Bringing Human Rights into the Migration and Development Debate

International migration is a key aspect of global integration, yet migration is characterised by a global governance deficit: unlike such areas as finance and trade, there is a lack of international institutions to set standards and ensure conformity with international legal norms. State migration policies often fail or have unintended consequences, while for migrants the result may be high levels of risk and exploitation. The US has over 11 million irregular residents, and systematic use of irregular migrant labour can be found throughout the world. In recent years, however, there have been attempts to move towards global governance mechanisms in the migration field. At the same time, migrant associations have grown and linked up with international human rights organisations. The article examines these trends, paying special attention to the Global Forum on Migration and Development – an intergovernmental consultation process that has met annually since 2007 – and the efforts of migrant associations and other civil society organisations to bring human rights into the debate. A final section discusses the initiative of a group of mainly Latin American academics to establish a new conceptual framework and set of strategic indicators to assess the links between migration, development and human rights.

Labour-importing countries can no longer pursue migration policies that ignore the interests, needs and rights of migrants and their communities of origin.
It is important for government and international agencies to work together with civil society organisations and migrant associations to safeguard migrant rights and to improve outcomes for all concerned.
Government policies on ‘migration management’ generally differentiate migrants into the highly skilled who are welcomed and offered legal entry and secure residency, and the low skilled who are treated as temporary migrants with limited rights or – even worse – as irregulars who are subject to criminalisation and high levels of risk and exploitation. Policies of this kind often fail to achieve their objectives or have unintended consequences.
Migration only benefits development if it is seen as part of a broader change process, which includes combating corruption, improving transport and communications infrastructure, upgrading education and health systems and improving rights and political participation. In other words, broadly based sustainable development comes first.
Progress towards a more sustainable migration order that recognises the rights and needs of all involved must be based on the questioning of dominant assumptions and the development of new sets of indicators and new sources of data.
Bringing human and worker rights into the migration and development debate is crucial for the establishment of fair and sustainable forms of global migration governance.