VIth International Forum on Migration and Peace

The role of the International Labour Organization in the current trends and challenges of migration and refugee policies and programmes

Statement by Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO's Conditions of Work and Employment Programme, to the VIth International Forum on Migration and Peace, Rome, 21 February 2017

Statement | 21 February 2017
Migration concerns all continents and is growing into a crisis of global proportions. It affects those looking for better working and living conditions, but also men and women, the elderly and children, who are forced to leave their homes because of conflict or natural disasters.

A global problem requires a global response with shared global responsibilities. Closing borders or erecting walls is not the answer. We, international organizations, need to work more effectively together and with States to devise long-term and sustainable solutions.
But we face a major paradox in achieving this shared goal. At a time when the benefits to be reaped from migration are stronger than ever because of demography and because of differential employment conditions and opportunities, the political and social barriers to migration are growing almost in proportion.

Migration is a controversial issue in many industrialised and middle income countries, and is becoming a source of growing concern also in developing countries. We need to find more innovative and effective ways to facilitate the integration of migrants and refugees in host societies. Without successful integration, a negative view of migrants and refugees takes root and grows.

Decent work is the most effective pathway towards economic and social integration for migrants, and the most effective protection for refugees. The ILO’s mandate, since its creation almost 100 years ago, is to promote decent work for all workers-whether nationals, migrants or refugees. This is anchored in the belief that “labour is not a commodity” and that social justice is key to maintaining peace. Work is not only a source of livelihood, it also gives people a sense of common purpose and belonging, when it is carried out in conditions of freedom, security and dignity.  

Most migration today is about seeking work: according to ILO estimates, 150 millions of the 235 million migrants are workers, with 10 million migrants seeking to go abroad through legal channels each year. About 44% of migrant workers are women, most of whom work in the services sector.

In the case of asylum seekers and refugees, it is war or conflict that forces them out of their country, but, eventually, they also end up looking for jobs to meet the basic needs of their families. They do so, irrespective of whether legislation allows or forbids them to work. And this is becoming increasingly the case because of the protracted nature of refugee crises.

A fair labour migration Agenda is an indispensable component of long-term and sustainable solutions to the current migration crisis. This means a fair sharing of the prosperity that migrants help to create, and to build migration regimes which respond equitably to the interests of countries of origin and destination, migrant workers, employers and nationals. With gender equality as a cross-cutting concern, key principles and components of the ILO’s Fair Migration Agenda are:
  • Making migration a choice and not a necessity, by creating decent work in countries of origin
  • Ensuring fair recruitment and equal treatment of migrant and refugee workers to prevent exploitation, including child labour and forced labour, and level the playing field with nationals
  • Forging stronger linkages between labour migration policies, which often respond to national security considerations and not to actual labour market needs, and employment policies
  • Having Ministries of Labour, trade unions and employers’ organizations involved in policy making on labour migration market integration, in cooperation with Ministries of Interior and Ministries of Foreign Affairs. No single Ministry can alone deliver integration. The voices of business and workers’ interests, together with those of public institutions responsible for labour migration policies and matching skills to labour market needs, can bring new perspectives to the process of change.
  • Countering the negative perception of migrants and refugees, by showing that bringing migrants and refugees in productive jobs does not only help them but also the economies and societies that host them.
  • Fostering genuine cooperation between countries, within regions and between regions. This cooperation begins with a renewed and deeper dialogue on the establishment of robust and fair governance mechanisms for labour migration.
Fair recruitment and cooperation between countries and within regions will be among the key points to be debated in this year’s International Labour Conference in June 2017. Indeed, most migration today happens within regions, and the South of the world now hosts 42% of all migrants. More legal channels are needed or we will see a growing informal economy, where already half the world’s workers are now trapped. Regional Economic Communities (RECs) have an important role to play in this regard together with their member parties.

An effective response involves also stronger cooperation between State and international organizations and among international organizations themselves. In this regard, the ILO is contributing to the two Global Compacts on migration and on refugees, which will be finalized by and adopted by the UNGA in September 2018.

In particular we will do our part in shaping the cluster on decent work and labour mobility of the GC on migration.  We have the relevant international labour instruments, the institutions and actors of the real economy and the tools and good practice guidance for this purpose. The recently adopted Guidelines on far recruitment will help prevent abuse of migrant workers throughout the recruitment process, and to reduce the huge costs that many migrant workers, especially the less skilled, bear to work abroad and make them and families seriously indebted.  We have also developed guidance for skills recognition, so as to improve job-skills matching, and social protection of migrants.

As for refugees’ integration, the Guiding principles on refugees’ access to labour markets are meant to guide State action to help refugees obtain regular work, which gives them purpose and dignity. Barriers to adults working has led in some cases to rising child labour. A new MOU has been signed with UNCHR and a joint workplan is being finalized to help inform the new GC on refugees. Work and jobs are the connection between humanitarian aid and development assistance.

ILO’s approach on the ground seeks to help migrants, refugees and nationals with productive employment, and the local community must be included if our goal is real progress on development, stability and peace.