin, the right to life, the right to basic social services, the right to decent conditions of work and the right to be free from slavery or forced labour.
When disaster strikes and livelihoods erode, States have the responsibility to assist their own citizens who become uprooted and move within the country. However, not all States have the means to do so.
When those displaced by environmental factors move across international borders, they currently fall out of the international legal framework that exists specifically for migrants and refugees.
The 1951 Refugee Convention provides protection for those fleeing across international borders based on a well-founded fear of persecution. It does not apply to those fleeing from natural disasters.
The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1990, has been ratified by no more than 42 countries in the world. Rising migration pressures and the possible development benefits of migration should entice more Governments to endorse the Convention and its standards as frame and reference for migration policies.
Finally, migrants need to have the option of staying home safely. In all likelihood, the poorest and those most vulnerable to extreme weather events will never reach the shores of industrialized nations. The double-task is to ensure that they are less vulnerable to disaster in the first place, and that they are not stuck when disaster strikes.
What is required is a joint effort by all countries to support sustainable development, increase disaster preparedness, mitigate climate change, accelerate the development of adaptation measures, and create avenues for legal and safe migration.
By Dr. Carlos Lopes, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Chair of the Global Migration Group, on behalf of the GMG*
*International Labour Organization (ILO)
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
United Nations Institute for Training & Research (UNITAR)
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
United Nations Regional Commissions
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