Academic journal article Global Governance

The Governance of International Migration: Mechanisms, Processes, and Institutions

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Governance of International Migration: Mechanisms, Processes, and Institutions

Article excerpt

This article explains how the global governance of international migration has evolved as a policy issue on the international agenda over the past decade while noting that there is still no consensus on whether global governance is really required, what type of global governance would be appropriate, and how it should develop. The article reviews a series of policy options that have been proposed to fill the governance gap in international migration; namely, to create a new agency, to designate a lead agency, to bring the International Organization for Migration into the UN system, a coordination model, a leadership model, a World Trade Organization model, and an evolutionary model. KEYWORDS: international migration, governance, migration management.


GLOBAL GOVERNANCE OF INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION IS PORTRAYED SImultaneously as a necessity and an impossibility. (1) Migration across borders is recognized as one of the pillars of globalization, and most governments recognize that they cannot control it unilaterally. Yet it is still governed almost entirely at the level of the nation-state (although sometimes in the context of a regional agreement), and states guard that prerogative jealously. For the past decade, national politicians have engaged in a reinvigorated discussion about the governance of international migration, after having let the matter languish for most of the 1990s. They have been spurred to do so by other stakeholders, including the private sector, human rights defenders, the United Nations (particularly, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan), the public in various countries (their views often exaggerated and sometimes contorted by the mass media), and, most importantly, by growing migrant populations. Yet after a decade of quite intensive activity, it is reasonable to question if the world is any closer to global governance of international migration than it was in 1999.

To begin to answer that question, an assessment of the multiple activities of the past ten years is useful, and an examination of what global governance means in practice is necessary.

A Decade of Growing Focus on International Migration

Attention to international migration in the 1990s was sporadic and largely fruitless. The Programme of Action formulated for the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) included a chapter on international migration. Balanced, realistic, and far-reaching, it was endorsed by 160 governments and then more or less ignored in practice. Repeated calls for a UN conference dedicated to migration were rejected by the major migrant-receiving countries (many of which are also the major funders of UN conferences), who feared a bruising North-South confrontation over issues of access to their territories and labor markets. In 1996, a regional conference on migration in the former Soviet Union and contiguous countries was held in Moscow, but it had little impact. A treaty on the rights of migrant workers was passed by the General Assembly in 1990, but it languished without the twenty ratifications needed to come into force. No UN agency had migrants or migration processes as priorities--not even the International Labour Organization (ILO), with its historic mandate for the protection of migrant workers going back to 1919. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), outside the UN system, was held to a fairly narrow portfolio of service provision by its member states. Despite the growing concern that migration was escaping the control of even the most capable governments, global governance of international migration was seen as an intrusion on national sovereignty.

All of this changed quite suddenly around the turn of the millennium. Suddenly, migration was everywhere one looked in the UN system and beyond. Between 1999 and 2009, the following actions were initiated:

* The fifty-three-member UN Commission on Human Rights appointed a special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. …

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