Online Only

Global migration

You have 1 free articles remaining for this month.

Once you reach your limit, to continue reading this and other quality writing

subscribe to Griffith Review for as little as $60 per year.

WHEN CONSIDERING INTERNATIONAL immigration, most governments are predominately preoccupied by one overriding issue: 'illegal' migrants. The rule of law and due process are as important to a successful and fair migration policy as they are to any other public policy domain, but governments and the international community must find a way of moving beyond this single frontier. Indeed, if we are to effectively harness and manage migration forces – and provide the coherent order everyone seeks – then governments need to build an international framework for migration policy-making.

The prolific movement of peoples is a sign of our times. Migrants leave from, transit through and move to every country: big and small, rich and poor. The old world, categorised by purely 'sending' and 'receiving' countries, no longer exists. Migration has become a global phenomenon.

Yet our responses continue to be largely national. As such, they have become outdated and indifferent to the new realities of the global village – in contrast to most other transnational issues, such as trade, human rights, labour, health, environment, intellectual property, and development. These are shared concerns of all governments, who in turn have created multilateral institutions with the mandate to manage and direct these cross-border disciplines. In other words, these pressing matters have the benefit of global governance.

Migration remains a glaring exception, and the resulting vacuum serves to only exacerbate the issue's prevailing emotions and complexities. When I was the Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, there were no regular meetings in which you could discuss and act on the main issues of the day with fellow ministers from around the world. Seventeen years later, despite a mobility revolution, this is still the case. Moreover, there is no single overarching multilateral institution responsible for directing the policy and political traffic. Instead, the chore is currently and loosely scattered among fourteen different agencies. It means that no one is in charge of global migration policy.

I am not suggesting that a new, big institution is necessarily the answer. But the status quo is unsustainable. Global forces cannot be addressed by national policies alone. They will always fall short. Domestic programs need to be complemented by a more co-operative international regime.

There have been numerous migration reports and commissions over the years that have urged us to supplement our national-only course, but the political and policy deficit continues. I would have thought that the historic forces which have shaped our new order would have compelled us to amend our ways: an ever shrinking, interconnected world; a process of unrelenting globalisation; an integrated economic market, with a premium on labour mobility; a world community where migrants have doubled since 1980 alone, and where man-made crises and mother nature ensure that human movement – both forced and voluntary, within and across national borders – will be a constant reality.

These are the times we live in: a world ripe with great opportunities, alongside great turbulences. As human mobility has intensified and become more politically visible, citizens are demanding that their governments get it right.

If governments are to rise to the occasion, leaders must first recognise that they can neither talk about the forces of international trade, nor the challenges of world hunger, disease and terrorism, nor the dangers posed by climate change, nor indeed about global migration and development – and then proceed to deal with them in an isolated fashion. The imperative to establish and follow a coherent plan has become painfully evident. The recent creation of the Gâ€ï¿½20 perhaps best captures the paradigm shift that needs to take place in governance.

As migration decision-making continues to insist on national strategies, our policy-makers need to candidly ask themselves if these are really strategies. Do they adequately address the increasing and changing patterns of international migration? Or do they now act more like straightjackets? I think the answers are rather too obvious.

WHILE NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS jealously guard their sovereignty, political leaders need to openly assess the reality on the ground, as it really is. Establishing an international framework is not principally about governments losing authority. Frankly, in an accelerating era of globalisation, employers, smugglers, migrant networks, agents – and individual migrants themselves – have already taken things into their own hands, irrespective of regulations governing admission. While governments may have won a number of battles against unauthorised migration, what about the larger, ongoing war for better control of who enters, leaves, transits and remains in their territories? After all, how did twelve million undocumented individuals enter the US in the first place?

The lesson we need to learn, I believe, is that managing migration internationally is more about countriesreclaiming sovereignty and control, and exercising it collectively – to the advantage of states and migrants alike. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, it will take a village: a global village.

I do not underestimate how formidable this is. We must think and act prudently. As well, we must recognise that the new building blocks will be part of an incremental process. But for the time being, we should begin by at least raising the relevant questions, including:

Are national responses alone a realistic remedy?

How and where can governments and international agencies enhance their collaboration and co-operation?

What are the elements for an international framework, and how would it operate?

And what kind of national flexibilities would this framework retain?

I am convinced that migration remains largely an opportunity – for both migrants and nations. But as a deeply emotional and political issue, it is also freighted with fears and negative perceptions that create anxieties for people, from all backgrounds and from all lands. For these reasons – these contradictions – governments, by working together, can avoid the shortcomings of a go-it-alone migration strategy.

Governments need to be candid and courageous when realities and pressures demand that they rethink and rebuild. And political leaders must guide our governments and institutions by providing the international vision and leadership that global migration demands. Only then will we get global migration right.

Get the latest essay, memoir, reportage, fiction, poetry and more.

Subscribe to Griffith Review or purchase single editions here.

Griffith Review