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Rights expert urges establishing UN body to address global migration issues

Global Migration Governance – the Emergence of a New DebateBy Alexander Betts (November 2010)
Unlike many other trans-boundary issues such as trade, the environment, and finance, migration lacks an easily identifiable institutional framework at the global level. There is no UN migration organization. However, this is not to say that there is no global migration governance. States have long recognised that they cannot address the challenge of migration without international cooperation. Consequently, there is a rich tapestry of multiple institutions that co-exist across the bilateral, regional, inter-regional, and multilateral levels, through both formal and informal structures. The emerging architecture is a very different kind of global governance to the formal multilateralism of the Post-1945 era. 

In this context, a debate has emerged within policy and academia on global migration governance. At the policy level, reports such as the Doyle Report (2002) and the Global Commission on International Migration (2003-5) have been published, and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) recently began an initiative called ‘Conversations on the Global Governance of Migration’.Within academia, a number of publications have started to address issues of global migration governance. However, despite these developments, the overall picture of global migration governance remains incoherent, poorly understood, and lacks an overarching vision.

25 October 2013 – Urging enhanced global migration governance, the United Nations independent expert on the human rights of migrants called today for the establishment of a single, rights-based international body, preferably within the UN system, to comprehensively tackle the myriad aspects of the phenomenon.


“The lack of a comprehensive framework has meant that global migration governance remains fragmented,” said UN Special Rapporteur François Crépeau, briefing the press at Headquarters in NY on his latest report, which he presented yesterday to the General Assembly’s social, humanitarian and cultural committee (Third Committee).
Joined at the briefing by Abdelhamid El Jamri, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, Mr. Crépeau said that currently, at the international level, migration was tackled by a disparate collection of agencies and experts, well-intentioned, but “different pieces all detached from one another.”
Most importantly, there is no single UN organization dealing with the issue within a coherent institutional framework, “despite the very, very good work of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is actually outside the UN system and whose constitution does not contain the words ‘human rights’.”
This lack of coherence has left migration issues for State-led, informal and non-binding processes, which as only added to the ad hoc nature and, in some cases, lack of transparency surrounding migration. “States retreat from binding United Nations-based frameworks, with preference for informal processes governing migration,” he said.
To remedy this situation, and to ensure that migrants are seen “first and foremost as human beings with human rights,” Mr. Crépeau urged strengthening global migration governance, and suggested the possibility of moving the Geneva-based IOM inside the UN system, with a revised, protection-based constitution.
Echoing his comments yesterday to the Third Committee, he stressed that more governance does not mean that States would give up sovereignty.

A Tale of Two Tactics: Civil Society and Competing Visions of Global Migration Governance from Below
 Attempts to discipline migrants can be observed within the emerging global governance of migration framework. In response, migrant organizations have increasingly worked to establish a counter-discourse to paradigms such as the „management of migration“. By drawing on International Relations Theory (IRT) and social movement studies, I define four “agency-achieving strategies” that civil society actors use to advance their rights-based understanding of migration: first, agenda setting, which includes framing as well as acting as norm entrepreneurs; second, the use and creation of political opportunity structures; third, alliance building (“islands of persuasion”) and, fourth, ‘inside-outside’-strategies. These four measures will be analyzed in light of the different tactics employed by two “clusters” of migrant organizations towards the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).


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