Migration is the permanent relocation of people’s livelihoods, whether under duress or of one’s own accord. People have always moved temporarily or permanently to other regions. Where they migrate to depends, for one thing, on their own capabilities and, for another, on the political and legal framework conditions as well as on the respective granting of protection.
Significance and risks of labor migration
Migration can make a positive contribution to sustainable development. For many poverty-stricken countries, it is of considerable economic importance. In 2017, remittances – money sent home by migrants – totaled $596 billion, according to the World Bank, $450 billion of which went to developing countries. These remittances make a decisive contribution to the livelihood of the poor as well as to economic development: they account for a quarter of gross domestic product (GDP) in Nepal and Tajikistan, for example, and even for a good third in Kyrgizstan. What is more, developing countries reap the benefits of the know-how transfer from and investment potential of their diaspora. Many migrant workers are given the opportunity to improve their professional qualifications, social status and standard of living, enabling them to contribute directly to (local) development, when they might return later. The benefits of migration are, by the way, mutual: host countries benefit from manpower, know-how, innovation and international networking, as well as from tax revenue, social security contributions and cultural diversity.
Today, roughly a quarter of a billion people currently live outside their native country; 70% of them are from the Global South, more than half of whom have migrated within the South. But in order for migration to hold any viable future prospects, the living and working conditions in the destination country must meet human-rights standards. In reality, many migrants are victimized by various forms of exploitation and discrimination – whether during recruitment at home, in transit or in their new workplace. The standards of the International Labour Organization – especially its migration-related conventions – are important building blocks for “fair migration” and need to be applied worldwide.
Millions of people find themselves forced to leave their native region due to violent conflict or political persecution, extreme poverty, exclusion or exploitation, or the effects of climate change or natural disasters. This forced migration is always the upshot of human rights violations. In 2015, the UNHCR counted some 65 million refugees worldwide who have been forced to escape political persecution or violent conflict. 40 million were displaced persons within their own country (IDPs). The Middle East and Africa have taken in two-thirds of these forced migrants. Of the relatively small number of refugees seeking to reach rich countries, many fail to make it. A good 1.3 million of the 3 million asylum seekers worldwide sought asylum in Europe in 2015. Furthermore, regional migration flows in many places are driven by the effects of climate change. It is estimated that there are already more than 20 million “climate refugees”.
Protection and aid
Conditions are particularly precarious for those forced to flee violent conflict, who, on their way towards an uncertain future, are unprotected from systematic exploitation en route or in rudimentary reception camps. First and foremost, they need humanitarian aid and protection in their countries of origin and on the road, and then, for the longer term, safe residency status as well as social and economic prospects in the host country.
Within the framework of the international migration dialog, Switzerland is to cooperate in finding solutions for the vast majority of refugees in the regions of origin or the surrounding areas. In parallel, Switzerland can and must advocate more strongly for the non-violent conflict resolution and demand the enforcement of human rights and the fundamental principles of good governance, especially against authoritarian regimes and rulers in fragile states.