IMRF Puts Global Spotlight on Migration

Interview with members of the Global Coalition on Migration

The first International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) is expected to take place from 17-20 May 2022 at the UN headquarter in New York. At this UN forum, states will join with other stakeholders to discuss the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). It is hosted under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly, and will take place at UN Headquarters New York. A series of consultations and townhall meetings are held in the lead-up to the forum itself. Members states will endorse an IMRF Progress Declaration at the convening. To elevate migrant voices and perspectives, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is supporting the Global Coalition on Migration in preparing the Spotlight Report on Global Migration (SRGM), which focuses on key issues affecting migrants at the grassroots, national and regional levels and policy priorities for real change.

FES has talked to Stéphane Jaquemet (International Catholic Migration Commission - ICMC), Neha Misra (Solidarity Center) and Carol Barton (Women in Migration Network -WIMN) about the expectations towards the IMRF, the problem of shrinking spaces at the UN and the key recommendation of the Spotlight Report on Global Migration.

The Spotlight Report on Global Migration is a joint effort by the Global Coalition on Migration (GCM) with support of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. The reportwill be presented at a virtual launch event on Thursday, 28 April, as a contribution to the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) process. For more information, please visit www.spotlightreportmigration.org and join the waitlist to access updates on the report and its launch.

FES: What are your expectations for the first IMRF? What needs to happen for the IMRF to be a success?

Stéphane Jaquemet: Judging from all what has already happened between the end of 2018 and now, including the regional reviews, the draft Progress Declaration but more importantly the policies and initiatives at the national level, I believe the IMRF will be neither a success nor a failure. It will not be a success because there has been no real mobilization around the Global Compact, with many governments not even mentioning it domestically, for fear of electoral backlash, no significant or multi-country progressive policies regarding the promotion of regular pathways or alternatives to detention, no or very limited access to basic services for irregular migrants, and no good practices being replicated on a larger scale. On the other hand, it will not be a failure, for three main reasons. First, because the Global Compact and the IMRF are meaningful platforms for a dialogue among States and with stakeholders. Secondly, because the UN Network on Migration has created positive synergies among UN agencies. And thirdly, because some good practices can now be made more visible and more palatable.

FES: What impact does the pandemic have on the implementation of the GCM?

Stéphane Jaquemet: The pandemic has been characterized by huge losses, violations and discriminations endured by migrants, while good practices to include migrants, though real, have been very limited. Overall, we are even worse off today than at the end of 2018.

Carol Barton: The pandemic has made visible and exacerbated existinggaps and structural inequalities, as well as failed migration policies. Among the many setbacks, borders and xenophobia have hardened; expulsions, criminalization, push-backs continue; those who assist migrants are also being criminalized; migrants who provided “essential work” during the pandemic have not seen recognition of this through regularization or better working conditions; migrants and global south nations still do not have adequate access to COVID vaccines; public health systems are decimated and in many cases continue to exclude migrants in irregular status from healthcare services; and many migrant workers were left stranded, often experiencing wage theft. Because of the double burden women carry in care work, all of these aspects had differential impacts on women. Yet many states want to get back to normal without addressing the deep fissures made visible by the pandemic. States must reckon with these profound setbacks to migrant rights, particularly migrant women’s rights.

FES: Governments speak of the benefits of migrant workers in the pandemic and refer to them as "essential workers". But have conditions improved for them?

Neha Misra: As we watched the devasting impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic unfold over the past two years, many of us in the labour movement were not surprised to see that migrant workers bore much of the economic and social burden and consequences related to the pandemic. Unions and migrant workers’ rights organizations have been saying for decades that current systems of migration governance fail migrant workers, as they exclude such migrants from labour law and social protection, among other issues.

It was my hope that the light that was shone on the structural and institutional flaws of current migration systems would lead to bolder and innovative action on the parts of government. Instead, we are seeing governments in general just making small fixes to a broken system, or perpetuating practices that marginalize migrant workers.

I agree with Stephane however that the UN Network on Migration has created positive synergies among UN agencies, and an important role in serving as a liaison between civil society, other UN agencies, and member states. And the other positive outcome of the IMRF may simply be that governments continue to support discussing migration policy through multilateralism.

FES: The shrinking space for civil society at the UN is a major problem. For the IMRF, it looked for a long time as if there would be no access on the ground for non-governmental organizations. How could the persisting challenges of reduced access be addressed?"

Stéphane Jaquemet: For a long time, we feared that NGOs would not be able to attend in person, following a trend which we have been witnessing for now a number of years, a trend accelerated by the pandemic, during which it was extremely difficult for NGOs to access UN buildings, including when these buildings were accessible to government officials and experts. These restrictions can only be partly justified by legitimate health-related measures. They are also linked to the lobbying by countries with poor human rights records, unhappy with an active and critical human rights and humanitarian NGO community. Fortunately, and after civil society had expressed concern in writing regarding representation in the IMRF, we were informed that NGOs can have up to three representatives and we hope (it is not certain yet) that this means in-person participation in all the IMRF-related meetings. In any case, civil society representation in UN meetings in general is an on-going battle. Our objective is to get the support of like-minded countries, as a counterweight to the pressure exerted by authoritarian regimes.

Neha Misra: Agree with everything noted by Stephane. In addition, more emphasis needs to be placed on urging member states to do in-country/national consultations with relevant civil society stakeholders. This includes urging use of tripartism, and social dialogue (governments, business sector and trade unions) as noted in the text of the Global Compact to engage unions in discussions and negotiations on migration policy.

The issue of closing space for civil society and rising authoritarianism, including attacks on human rights defenders, is a major one around the world. We at times have seen this replicated in UN spaces, including related to increasing difficulty for CSOs to get ECOSOC status, and for migrant rights organizations that cannot get registered in destination countries due to government restrictions on freedom of association to gain access to UN spaces. The UN could play a leadership and modelling role in figuring out ways to expand access for migrants themselves and the organizations that represent them into UN spaces, without requiring that they be registered within their own country—a country that may have banned civil society activity. The UN also needs to assist representatives from civil society, including migrants themselves and the organizations that represent them, to get visas into the countries where meetings take place. We are uncertain whether the majority of our partners will be able to attend the IMRF because they may not be able to get US visas.

FES: From March to April, the Progress Declaration will be negotiated. The Zero draft has left many organizations rather disappointed. In light of the key recommendations of the Spotlight Report on Global Migration, which points of the progress declaration still need to be improved?

Neha Misra: The zero draft of the 2022 IMRF progress declaration has some important provisions that will provide greater support for effective change – like the call for social protections regardless of migration status. Overall, however, it does not recognize the serious, systematic and pervasive ways migrants continue to be excluded, exploited and marginalized, nor does it recommend a path forward that puts human and worker rights at the forefront of migration policy. This does not bode well for the IMRF itself.

Stéphane Jaquemet: On the surface, the draft is not bad and contains some positive language, including an express reference to “regularization”, the recognition that the COVID 19 has had a severe impact on migrants because of restrictive or discriminatory policies, and that providing humanitarian assistance to migrants is often criminalized and should not be so. But the Progress Declaration lacks ambition, is too diplomatic about the very limited progress made and does not address the passive attitude of most States regarding the Global Compact.

FES: So, what are the weak points of the Progress Declaration?

Stéphane Jaquemet: The parts which are particularly weak and need strengthening are first migrant workers’ rights and protection (in almost all aspects), secondly, a commitment to end detention and create alternatives to detention. These points are surprisingly absent. Thirdly the fight against xenophobia and saving migrant lives, for which stereotyped, rather than human-centered language is being used. Also, particularly weak is the commitment of governments to “facilitate” regular migration, a word which is neutral, while regular migration is the cornerstone of the Global Compact and requires a proactive response from governments.

FES: What should be done to improve the language on discrimination?

Carol Barton: We would like to see more explicit language addressing discrimination, particularly gender and racial discrimination. Many destination countries of the global North are advocating for more mentions of “gender-responsive migration policy” in the document, while their policy positions – from pushbacks, detention, deportation, criminalization of migrants, exploitative labour conditions and more—undermine the rights of women in migration. Thus, we want to see policy addressing systemic racism and sexism built into the fabric of migration policy, not merely mentioning the words while implementing policies that harm migrants. This means a focus on our core messages—regularization of undocumented migrants, rights-based regular pathways, end to criminalization of migrants including detention, human rights at international borders, rights-based responses to migrants displaced due to climate change—with a lens as to how these impact women and racialized migrants in different ways.

Neha Misra: I agree that the declaration is seriously lacking in addressing racial discrimination and other unequal treatment of migrants. The progress declaration should recognize the principle of equality of treatment for all workers regardless of their status. All workers, regardless of their migration status, of whether they are in the informal or formal economy, whether they identify as male, female, or non-binary, whether they are Black or brown, whether they are identified as asylum seekers or refugees, climate migrants, economic migrants or a mix of all of the above must be treated equally under the protection of labour laws. We call for an end to the artificial silos that are created in migration policy among workers based on their migration status. A worker is a worker is a worker, deserving full respect of international labour standards without exception and should be recognized as such in the declaration.

FES: Labour migration and regular pathways are core issues in the Global Compact on Migration. Has the Progress Declaration delivered here?

Neha Misra: In the context of labour migration, the current text of the progress declaration frames the discussion as one of “skills recognition” instead of centering workers agency. It is a fundamental flaw of the declaration to not center workers’ freedom of association, and right to organize and collectively bargain as articulated in the International Labor Organization Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Freedom of association and workers agency must be recognized as fundamental to furthering fair migration and decent work. Moreover, the declaration should recognize the important role that collective bargaining plays for migrant workers in terms of establishing fair wages, ending discrimination, and ensuring occupational safety and health. The declaration should also reaffirm the role of the tripartite mechanisms of the ILO to further fair migration policy in the context of labour migration. As Carol has noted, the declaration also looks at labour migration in an instrumentalist way, in terms of how migrant workers “contribute” to development” and “meet labour market needs” rather than centering migrant rights and the agency of migrants as civic actors.

There also needs to be a call for policy coherence that incorporates migration governance into broader economic, social, racial and gender justice initiatives. The new social contract called for by the global labour movement is an excellent frame for this. There also needs to be more in the declaration on addressing access to justice for workplace exploitation, including addressing rampant wage theft.

FES: The issue of regularization is indirectly recognized as a regular pathway in the zero draft. Is that a good sign?

Neha Misra: Yes and No. Not all regular pathways are fair or equitable. The declaration recommendations say that efforts must be redoubled to promote better regular pathways, including the call for regularization of undocumented migrants (who are essential to economies at all times) and family unification. The recommendation however needs to be expanded to call for the elimination of the use of temporary (circular, sponsorship, or guest-worker) labour migration programs that systematically and structurally expose migrant workers to exploitation by recruiters, employers and others. Temporary migration programs should not be used as a solution to labour shortages, humanitarian crisis, climate change, or irregular migration. Instead, strategies should prioritize policy coherence in the context of regularization schemes and rights-based channels—which allow migrants the freedom to move, settle, work, and fully participate in society—over expanding temporary or circular work programs.

States should promote regular migration pathways that ensure full worker rights, facilitate social and family cohesion, and provide options for permanent residence and meaningful participation in civic life.


Thank you!

About the interviewees

Stéphane Jaquemet has been the Director of Policy at the International Catholic Migration Commission since February 2018 and in such a capacity, he is the head of the Civil Society Coordinating Office for the Global Forum on Migration and Development and one of the tree co-conveners of the Civil Society Action Committee. Previously, he worked 25 years for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), holding several senior positions, including Head of the Protection Capacity Section in Geneva, Representative in Lebanon, Nepal, Burkina Faso and Colombia, and Regional Representative for Southern Europe, based in Rome. Before UNHCR, he was legal adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross and protection delegate in Gaza, Lebanon and Uganda.

Neha Misra, J.D., is the Global Lead for Migration and Human Trafficking at the Solidarity Center, the largest U.S.-based international worker rights organization. With over 20 years’ experience in the labour movement, Neha has managed labour migration, anti-human trafficking, trade union strengthening and democracy programs around the world. She leads the Center’s migration policy engagement globally, working closely with the global labour movement and other allies. Before joining the Solidarity Center, she worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina on post-war elections and democracy, and in the United States as a senior attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Carol Barton is Co-convener of the Women in Migration Network, founded in 2012. With decades of experience in intersectional social justice organizing, Carol has an extensive background in non-profit education and advocacy with faith-based and feminist organizations. She worked with the United Methodist Church in Peru and Argentina and with the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service. She co-led the Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice and led both the Immigrant Rights and Economic Inequality initiatives at United Methodist Women. She brings her abundance of experience to issues of migration and gender.

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