February 09, 2021

Global Forum for Migration and Development Fosters Dialogue and Partnerships for the Future of Human Mobility

GMFD Forum participants. Cecilie is fourth from left on the bottom row

This January, Cecilie Kern represented Mercy International Association and the NGO Committee on Migration at the 13th Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD), hosted virtually by the United Arab Emirates. The GFMD is an annual, state-led, informal and non-binding process, which helps shape the global debate on migration and development. Since 2007, it has provided a flexible, multi-stakeholder space where national governments, civil society, the private sector, local and regional governments, and other stakeholders, including youth and UN agencies, can come together in a spirit of trust and mutual exchange to discuss the multi-dimensional aspects, opportunities and challenges related to migration and development. The 13th Summit brought over 2000 participants around the world to discuss the future of human mobility and how to build innovative partnerships for sustainable development.

Two years since the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), the GFMD process allows stakeholders to come together to analyze and discuss sensitive emerging issues, create consensus, pose innovative solutions, and share policy and practices. Despite the online format, this year’s GFMD marked its most inclusive Summit ever - offering civil society, private sector and local governments the opportunity to participate in all the Government roundtables and sessions. As political spaces for civil society continue to shrink, the GFMD has become a standout example of how self-organized engagement by all stakeholders should look like. Together, we were able to discuss difficult and emerging issues related to international migration, like social protection and irregular migration, climate/environmental displacement, and responses and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as good practices, partnerships and innovative solutions so that we can move forward into a more transformative people-centered agenda.

Read more: Civil Society Articulates the Value of GFMD in Future of the Forum Discussion

The Youth Forum, which took place from 4-6 January, and the Civil Society Preparatory Meetings, which took place on 7, 11, 12 and 15 January, provided a space for youth and civil society delegates to collectively develop a set of recommendations on this year’s key thematic areas, and to prepare to carry these outcomes and recommendations as advocacy messages through the entire GFMD Summit, to share with governments and other stakeholders. Though there are always challenges to developing joint recommendations that reflect the full range of civil society priorities and concerns, there is a significant value in ensuring a consistent voice for civil society. Following these days of intensive online debate and discussion, civil society representatives adopted four joint advocacy priorities for the GFMD Summit, with strong links across thematic areas:

  • Ensuring social protection for migrants regardless of their status;
  • Expanding migrants’ regularization and legal migration pathways;
  • Fighting xenophobia and discrimination; and
  • Promoting safe access to services and to the judicial system.

Read more: Civil Society Representatives Pick Advocacy Priorities for the GFMD Summit

The 13th GFMD Summit itself took place from 18-26 January. The Summit Roundtables were organized around the six 2020 themes selected by the United Arab Emirates Chairmanship:

  1. The Governance of Labour Migration in the Context of a Changing Employment Landscape;
  2. Skilling Migrants for Employment;
  3. Leveraging New Technologies to Empower Migrants;
  4. Addressing Gaps in Migrant Protection;
  5. Discussing Approaches to Address Irregular Migration; and
  6. Fostering Partnerships to Realise Migration-Related Goals.

Because of the inclusive format, civil society messages came across strongly in the official sessions of the GMFD, as well as the side events.  Governments picked up some of these points, especially those about access to social protection and regularization. The human rights of migrants, including those in irregular status, have long been confirmed by international standards and guidelines. Discussions centered on how to close the gap between international standards and national and regional practice, and to recognize and defend the humanity of all people, regardless of their nationality or migratory status.

A critical concern among many of the roundtable discussions was that many migrants have been left out of social protection networks, in particular migrants with irregular status and families with mixed status. A lack of documentation underlies many protection gaps and results in an accompanying fear of detention and deportation. In order to ensure migrants’ access to basic services (like healthcare) and to justice, as well as to protect the labor rights of migrant workers, civil society representatives called for firewalls between public service access and immigration or law enforcement controls.

Participants also highlighted barriers to regularization and nationality and the need for strengthened international protection, especially for people belonging to vulnerable groups, including climate-displaced people, women and children. Others drew attention to xenophobia and discrimination as a key area of concern, with migrants being perceived as a threat and often being criminalized as a result. Many underlined the importance of promoting positive, data-driven migration narratives, and addressing issues of racism in this regard.

Besides the thematic areas mentioned above, discussions focused strongly on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrants and mobility, and the need for an effective response, underpinned by strong cooperation and dialogue. Civil society representatives highlighted how COVID-19 has caused a protection crisis for migrants and refugees, in addition to a health and economic crisis. Access to social protection, health services and vaccine distribution were topics of broad interest. In addition to the need to address inequalities and access to human and labor rights for migrants, all stakeholders were able to identify good practices that provided some hope and a glimpse into a future of possibilities of “building back better,” including expanding regular pathways for migration, visa extensions and the recognition of the essential nature of many migrant workers and remittances.

Read more: GFMD Summit Civil Society and Government Delegates Exchange on Building Back Better after COVID-19

After the official GFMD Summit had ended, governments and other stakeholders participated in a Dialogue on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) / the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF), in accordance with paragraph 47 of the GCM. This dialogue, co-organized by the GFMD Chair and the UN Network on Migration, served as a platform to 1) inform about the state of play of the GCM process and sharing good and innovative practices, policies and cooperation mechanisms towards the review of the GCM; 2) offer a platform to discuss how all stakeholders contribute to GCM implementation; 3) discuss emerging challenges in 2021 and how the GFMD and the UN Network on Migration can contribute to the first International Migration Review Forum in 2022.

GCM implementation has progressed throughout 2020 despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for migrants, and setbacks in sustainable development gains. Member States, also from among the GFMD membership, volunteered as GCM Champion Countries; the first regional reviews began; the UN Secretary General launched his report on GCM implementation; the Migration Network Hub held a soft launch; and the Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund disbursed funds for the first six joint programs to support GCM implementation. In the discussion about emerging issues in 2021, many of the same concerns emerged regarding inclusion and access to vital and life-saving services, ensuring migrant workers can move through safe, regular pathways, with decent work, and respect for human and labor rights as essential to the achievement of 2030 Agenda.

As the Mercy Global Action office prepares to initiate a Migration Task Force in 2021, it is important to remain engaged in these conversations. The Migration Task Force will aim to collect stories, research and good practices from around the Mercy World and conduct analysis related to addressing protection gaps for people on the move, and on issues that did not receive so much attention at this GFMD, like climate and environmental displacement. The work of the task force will help to improve capacity building on this priority issue and to inform advocacy that will be used for the International Migration Review Forum to review the GCM in 2022, as well as future meetings of the GFMD and the High-Level Political Forum. Mercy Global Action is looking forward to engaging with Sisters, and Partners in ministry from Mercy Congregations and Institutes around the world in this important work.

Messages to: Cecilie Kern - Global Policy & Research Advocate MIA - MGA


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