What is the Global Forum on Migration and Development for?

At the end of 2016, migration issues will still be the subject of debate, but at the diplomatic level, and fortunately less spectacular than the countless dramas that punctuate the news in this area.

Du December 10 to 12, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, representatives of around 160 states met for the Global Forum on Migration and Development. Organized by the Bangladeshi government, the Forum's theme was “Time to Act” and the objective of discussing better “governance” of migration on a global scale. It does not intend to take decisions: it is a consultative process which encourages States to talk to each other, in order to lay the foundations for a new global migration policy.

For anyone interested in international migration, 2016 was as dark as it was busy. She saw near 4000 migrants die in the Euro-Mediterranean area, which makes it the worst year since the start of the migrant (or refugee) crisis, particularly following the conflict in Syria.


Migrants from Calais in “the jungle” in February 2016. Malachybrowne / Flickr, CC BY-SA

In October, the French government "dismantled" the "jungle" of Calais, that is to say the makeshift camp which housed the many candidates for immigration to the United Kingdom, stranded on the French side of the country. the Channel.

This did not prevent the British from deciding, in June, for leaving the European Union, a vote motivated among other things by the desire to reduce immigration by evading the obligations in terms of free circulation.

November saw the election of a new President of the United States, Donald Trump, one of whose main campaign promises is the construction of a border wall with the Mexico - a measure which is not new, but will further exacerbate tensions over the place of Latin American migrants in American society.

What answers can the Forum provide?

The hushed and consensual atmosphere of the Forum contrasts with the chaotic violence that often characterizes migratory dynamics.

South Asian migrants who came to work on the Burj Dubai construction site in June 2007. Imre Solt, CC BY-NC-SA

What then, in concrete terms, do the political options considered by the participants in the Forum look like? And how far can a summit like this really be a game-changer?

As its name suggests, the Forum is concerned with the links between migration and development. Its primary objective is therefore that migration policies serve the development of the regions of origin of migrants, and that in the long term this ends in eliminating the reasons for which the latter leave their country.

This virtuous circle takes above all the form of a renewal of temporary migration programs. Such programs were massively implemented during the post-war boom in Western Europe, to bring Turkish workers to Germany, North Africans in France, South Asians in Great Britain, etc. They were abandoned following the oil shocks of the 70s, and became unpopular as governments realized that migrants, far from returning home, were settling permanently in Europe.

However, we are witnessing a comeback of these policies. Canada, for example, which attracted mainly permanent migrants,recruiting more and more foreign workers on a temporary basis.

According to their promoters, these programs provide destination states with access to cheap and necessary labor in sectors such as agriculture, construction, catering, or personal services. The countries of departure also benefit from this, because these programs would relieve their labor market, while facilitating the sending of money to the country by emigrants.

According to the World Bank, these transfers represent more than 440 billion dollars per year, that is to say more than the totality of the development aid. In Senegal or the Philippines, for example, this represents more than 10% of GDP.

Such programs would therefore be an alternative to irregular immigration, which today constitutes the dominant form of the recruitment of migrant workers. Remember that in the United States, 5% of the working population is made up of illegal immigrants, mainly Mexicans.

The Forum also emphasizes the benefits in terms of rights and protection, as migrant workers would no longer be condemned to illegal stay and undeclared work.

A delicate but necessary cooperation

But for this type of policy to be put in place, the States must cooperate: this is the second major stake of the Forum. For example, States which recruit receiving workers must rely on their States of origin to readmit them at the end of their stay. Departing countries, for their part, must ensure that other states do not attract the workers they need, such as health workers. In Kenya, for example, 600 doctors are trained each year, but 30 to 40% of them immediately leave the country to work abroad, which is obviously a public health challenge.

Kenyan doctors who have joined US Army research programs here in Kenya. 2010. US Africa / Flickr, CC BY-SA

This cooperation is delicate. For states, migration issues fall under their sole sovereignty. Even within the European Union, where cooperation between states is nevertheless highly developed, governments are reluctant to adopt a common immigration policy.

Moreover, the World Forum on Migration and Development is organized by States, and not by the UN, because governments are wary of this organization's interference in their policies. Developed countries fear in particular that the countries of the South will use the UN to criticize the treatment of undocumented migrants and thus call into question their migration policies.

The Forum therefore seems to be only one stage in a long process, which should lead to a global and concerted migration policy. Like trade or climate change, migration is a transnational issue. But they are not yet the subject of real cooperation. The Forum is neither the first nor the only step in this process: it is itself in its ninth edition, while the United Nations has also organized its own meetings since the early 2000s.

In September 2016, a conference entitled Managing the massive displacement of refugees and migrants. Likewise, the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the UN in 2015, contain for the first time a commitment on migration: the10.7 lens is of :

“Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies”.

Words, and more words, would one be tempted to react to this jargon litany to which international institutions have unfortunately accustomed us. But let's remember that at the international level, changes take time, and even a long time. The first climate conference took place in 1972… well before the States adopted the Kyoto agreement (in 1997) or that of Paris (in 2015).

A meeting of cynics?

But not everyone is convinced of the sincerity of this process. After all, the states that are building walls and excluding migrants by any means imaginable are the same states that send their diplomats to Bangladesh, to evoke the urgency of a complete overhaul of migration policies.

Compilation of CERI, Contemporary walls. FNSP. Sciences Po - Cartography workshop-Ceriscope, CC BY-NC-ND

This inconsistency leaves room for doubts about double talk: true modern mourners, international bodies would be the stage on which states loudly deplore the problems and sufferings against which they have little intention of acting. International activism would be directly correlated to the tragedies of immigration: the more acute the problem, the more states meet with great pomp, and the more they engage in empty and convoluted formulas.

But perhaps we should all the same take seriously the proposals put forward by the Forum. It is indeed possible that its a priori laudable objectives hide a real political project, centered on the need to organize international labor mobility. Remember that while goods and capital cross borders quite easily, labor remains largely confined within state borders.

However, this situation is difficult to sustain. While industrial jobs can be relocated to countries where labor is cheaper, other jobs cannot, din cleaning or building for example. As a result, even the most advanced economies need unskilled labor. These considerations are not unrelated to the German decision to take in over a million refugees since 2015.

Immigrant farm workers cultivating sweet potato fields in North Carolina, United States.Gerry Dincher / Flickr, CC BY-ND

Often, the political response to this dilemma is resorting to irregular immigration and moonlighting, but at the cost of significant controversy and social and security tensions. The global “governance” of migration would then constitute an alternative project, based on the necessary circulation of labor, but under conditions strictly supervised by the States.

The backdrop would be increased competition among workers on a global scale, and consequently downward pressure on labor protection. Under the guise of making migration a development tool, the Forum would in fact pursue a neoliberal objective, intended to reconcile border control, security, and access to a flexible and unprotected workforce. The unions have thus always been vigilant on this point, by insisting in particular on the need to guarantee migrant workers the same rights as nationals in order to avoid social dumping mechanisms.

Without prejudging the real intentions of the States meeting in Dhaka, there is nevertheless an observation that can only be shared: current migration policies are inadequate and new approaches must therefore emerge. It is not certain that an Intergovernmental Forum is the most favorable framework in this regard. But it is nonetheless reason enough to follow these discussions and to see in them more than a distant and obscure meeting, absurdly disconnected from the realities it claims to address.
The Conversation
Antoine Pecoud, Professor of sociology, Paris 13 University - USPC

La original version of this article was posted on The Conversation.

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