We live in a rapidly evolving, hyper-connected world, where goods, capital and people are more mobile than ever before. But, whereas countries have shown a willingness to cooperate on exchanging goods and capital, the international community has shown little appetite for improving how it governs human mobility.
After the wide-scale persecution and displacement of people in World War II, world leaders took the bold step of crafting the 1951 Refugee Convention. In doing so, they relinquished a measure of national sovereignty — by accepting the principle of non-refoulement — in order to promote global solidarity toward refugees.
On the other hand, country leaders saw migration as something temporary that could be managed ad hoc, through unilateral or bilateral agreements primarily designed to fill specific labor-market needs in developed economies. In hindsight, it is now clear that this approach was inadequate for dealing with the upsurge in human mobility that came with global and regional economic integration.
When writing about guest workers in Switzerland, Swiss playwright Max Frisch once observed that, “We asked for workers. We got people instead.” He meant that migrants are not goods that can be exported or imported and they should not be exploited as if they were. Migrants are human beings with rights and they are motivated by a complex combination of personal desires, fears and familial obligations. Many migrants are searching for jobs because they have missed out on globalization’s unequally distributed gains and they see no future for themselves if they remain where they are; countless others have been displaced by conflicts or natural disasters.
Today, ungoverned migration is threatening geopolitical stability, burdening border controls and creating chaos around the world. The current mechanisms for managing migration have clearly failed to meet existing needs. The world needs a new, comprehensive global-governance framework to address all issues relating to human mobility. Achieving such an outcome is Bangladesh’s primary objective as Chair of the 2016 Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which culminates with the Ninth Annual Forum Meeting in Dhaka on Dec. 10-12.
In 2015, as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, world leaders pledged to cooperate on migration issues and to “facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration.” The SDGs acknowledge migrants’ positive contribution to inclusive growth and sustainable development, and it is high time that our leaders follow through on their promises.
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• Md. Shahidul Haque is Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and Chair-in-Office of the GFMD 2016. ©Project Syndicate