Lessons from the UNU Panel Series on Academic Thinking on Migration

    Lessons from the UNU Panel Series on Academic Thinking on Migration
    by Julia Blocher

    Executive Summary


    Full report available here


    For the first time in history, in September 2016, Heads of State and Government discussed migration and refugee issues at a dedicated session of the UN General Assembly. This sent an important political message to the world: that such matters are now high up the international agenda.

    In the ‘New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants’, adopted 19 September 2016, the 193 UN Member States recognised the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and improved cooperation at the global level. Member States specifically committed to:

    • protect the safety, dignity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status, and at all times;
    • support countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants;
    • integrate migrants – addressing their needs and capacities as well as those of receiving communities – in humanitarian and development assistance frameworks and planning;
    • combat xenophobia, racism and discrimination towards all migrants;
    • develop, through a state-led process, non-binding principles and voluntary guidelines on the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations;
    • strengthen global governance of migration, including by bringing IOM into the UN family and through the development of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration; and
    • develop an additional global compact on refugees[1].

    By adopting the Declaration, the General Assembly committed itself to develop a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. This in turn led to a series of intergovernmental consultations, which began in early 2017 and which are set to culminate in the planned adoption of the compact at an intergovernmental conference, to be held in December 2018. The major elements and timeline of these negotiations are set out in a Modalities Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 6 April 2017 (A/71/L.58).

    The global compact is an opportunity to improve the governance of migration, while addressing the challenges of contemporary migration. It may also be used to reinforce and recognise the contribution of migrants – and of the migration process – to sustainable development.

    Produced through an open, transparent and inclusive process of consultations and negotiations, the global compact will draw from civil society, the private sector, academic institutions, parliaments, diaspora communities, and migrant organisations in both the intergovernmental conference and its preparatory process.

    Against the backdrop of six informal thematic consultations, linked to different aspects of the global compact, the United Nations University (UNU) Office at the United Nations in New York and the UNU Migration Network[2] jointly convened the ‘UNU Panel Series on Academic Thinking on Migration’, with the generous support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

    The series brought together leading researchers in the field of migration from around the world to discuss current scholarly thinking on several topics: the rise of nationalist politics and policy implications for migration; the linkages between climate change and migration, including forced migration and community relocations; inclusion of migrants and refugees in urban areas; protection of women’s rights, with a focus on women migrant workers; and emerging research on migration for development.

    Experts in each panel offered recommendations for policy makers working towards a global compact on migration. In the next section of the executive summary, each of these panels and their recommendations are briefly summarized. In the following section, more detailed summaries of each panel and associated recommendations are offered.

    Brief Summaries of the Panels & Recommendations

    The Rise of Nationalist Politics and Policy Implications for Migration

     From different academic perspectives, this seminar examined the dynamics in which nationalism and xenophobia arise. Scholars on the panel considered, in the context of difficult political climates, how groups seeking greater inclusivity might redress divisive politics. Recommendations are offered to governments and local administrators seeking to combat xenophobia and to promote inclusion. Inclusion here refers to both migrants and people who feel ‘left out’ of globalisation and who support nativist movements in certain parts of the world.

    Panellists noted that within discussions towards a global compact on migration, countries of destination can work more closely with countries of origin and transit to:

    • Increase and create regular channels and avoid detention policies that contribute to the criminalisation of migrants.
    • Better prepare migrants and ‘host’ communities for integration, through targeted education and community engagement programming.
    • Address the structural causes of migration and ensure migration is a choice, not a necessity.

    In addition, to create impact in the long term, panellists suggested countries can:

    • Generate and implement ways to share economic success and hardship evenly among people in a country.
    • Create mechanisms to better inform citizens about the benefits of multilateral and intergovernmental institutions, globalism and global capital, and migration.
    • Discourage further ignoring or dismissing populist viewpoints as intellectually or morally misguided, while separating violent prejudice and racism from the legitimate concerns and criticisms of citizens.

    In the short- and medium-term, governments can:

    • Support intercultural education programmes for native populations as well as migrants and refugees.
    • Encourage greater engagement of migrants and refugees in the news media, to showcase the positive contributions of migrants to counter-act the harmful narratives around migration.

     Panellists expressed optimism that xenophobia can be successfully addressed today in multiple public ‘spheres’ in which members of the public intersect: virtually; in community fora designed for public engagement and discussion; and in education- and faith-based centres.

     Climate Change and Human Mobility: New Perspectives on Climate and Migration, Displacement and Relocation

     Human mobility, climate change and the environment are interrelated. While relatively new in the field of migration studies, the implications of this complex nexus have been considered by scholars and practitioners for over a decade. This seminar considered several issues related to how climatic and environmental changes interact with human mobility through the findings from empirical studies in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, North America and South America. Panellists offered expertise on different types of mobility that may be affected by climatic and environmental changes, namely migration, displacement and planned relocation, as well as to the reasons why people affected by the same stimuli do not migrate.

     To address slow-onset environmental degradation and ‘distress migration’, governments and international organisations can:

    • Invest in land restoration irrigation projects to reduce the pressures of climate variability and dryness that can precipitate movement by livelihood-stressed populations.
    • Better invest development aid; for example, by mainstreaming migration into development projects and ensuring a longer-term climate lens is taken in resilience-building projects.
    • Ensure policy coherence of development interventions, to avoid unintended and perverse effects that lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and/or vulnerability, while maximising benefits for target populations.

    The risks of forced migration resulting from climate change impacts, such as social disarticulation and immobility, disproportionately affect island and coastal communities. In a global compact on migration, countries can:

    • Commit to build on regional and bottom-up approaches, particularly where customary law may prevail over other types of law.
    • Assure of right to stay, the right to land and resource use, and the continuity of community rights.
    • Commit at the regional and global level to support adaptation financing and support, for example, for National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).
    • Reinforce institutional and infrastructural development to reduce livelihood vulnerability to natural hazards.

    To reconcile the disconnect between the current body of research and policy making in this field, scholars and policy makers can both:

    • Better integrate policy viewpoints in multiple stages of project design and development and be clearer about respective priorities.
    • Encourage involvement by the private sector, particularly in terms of meeting the technical and financial challenges of climate change adaptation.
    • Support more interdisciplinary and longitudinal research on the complex and multi-causal links between climate change and human mobility, including: the indirect impacts of climate change on other drivers of migration; on differential risk exposure and vulnerability within and among communities affected by similar hazards; on the changing temporality of movements; on immobility; and on if and how large-scale migratory flows can be reversed.

    Panellists cautioned against directly and deterministically associating migration with climate change, but supported efforts to translate global climate phenomena into regional or local level impacts.

    Cities of Welcome: Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees in Urban Areas

    This panel gathered experts from diverse backgrounds to explore questions related to the inclusion and integration of migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and refugees in cities around the world. Panellists discussed examples of cities looking to cultivate a ‘culture of welcome’. This term loosely refers to a culture that fosters an appreciation of and empathy for the situations asylum seekers and refugees find themselves in, provides them with safety, and seeks to welcome them into active participation in community life.

    Panellists discussed ways that cities, independently from national prerogatives, can play a role in terms of welcoming documented and undocumented migrants and ensuring their access to urban life, community spaces, and services. Fostering a ‘culture of welcome’ was described as a complex matter of enacting policies to protect the human rights of migrants, for which municipal governments may have central roles, ideally supported by national authorities. Panellists noted that in some circumstances, particularly those in which the authorities are perceived to be potentially hostile, migrants and refugees may not self-identify as such and may prefer to remain ‘invisible’.

    Considering these points, panellists suggested governments:

    • Promote policies that encourage migrant and refugee integration into labour markets, as well as entrepreneurship of all urban citizens.
    • Promote economic and (formal) financial inclusion of all communities.
    • Embrace transnationality and multi-locality, not just as a fact but as a positive, enriching element of citizens’ lives and of urban identities.

    To foster the environment in which such policies can be successful, the panel suggested municipal and national governments, as well as all urban citizens:

    • Look at places rather than people, meaning fully integrating migrant and ‘host’ communities in areas of origin, transit and destination in planning and implementing in policies and programmes integration and inclusion.
    • Promote and encourage a ‘culture of welcome’ within spaces where the reach of governmental programmes may be limited, and to thus not only look at ‘the city’ as a singular entity but to work with and recognise the diversity and heterogeneity of communities, voices, actors and forms of governance at the urban level in different contexts across the world.


    Addressing Women’s Rights in a Global Compact on Migration

    This multi-disciplinary panel identified actions and strategies that member states and other stakeholders can take to promote and protect women’s human rights in migration governance. The panel also identified interventions that enable or constrain women’s enjoyment of their human rights, both among those who migrate and those who stay behind.

    Members of the panel reflected on how states can best develop gender-responsive, human rights-based migration policies which recognise the choices women make in migration, promote their empowerment and leadership, and move away from addressing migrant women primarily through a lens of passive victimhood.

    Panellists underlined several key recommendations, focusing on points that could be integrated into a global compact on migration:

    • Dispense with exclusively or predominantly portraying women on the move as victims (of trafficking), poor and vulnerable, or involved in criminality (migrant smuggled).
    • Recognise and normalise migrant women as agents for development and growth of the societies they bridge.
    • Enact policies to support women migrants in making choices through the migration cycle by, for instance, providing resources such as a basic income, a social protection regime for those who are left behind in their countries of origin, and basic safety across migration corridors.
    • Support migrants’ education and access to information to enhance access to accurate information about labour opportunities, access to adequate housing, care for children and elderly relatives, freedom of movement and possibilities for return.
    • Promote education and higher-skill development programmes specifically for women and girls.
    • Improve legal protections and access to justice for migrant women, particularly those in certain sectors and industry.
    • Improve data measurement tools and consistency of data measurement across member states, to help reduce the invisibility of some migrant women.

     Alternative Ways of Thinking about Migration for Development: Lessons from Emerging Research

    New global realities warrant taking stock of new ways of thinking about the relationship between migration and sustainable development, pushing the limits of knowledge on the role of migration in promoting skills transfers, in addressing global labour market imbalances, and in enhancing the benefits of globalisation. This event encouraged discussion, in particular, on: the socio-economic effects of the increasing magnitude of migration between developing countries (South-South migration); the contribution of refugees to the infrastructure, economies, and social fabric of their host communities; the factors and behavioural biases that influence financial decision-making of migrants; and how regional structures supporting freedom of movement affect their access to labour opportunities, services and rights.

     Overall, panellists suggested that it is time to dispense with the perception of ‘managing migration’ as dirty words, insofar as ‘managing migration’ is not perceived by governments as synonymous with ‘reducing’ migration. Migration can be better harnessed to deliver on the sustainable development agenda.

    For a global compact on migration, panellists suggested governments develop strategies to:

    • Lower the barriers to (legal) migration, for example by lowering the financial costs of recruitment and of the migration journey.
    • Ensure greater information sharing and awareness raising about economic opportunities for both hosting and hosted communities – and about employment opportunities and the risks involved in migration – for example, through modern communications tools and strategies.
    • Improve the right to work for both refugees and migrants, and portability of rights, which are prerequisites to ensuring the full potential of migration to expand economies.
    • Enact sounder development strategies that include mainstreaming migration and/or scaling-up relevant projects into development planning.

    In terms of bilateral and multilateral cooperation on migration ‘management’, panellists suggested countries that are traditionally migrant-sending and those that are traditionally migrant-receiving work together – with the support of partners in civil society and the private sector – to:

    • Jointly formulate migration-related policies, whether bilateral, multilateral, or global in nature (or all of the above).
    • Recognise and promote awareness of the important economic contributions and human growth potential delivered through transnational families, social remittances, knowledge transfers, while embracing entrepreneurial, investor and philanthropic migrants.
    • Ensure communities around the world can access and integrate into credit markets, for example, by promoting the availability of and access to microfinance and financial tools such as mobile wallets.

    In development cooperation and aid programmes targeting the ‘root causes’ of migration, governments can:

    • Promote sharing of information which should be clear and transparent to refugees and migrants.
    • Engage ‘host’ communities early and often in development and aid programming.
    • Recognise and promote awareness of refugees as important economic agents, while ensuring their economic empowerment.

    [1] The process towards a global compact on refugees is not a focus of this report and related panel series. For more information, please see: refugeesmigrants.un.org/refugees-compact

    [2] The UNU Migration Network is a research platform across institutes of the UNU that shares expertise on migration from different disciplinary perspectives. See: migration.unu.edu