Roundtable on International Migration and Global Justice

On 3 December 2013, The Hague Institute convened a group of director-level officials from government, international organizations and civil society to discuss the intersection between migration and global justice in an informal and frank setting.

This roundtable which specifically explored the role of irregular migration in advancing economic policies and development cooperation was held as part of a series of activities undertaken by the Institute in preparation of International Migrants Day on 18 December.

Welcoming the participants, Dr. Williams, President of The Hague Institute stressed the extraordinary impact of migration – a phenomenon with cross-cutting effects – on national economic and security policies and on local governance. According to Dr. Williams migration can play an important role in fostering national and global growth and in promoting multiculturalism- the latter which when properly utilized can foster social cohesion. Opening proceedings, the State Secretary for the Ministry of Security and Justice, Mr. Fred Teeven, called upon the participants to come up with policy recommendations which will help migration stakeholders to move away from traditional methods of migration governance in favor of a fairer and more effective policies.

The roundtable explored if and how the concept of global justice can provide an alternative for today’s policymakers, international practitioners and local authorities working in an increasingly complex, globalized environment in which more people than ever are attempting to cross international borders in their quest for better lives.

Irregular migration covers various forms of international movement. It comprises, for example, those who illegally cross borders; overstay their visas; those who are born into irregular status; those who lose legal residence status and those who abscond during asylum procedure or fail to leave a host state. Precisely because numbers and definitions regarding irregular migration are ambiguous, it remains important to make distinctions in the type of irregular migration we are referring to, and as such to continue to ask what makes a person irregular.

During the Roundtable the participants exchanged views on the myths or misconceptions of irregular migration, thereby delving more deeply into the real push and pull factors of the phenomenon. In reality, migrants move due to different, perhaps contradictory reasons, and receiving states may often signal contradictory messages vis-à-vis immigration. In addition, the majority of irregular migrants once crossed a border legally. In most cases, what makes a person irregular is overstaying a visa. And it is the informal labor market of countries with more developed economies where they can be found. Border control may therefore not be the solution to the issue of irregular migration.

During the Roundtable, held under the Chatham House Rule, the participants discussed how to develop a comprehensive policy preventing illegal border crossing while guaranteeing the fundamental rights of migrants already in an irregular position. In addition, due to the participation of leading migration economists, the current disconnects in migration policy on the one hand, and (informal) labor demands on the other hand was brought to light.

Later on in the discussion, great importance was given to contemporary, often negative public views on migration in general and irregular migration in particular. Participants highlighted the responsibilities of governments, politicians and the international community simultaneously to address perceived or legitimate grievances, while also more effectively conveying the facts about the positive impacts of migration to society and the global economy as a whole (a theme expounded upon by the UN Special Representative, Peter Sutherland, in his lecture at the Institute earlier in the week). In this context it was agreed that humanizing the discourse surrounding migration – i.e. giving a face to ‘the irregular migrant’ – may be a starting point to reduce the toxicity of the issue, and to roll back so-called ‘crimigration’ (the criminalization of immigration).

Concrete policy recommendations arose from the discussion. Suggestions included a preferential emphasis on improving the implementation of existing instruments for human rights and labor rather than pursuing the adoption and ratification of new conventions. The potential of fostering bilateral partnership between receiving and sending states (as well as countries of transit) also gained attention. Sending states are increasingly able and willing to contribute to safer migration trajectories for their citizens. As such, bilateral partnership may contribute to more and better options for regular migration.

A third potential recommendation was linked to the role of local authorities and major cities worldwide. This level of governance is, ultimately, the level at which migration policies are implemented and where there is a real sense of what is going on. In addition, the local level should always be interlinked with the national/state level, and perhaps also the regional and global levels, in order for different tiers of governance to be attuned to local realities, as well as national and global imperatives. A final note was made to address the role of the private sector, whose involvement is critical. Corporate actors should take on responsibilities but also advise on the ways in which migration policies could be better tailored to labor demands.

The organizers of the roundtable will use the ideas generated during the discussions to develop a policy brief containing recommendations addressed to policy makers and civil society on how a balance can be struck in reconciling migrant rights with the concerns of both sending and destination states.

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