INTERNATIONAL MIGRANTS DAY 2019: Social cohesion is key to reaping the benefits of migration

Feature | 18 December 2019
Today, the number of international migrants stands at 272 million, and around 48 percent are women. These hard-working men and women play a vital and much-needed role in the global economy. Not only do they benefit the countries where they work but they arguably contribute even more to their homelands by sending back billions of dollars each year.

In 2018, Bangladesh became one of the top 10 remittance-receiving countries, with more than USD 15.5 billion remitted. As we mark the International Migrants Day (IMD) 2019, it is worth remembering the valuable contributions of migrants.

Every year in Bangladesh, over two million people enter the job market. National development plans and policy statements emphasise the importance of creating employment opportunities for all. But the domestic labour market can only provide a limited number of new formal jobs. Consequently, migration has become an important livelihood option for many Bangladeshis. Over the years, it has also become increasingly recognised as a driver for development.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which lay out the development agenda of the next decade, address the role of migration in the development process and the associated challenges. Goal 10 focuses on reducing inequalities within and among countries and highlights the need to look beyond negative depictions of migration in policy-making and the media. Other SDGs call for cultural diversity, non-discrimination and the prevention of violence in migration governance and ensuring decent work.

To strengthen migration governance, protect the rights and promote the welfare of migrant workers, the government of Bangladesh enacted the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act (OEMA) 2013 and Overseas Employment and Migrants Management Rules 2017. It also enacted the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2012, the Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Policy 2016 and the Wage Earners’ Welfare Act 2018. Bangladesh is also a party to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers.

The government had a leading role in shaping the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2018. The Compact calls on member states to cooperate internationally to facilitate safe and orderly migration through regular channels.

Despite widespread agreement among Bangladeshis about the general direction of national and global migration governance, significant challenges remain. These include the challenges posed by irregular migration and human trafficking; cultural, economic and emotional integration challenges abroad; and the struggle to reintegrate when migrants return home.

A key element in coping with these challenges and reducing the marginalisation of migrants—both abroad and after they return home—is social cohesion. The general aim of social cohesion action is to ensure that all people in a country, without discrimination and on an equal footing, have access to fundamental social and economic rights so that they can feel part of, and willingly contribute to, the community and society.

The GCM’s Objective 16, “Empower migrants and societies to realise full inclusion and social cohesion”, highlights the importance of comprehensive and coherent policy approaches across sectors based on partnerships to ensure the social and economic inclusion of migrants.

As states have reaffirmed the centrality of social cohesion by making it a standalone GCM objective, its effective implementation in the next decade will require a concerted effort at global, regional, national and local levels if social cohesion at home and abroad is to become a reality for Bangladeshi migrants.

The relationship between migrants and communities is a part of the migration continuum. Living in a new environment requires migrants to adapt to new cultures, social values, and customs. The extent to which migrants will, in turn, be progressively included in the society of their destination country also depends on the capacity of the receiving community to adapt and accept them.

The state, civil society organisations, development partners, media and communities can all play a significant role in protecting migrants’ rights, empowering them and generating social cohesion by adopting a “whole of government” and “whole of society” approach to the integration of migrants. The government has pledged to improve pre-departure information and better regulate the process that places financial burdens on migrant workers before they even leave the country. The state can also ensure that diplomatic representations in the countries of destination are able to provide appropriate services to migrant workers when they need it. We are encouraged to learn about some recent initiatives in this regard.

Particularly, for women migrant workers, additional measures are critical at home and abroad as they are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence, discrimination and abuse. Women need to be empowered, to have access to justice and to legal redress if they have experienced violations of their rights as migrant workers. In countries of destination, simple measures such as having access to mobile phone and being able to call upon their embassies at any moment will make a difference. Women who experience gender-based violence are not only immediately affected, they often get impacted by much longer-term conditions such as PTSD that take a toll physically and emotionally when they have returned home. They need social services and other support to address this.

These approaches incorporate recognition of human dignity and the rights of migrants to co-exist with host communities. They embrace diversity and evidence-based interventions, while rejecting perception-based prejudices.

As we mark the International Migrants Day, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders—nationally and internationally—to bring the Global Compact to life. We must protect the rights and the lives of migrant workers and ensure that migration works for all.

This is a joint statement made on behalf of the Bangladesh UN Network on Migration by Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh; Giorgi Gigauri, Chief of Mission, IOM Bangladesh; Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director, ILO; Steven Corliss, Country Representative, UNHCR; Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative, UN WOMEN; Sudipto Mukerjee, Resident Representative, UNDP Bangladesh; Asa Britta Torkelsson, Representative, UNFPA; Tomoo Hozumi, Representative, UNICEF; Sergey Kapinos, Representative, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia.