Opinion: There Can Be No Sustainable Development Without Migration
Related Sustainable Development Goals and Global Compact for Migration Objectives
(This text was originally published on Devex)
Amy E. Pope, Director General-Elect of the International Organization for Migration
This week, global leaders gather to assess progress in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a road map for all nations to navigate the most pressing challenges for people around the globe. Unfortunately, this task is becoming increasingly difficult as climate change destroys the fragile progress made by many communities — and our collective failure to empower millions of migrants whose talents are critical for sustainable outcomes is setting us back even further.
In Libya, the worst storm in recent history has destroyed cities, killed thousands of people, and left thousands more homeless and vulnerable. In the Asia-Pacific region, entire countries face existential threats as sea levels rise and typhoons rage. In North America and Europe, wildfires this past summer terrorized communities, making the air itself dangerous and unbreathable. These catastrophic climate changes compound existing conflicts or fuel new ones, and increase the rate of displacement of vulnerable communities.
The gap between those who are equipped with the resources to withstand these disasters and those who are forced to flee their homes grows by the day.
"We must act now and not wait until communities are displaced by a changing climate to build migration into the solution."
One in every eight people is on the move, and every one of those migrants has unique skills, experiences, and perspectives. Yet, far too often, they face barriers to meaningfully participate in and contribute to the places where they settle and from where they come. This resource is one that we cannot continue to leave behind if we aim to realize true sustainable development.
Migration and humanity
Human mobility has always been integral to human development. We know that migration continues to drive innovation. In the United States, big tech companies and almost half of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants. More than 220,000 migrant health care professionals keep the U.K. National Health Service afloat. Nearly 95% of Qatar’s workforce are foreign nationals. In 2022, the $647 billion sent in remittances from those who migrated abroad is fueling meaningful sustainable development, education, and opportunities across Africa and Asia.
Yet collectively we have failed to build migration into national and global strategies as part of a solution to the challenges we all face. And we fail to appreciate that when we do not do so, we leave communities worse off, especially the most vulnerable. If we are to put the Sustainable Development Goals back on track, we need a seismic shift in our policies, institutions, and opinions that unlocks the promise and power of migration.
Putting migration in the sustainable development agenda
First, United Nations member states must develop new safe, regular, and legal pathways to migrate, so that more people can most effectively access and contribute to the decent work and economic growth developing across the globe.
We should never incentivize people to resort to expensive, risky, and often deadly routes that only profit smugglers and drain communities of resources that can be put to much better use. Migrants will be — and already are — crucial workers filling critical global labor gaps and fueling the green and just transition to address drastic demographic and environmental change. But more work is needed to unlock the promise and potential of migration.
We must create ways to recognize the degrees, experience, qualifications, and competences of people on the move. We need to invest in building the skills of young people, women, returning migrants, and those displaced by war and famine. For example, by reducing the digital access gap, migrants can benefit from technology by being able to access information, learn digital skills, spread their ideas, and contact their loved ones. Ultimately, we must connect the dots between people and opportunities.
Second, we must ensure that the wages migrants earn and send home get to their intended recipients. We at the International Organization for Migration have seen countless examples of remittances being used to build resilience within communities, to reduce conflict, and to slow climate-induced displacement. Yet, today, high transaction costs of remitting money home means that companies make a profit off the backs of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
This money could enable communities themselves to reduce poverty, access education, build climate-sustainable housing, and live healthier lives in the face of the changing climate. Indeed, remittances finance development worldwide, accounting for three times the volume of official development assistance.
Finally, we must act now and not wait until communities are displaced by a changing climate to build migration into the solution. The human and financial cost of responding to disasters far outweigh the costs of investing in building resilience. We can use our collective data and knowledge to anticipate those communities that face high displacement risk as an impact of climate change and target interventions to build their resilience and increase their options to adapt. Recognizing that migration may be one adaptation strategy, the more we empower people to choose between staying or moving, the more we unlock the potential of migration.
The steps the global community must take are clear, and as the new director general of the International Organization for Migration, I am committed to leveraging the power of our member states in partnership with civil society and the private sector to create opportunities for migration that benefits all.
Empowering migrants, listening to and incorporating their experience into our policies while creating safe and legal pathways will accelerate progress toward rescuing the SDGs and ultimately shape a world where these are not just a vision but a reality.
By investing in human mobility, more leaders will realize that migration is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to seize. Migrants are driving the solutions to today’s — and tomorrow’s — challenges. There can be no sustainable development without migration. We cannot afford to wait.