INTERNATIONAL DAY OF MIGRANTS: NEED FOR A UN-LED WORLD CONFERENCE ON MIGRATION AND REFUGEE FLOWS
By René Wadlow
December 18 was set by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to call attention to the role of migrants in the world society. The date was chosen to mark the creation of the UN-negotiated International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The aim of the Convention was to insure that migrants and their families would continue to be covered by the human rights standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenants, and other human rights treaties. In practice, migrants are often “between two chairs” − no longer of concern to the State they have left and not yet covered by the human rights laws of the State to which they have gone.
Ratifications of the Convention have been slow with a good number of governments making reservations that generally weaken the impact of the Convention. In 2004, a commission of independent experts was set up to study the reports to the UN of governments on the application of the Convention − a commission that is part of the Human Rights Treaty Body System. Reports from each government party to the Convention are to be filed once every four years. However, the discussions within the Migration Treaty Body and its subsequent report attract the attention of only a small number of people. However, the discussion deals with the report of only one government at a time while migration is always a multi-State issue and can have worldwide implications.
Moreover, many States consider that earlier International Labor Organization conventions deal adequately with migrant rights and see no need to sign a new convention.
Citizens of the world have stressed that the global aspects of migration flows have an impact on all countries. The changing nature of the world’s economies modify migration patterns, and there is a need to plan for migration as the result of possible environmental-climate changes.
The current flow of migrants and refugees to Europe has become a high profile political issue. Many migrants come from areas caught up in armed conflict: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia. The leaders of the European Union (EU) have been divided and unsure in their responses. Local solidarity networks that offer food, shelter, and medical care are overwhelmed. Political debates over how to deal with the refugees have become heated, usually with more heat than light. The immediacy of the refugee exodus requires our attention, our compassion, and our sense of organization.
EU officials have met frequently to discuss how to deal with the migrant-refugee flow, but a common policy has so far been impossible to establish. At a popular level, there have been expressions of fear of migrants, of possible terrorists among them, and a rejection of their cultures. These popular currents, often increased by right-wing political parties make decisions all the more difficult to take. An exaggerated sense of threat fuels anti-immigration sentiments and creases a climate of intolerance and xenophobia.
Therefore, the Association of World Citizens, which is in consultative status with the UN, is calling for a UN-led world conference on migration and refugee issues, following earlier UN world conferences on the environment, food, housing, women, population, youth, human rights and other world issues. The pattern of such UN-led world conferences usually follows a common pattern: encouragement of research and data collection by UN agencies, national governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academic institutions. Then regional meetings are held to study the regional dimensions of the issue. The regional conferences are followed by the world conference of government representatives with the participation of NGO delegates of organizations which hold consultative status. Usually there is also a parallel NGO conference with a wider range of NGOs present, especially those active at the local or national level. From such a world conference a plan of action is set to influence action by UN agencies, national governments, and NGOs.
Only a UN-led conference with adequate research and prior discussions can meet the challenges of worldwide migration and continuing refugee flows. There is a need to look at both short-term emergency humanitarian measures and at longer-range migration patterns, especially at potential climate modification impact. A UN-led world conference on migration can highlight possible trends and especially start to build networks of cooperation to meet this world challenge.
Prof. René Wadlow is President and a representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.