Standing in the shadows of civil society? The GFMD government meeting

True, they turned on the water fountains outside the conference center for the opening of the GFMD government meeting. But all the other treats seemed to have been reserved for the preceding civil society days: There, a movie star stopped by as well as the president and  the first lady even twice – while the half-day required for the “common space” session was taken out of the Government Meeting time budget. But that less-than-spectacular approach to the Government Meeting still yielded some results well worth discussing:

The importance of human rights, the treatment of irregular migrants, the criminalization of migrants, human development, migration and gender issues – all these topics are very high on the agenda of migrant NGOs and grassroots movements. But this year, they featured prominently in the discussions of the government meeting as well.

The final report has not been issued yet, but if it stays true to the agenda of the Roundtable Reports, it might be more in tune with a rights-based approach to migration. Of course, these are only non-binding documents etc. pp. but they mark a small progress in this regard nonetheless.

Roundtable 1, Partnerships for More Regular and Protected Migration, called on origin and destination countries to avoid the criminalization of migrants and offered regularization of migrants “and the need for migration regimes like those that exist at a regional level in various parts of the world” as possible solutions.

The “need for a greater focus on the human rights aspect of irregular migration” was highlighted and there was ” a general consensus that deportation and criminalization are not the answers”.

The final conclusion was that “The respect for human rights, despite their immigration status, is an absolute threshold principle.”

(Since I am writing this post on December 18, may I add that ratifying the UN Migrant Worker Convention would be one way to demonstrate that this principle is being upheld…)

Mexico marked the first time, that irregular migration was part of the GFMD agenda – and the roundtable participants added that it should not be the last time: They suggested that irregular migration remains on the agenda for the Global Forum and other upcoming international conferences. 

Roundtable 2, Human Mobility and Human Developmentdealt with a wide range of issues. One of them was reducing the up-front costs of migration. Some examples of good practices were given, but it may come as a surprise that Indonesia was among those: “Indonesia’s decentralization policies to bring these services closer to local communities can also reduce direct costs to migrants”. True as that may be, the private and government sector of the country remains somewhat notorious for extracting large amounts of money from migrants before departure and at the point of return – see the Indonesia chapter of the following ABI/GTZ report for an overview:

Migration, Gender and Family was another topic of the Roundtable and there was agreement to integrate a gender perspective in migration and development policies; there was also the suggestion of establishing an ad hoc Working Group on gender within the GFMD.

Finally, Roundtable 3, Policy and institutional coherence to address the relationship between migration and development was something of a mixed bag. The fist round table dealt with the impact of migration on economic and social development and asked for assessment of “its cause-effect relationship”. As blogged earlier this assumed positive relationship is highly contested:

Thus, it would surely be beneficial to develop a “culture of evaluation” as was discussed in the roundtable.

The second session dealt with the relevance and impact of climate change on migration and development. Once more, there was acall for more data and dialogue and at least the need to begin discussions as to the appropriate legal and institutional arrangements was mentioned.

The third session dealt with Regional Consultative Processes (RCPs) and brought differing views regarding their binding or non-binding nature and the role of outside facilitators to light. Obviously, different regions call for different arrangements, but here an exchange of the often cited “best practices” might be helpful nonetheless.

So, whither GFMD from here?

Obviously, there is a discrepancy between the rhetorics of these roundtables and the reality “on the ground”. Still, these discussions mark a development and broadening of scope compared to the beginning of the GFMD processes. And human rights and human development have obviously become part of the discourse. But it is the inherent weakness of the GFMD process that these issues are very much dependent on the agenda of the chair of the respective meeting. It has to be seen if the “threshold principles” stated in Mexico will be held up in future meetings.


About Dr. Stefan Rother

Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute at the University of Freiburg -- Freelance journalist -- You can find my CV at the links below:
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