E.g., 04/17/2014
E.g., 04/17/2014

The Berne Initiative: Toward the Development of an International Policy Framework on Migration

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The Berne Initiative: Toward the Development of an International Policy Framework on Migration

Today, one out of every 35 persons in the world is a migrant. International migration is now an established feature of contemporary social and economic life, with both positive and negative manifestations and opportunities. How can international migration be managed today and for coming generations to maximize the positive contributions of migrants and migration and to minimize potential negative effects?

Governments in all regions of the world are acutely aware of the growing importance of international migration and the fact that global population mobility is likely to increase in the near future. Recent reports, including those of the United Nations Population Division on migration statistics and that of the secretary general of the UN in his 2002 report, call attention to the likely growth of migration as a significant policy issue in years to come. While policies regarding international migration remain largely a matter of sovereign prerogative, and there are natural differences in migration interests between countries in developing and industrialized regions, the ever-growing number of migrants and complexity of migratory movements within and across regions highlight the need to develop a cooperative inter-state approach.

The authority to determine who may enter and remain in its territory is an important aspect of a state's responsibility to protect its own population. In exercising this sovereign responsibility, most states have pursued a unilateral approach to migration, accompanied by bilateral arrangements or agreements on an ad hoc basis. They have sought to manage migration in the interest of their population and of maintaining friendly relations with other states. As a consequence, different national migration policies and practices have evolved autonomously.

However, due to the transnational nature of migration and its relationship to issues such as security, social, political, and economic stability, trade, employment and health, governments increasingly recognize their shared migration interests and the value of strengthened cooperation and coordination to effectively manage migration. They are aware of the fact that migration cannot be managed effectively in the long term through national measures alone and that collective efforts, at the regional and global level, are required to strengthen national capacities.

Lack of Harmonized Migration Management System

There are many bilateral, regional, and multilateral agreements and conventions aimed at addressing aspects of migration, particularly in the human rights and humanitarian field and most recently in the protocols on smuggling and trafficking to the 2000 UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. Some of these rules work satisfactorily whereas others are not fully implemented. For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families will enter into force in the coming months, more than 10 years after its adoption, but is unlikely to have much impact in the near term in view of the fact that only countries of origin have ratified. In certain areas, no rules or guidelines exist to facilitate interstate cooperation on migration-related issues. In contrast to the international regime for the protection of refugees, there is no comprehensive and harmonized system regulating international migration through which the movement of people can be managed in an orderly and cooperative way. Could the development of an international policy framework on migration bridge this gap?

The Berne Initiative

It is with this in mind that the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees launched the Berne Initiative in 2001 to open a dialogue between governments on the full range of migration issues. The goal of the Berne Initiative is to establish a states-owned consultative process focused on obtaining better management of migration at the regional and global levels through enhanced cooperation between states. The Berne Initiative seeks to engage the active participation of states from every region of the world, representing a wide range of migration perspectives. It enables governments to identify their different policy priorities, and offers the opportunity to develop a common orientation to migration management, based on notions of cooperation, balance, and predictability.

Berne I

At the International Symposium on Migration ("Berne I") in June 2001, some 80 government officials and experts from international agencies, NGOs and academia reviewed current migration dynamics and trends, including demographic developments, the impact of globalization on migration, foreign labor demand, irregular migration, trafficking in human beings, the gender dimension of migration, and other relevant contemporary aspects of international migration.

The participants considered the diverging interests and perspectives of origin, transit, and destination countries, but also identified interests common to all states. It was emphasized that the root causes of migration are related to broader economic, social, and development issues. Regulated migration could contribute, among other things, to fostering economic growth, good neighborly relations, security, the rule of law, and cultural diversity. On the other hand, the participants noted that there is growing dissatisfaction with the way in which irregular migration is occurring at present, in particular regarding the increasing involvement of international criminal organizations in smuggling and trafficking. The undermining of state sovereignty and security by uncontrolled and irregular migration was identified as a major concern for many countries, both in developing and industrialized regions, with important financial, economic, social, and legal implications.

It was concluded that there is a need for a balanced approach to facilitate regular migration and prevent irregular migration, and that mutual benefits could derive from enhanced inter-state cooperation. The participants decided to take further the idea of developing a framework of guiding principles for the management of migration, through an ongoing and broadened process of consultations. It was clear that an effort to create new international law in this area, such as through the negotiation of a convention on migration, would not be productive and that the sharing of effective practices from one region or country to others would be a more valuable endeavor.

Following the symposium, regional consultations have been carried out in the context of conferences and workshops on the goals of the Berne Initiative in such diverse regions as Southern Africa through the Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa, in Central and North America through the Puebla Process, in Eastern Europe through the Budapest Process, in Western Europe, North America, and Australia through the Inter-Governmental Consultations on Refugee and Migration Policy, in East and West Africa, and in Istanbul through the training seminars organized by the International Migration Policy Program. The input and feedback received at these and other conferences and workshops has been favorable and supportive for both the concept of the Berne Initiative and the bottom-up consultative process it is employing. A majority of government representatives expressed the view that strengthening international cooperation on migration would be of benefit to all states and were in favor of pursuing the development of an international framework of effective practices for the management of migration.

Effective Practices for the Management of Migration

To be most useful and effective, such a framework should identify common interests and objectives of all countries of migration, taking into account their diverging concerns and needs as well as the interests and perspectives of other stakeholders such as nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, employers, and migrants groups. Of course, they should be based on existing international and regional norms, among other things, on the protection of the human rights of migrants, refugees, and displaced persons. In light of the fact that migration remains largely within the sovereign realm of states, a set of effective practices would need to give due regard to national decision-making and approaches and the need to maintain flexibility in order to adapt to future trends and policies.

As a first step, the Swiss authorities, in coordination with IOM, undertook the preparation and publication of an expert stocktaking on existing international law norms relevant to migration. The study International Legal Norms and Migration clarifies the existing legal framework and identifies gaps and grey areas not adequately covered by international law, but where the elaboration of effective practices might be useful.

To complement the expert study, IOM's Migration Policy and Research Programme (MPRP) has prepared a Compilation of Significant International Statements on Migration. This compilation focuses on nonbinding common understandings emanating from regional consultative processes on migration and selected international migration-related conferences. It contains significant substantive statements on migration matters from the declarations, plans of action, and other such conclusions adopted at the identified conferences, presented thematically for ease of reference. Taken together, these provide an indication of the migration subjects of concern to the international community and where consensus on the international level could be possible. To this end, it provides a tool for the identification of effective practices in migration management.

Further Steps of the Berne Initiative

In 2003, the Berne Initiative will continue the bottom-up approach pursued in 2002, as there is still a need for better understanding and identification of common interests in the field of migration. The Swiss Federal Office for Refugees is establishing a "group of interested countries" to help guide the further development of the Berne Initiative and serve as a roundtable for discussions on migration management. Its main role, however, will be the development of a nonbinding international framework on migration, focused on effective practices at the national and international levels. Countries with comprehensive migration policies, such as the traditional immigration countries, will find that their experiences will greatly inform the development of the framework. There is growing international recognition that effective migration policy needs to address such diverse issues as facilitated migration, protection of the rights of migrants, border control, the consequences of forced migration as well as its prevention, and possible linkages between migration and development.

Berne II

To open the discussion to a wider audience, the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees is planning two or more seminars over the course of 2003 in different regions of the world, preferably in developing countries, to identify effective practices in migration management.

A second International Symposium on Migration — "Berne II" — is planned to take place in 2004. Like the first Symposium on Migration in 2001, participation in "Berne II" will be broad-based and representative, with governments, inter-governmental organizations, NGOs and academics from each region of the world and from each migration circumstance.


The Berne process demonstrates the broad interest in continued joint efforts and cooperative approaches to enhance understanding of migration and to channel this dynamic and complex phenomenon to the benefit of migrants and countries of migration. At a time when states are recognizing the absolute need for more regular dialogue and co-operation on migration matters, the Berne Initiative constitutes an appropriate platform for cooperation and dialogue among countries of migration. It complements the work of the International Dialogue on Migration currently underway in IOM's governing Council and may eventually feed into the work of that forum.

The most important outcome of the Berne Initiative process will be a broad policy framework aimed at facilitating cooperation between states in planning and managing the movement of people in a humane and orderly way. This inter-governmental framework will offer a set of effective policies and practices for a planned and coherent approach to migration management based on existing legal principles, including those related to the protection of the rights of migrants. Without such a comprehensive approach to migration, states are faced with the increasing involvement of international criminal organizations in migrant smuggling and human trafficking, and undermining of the protection of individual migrants and their citizens. Most importantly, a comprehensive international framework on migration can assist states in fully realizing the positive contributions that migrants and migration can make to their societies.


Migration and International Legal Norms (Asser Press, forthcoming 2003), edited by T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Senior Associate of the Migration Policy Institute and professor at Georgetown University Law Center; and Vincent Chetail, lecturer at the Graduate Institute for International Studies in Geneva. This book identifies existing legal norms on migration issues. IOM published the analytical overview chapter as a separate volume in IOM's International Dialogue on Migration series in English, French, and Spanish (available in printed format from the Publications Unit, IOM Geneva, or from [email protected]. Also available in pdf format from www.iom.int).

See also Compilation of Significant Statements available from IOM/MPRP ([email protected]) and The Berne Initiative — A Global Consultative Process for Inter-State Co-operation on Migration Management, Information Note I and II providing more general information on the Berne Initiative also available from IOM/MPRP ([email protected]).