“One step forward, one step back” was my overall assessment of the GFMD in Athens * – referring to attempts towards better interaction between Civil Society and Governments on the plus, and a major lack of transparency on the negative side. Similar things could be said about Puerto Vallarta: The Common Space was a significant improvement, but that makes the apparent lack in communication and some issues with scope even more regrettable. My suggestion: Combine the two (forward) steps taken in Athens and Puerto Vallarta into a full day of interaction.
What Do I mean by this? In Athens, so-called interface sessions were introduced. Here, small delegations briefly discussed themes that mirrored the Roundtable topics of the Civil Society/Government meetings. While small can mean more productive, there were different reasons at play in Athens:
– The number of government delegates was small because the interface took place on the afternoon before the government meeting and in a different location way out-of-town. Some of the delegates who still made the effort got stuck in traffic and heavy rainfall.
– The civil society delegation was small because – well, nobody really told us. Shortly before the sessions commenced, it was announced that only certain delegates were allowed to participate, chosen on criteria that were not disclosed.
So, there were major shortcoming in communication, but that should not completely discredit the format. The interface session I observed showed some promising discussions.
And in Mexico? The organizers had announced early in the process that they were aiming for “innovative forms of interaction”. They certainly made some major efforts and changes – but somehow forgot to tell Civil Society about it. There was no communication whatsoever about the common space prior to the GFMD, the Wednesday morning session was not even part of the distributed schedule. As a result, some delegates eligible for (and interested in) participation were unable to do so, because their return flights had already been booked.
So, who was eligible I wondered in an earlier blog
Apparently, the selection was based on involvement in previous GFMDs. (provocative remark: Might that have been because these delegates had thus proven to behave orderly in such fora?) Again, these criteria were not communicated.
Still, the number of civil society representatives was significantly larger this time around. The format was quite different, too.
I will give a more detailed account of the session elsewhere, but here are the proceedings in a nutshell:
– An opening ceremony with fortunately fairly short speeches
– The presentation of the resolution from the Civil Society Days (everybody I talked to criticized the resolution as being too mild/watered-down etc. I still have to make up my mind on this)
– Two panel sessions on “Improving public perceptions of migration” and “Migration and human development – strengthening partnerships”
– The first panel was interesting but somewhat lengthy and I wondered “Why are there no migrant representatives up there?” But that changed in the second panel. Also, in the second panel a representative of the Government of Ecuador presented their universal passport, as they had done in Athens.
– When the floor was opened for comments by the participants after each roundtable, actually a quite lively discussion ensued. I have observed the plenary sessions of the two previous GFMD government meetings in Manila and Athens. There was hardly any discussion, while here, some government representatives like the one from Bolivia were fairly outspoken (and critical of the USA, as you might expect.) The moderators ensured that opportunity was given to civil society representatives to voice their concerns, comments etc. as well. Thus, topics like human rights, the militarization of borders and refugees were brought up.
In sum, it was an open discussion – but was it also meaningful? At the very least, the session demonstrated to government representatives that they can discuss critical issues with civil society representatives in a, well, civilized manner (the more radical opponents of the process were prevented from coming even close to the venue, as I have blogged earlier). There is also no denying that Mexico has done away with some of the taboos of previous GFMDs.
But first of all, participants should get ample information on the format and content of the common space in advance (most, including me, had no idea of what to expect). It might also be worth to consider re-animating the interface sessions from Athens, so that the Roundtable themes can be discussed in groups that are smaller, but whose delegates are selected in a very transparent manner. Who knows, these session might even come up with common resolutions/recommendations that can be presented to a plenary session like the one in Mexico?
* Rother, Stefan (2010): The GFMD from Manila to Athens: One Step Forward, One Step Back?, in: Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, Vol 19 (1), pp 157-173.