May 25, 2019

Although Mobility is the New Normal, Ungoverned Migration Continues to Divide Us

By Mr Martin Wyss, Chief of Mission, IOM International Organization for Migration in the Netherlands.

The Secretary General of the United Nations mentioned in a recent speech that he was a migrant too, but not one who had to resort to a leaky boat. He also said that safe migration must not be limited to the global elite (for the full text see his twitter below).

With these truisms, he captured two coexisting, yet starkly diverging realities clashing on the same planet.

First, while the Secretary General certainly is part of the global elite, he is also part of an increasingly, mobile, global citizenry for which it is most natural to move safely and freely around the world.

He enjoys his freedom of movement just as millions of tourists, students, businesspersons, visiting family members and migrant workers (e.g. over 2 million Filipinos and 1 million Sri Lankans etc.).

All these millions travel with passports and where required with a visa. It is as normal as getting rid of one’s water bottle when passing security on the way to the gate.

Why state the obvious?

Because we overlook that the uninterrupted, global mass movements of people are all orderly and we accept them as completely normal as well as highly beneficial for all.

But in fact it means that if you are rich enough you can travel or migrate wherever you want. The world is your oyster.

This is maybe best illustrated by the residence permits offered in exchange for substantial investments or property purchases. There is also a rapidly growing, truly global labor, particularly talent market– for Professors, Senior Managers, Senior Accounts and IT Specialists etc. with offers on the back pages of The Economist magazine (see also https: //—talent-mobility–the-new-normal-download).

Secondly, the Secretary General at least implicitly refers to the perverse, global income disparities which prevent millions from enjoying the same rights, because even as a tourist you must have means to sustain yourself, and for the vast majority living in poor countries the need for a job alone or the ambition to have a better income remains unmatched by a right to a visa or a work permit.

Therefore, the strongest willed among those barred from access will have no choice but to board leaky boats at great costs and risks or to attempt to climb over fences in Ceuta and Melilla.

This is the type of migration that remains unresolved, bitterly argued over and which in some cases divides electorates into new, more conservative and even xenophobic constellations.

In this context, it is hoped that the Global Compact for Migration, the first, inter-governmentally negotiated agreement to be prepared under the auspices of the United Nations will cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

Whenever the UN is committed to go forward as ONE, it can be difficult when many follow different or opposing views and rules. Although the UN holds up many principles as universal, we may notice when listening to the news that not all interpret or follow these universal principles in the same manner.

Therefore it is not easy to find common ground when discussing a potentially divisive issue such as migration affecting many in different ways.

But maybe we have just forgotten that a majority already accepts a few basic and important tenets:

• Everybody knows that migration must be regulated (the question is how).

• Many understand and agree that there should be more open channels and lower thresholds for regular migration.

• Most agree that refugees and those forced to migrate need international protection, and almost all understand that effective protection of refugees can only be upheld with international solidarity, with a fair sharing of the “burden” with the countries in the vicinity of conflict zones which host most of the world’s refugees.

• There is furthermore agreement that all countries have the right to have their own migration rules and visa requirements.

But then there is no agreement on how to deal with those in breach of migration procedures. For some they are all victims – for others and I hesitate to say this – they are criminals.

One of the problems is that so far there have been no sufficient efforts to find an overarching common “language”, common ideas and values on whether migration is a right that a priori should benefit all.

In practice, there is no agreement on whether the rights of states prevail over the rights of individuals or the other way around.

However, there may be reason for hope as there is no escaping from a smaller, more mobile, more interconnected world – in short: from more mobility and migration in all its forms.

It must thus become possible to balance the rights AND obligations of all migrants with the rights AND obligations of all states.

It appears difficult, but if we take note how all nations fully agree and comply with the very strict and mandatory rules which must prevail so that thousands of flights carrying billions of air travelers around the globe every year can take off in safety, it should be possible to find some common rules in order to allow many more to travel and migrate freely and safely, some day.

The sooner we face up to these difficult, unresolved, but burning challenge, the sooner we will reach a truly global language and understanding on migration which hopefully will be the basis of a new Global Migration Governance.


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Mr Martin Wyss, IOM Photography Barbara Salewski-Ratering

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