For the first time in its history, the United Nations this year hosted a major multilateral discussion devoted exclusively to global migration — a subject that, for years, was considered taboo in international diplomacy.
Conceived and scheduled more than two years ago by the General Assembly, September's UN High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development focused on ways to maximize migration's development benefits and to reduce its negative impacts.
The meeting brought together 130 countries' representatives, with officials from 16 UN agencies and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Representatives from nongovernmental organizations, civil society, and the private sector met in July to give their input to the meeting. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the event by lauding representatives' decision to attend. "By being here today you show yourselves willing to tackle migration's challenges through dialogue and cooperation, rather than antagonism and isolation," he told them.
Last spring, Annan chose Peter Sutherland — former attorney general of Ireland and director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and chairman of both BP and Goldman Sachs International — to lead the initiative as his Special Representative on International Migration and Development.
The dialogue reflected the concerns of sending, receiving, and transit countries: remittances, brain drain, labor migration, diasporas, migrants' human rights, irregular migration (including trafficking and smuggling), and social and economic integration. The tone of the meeting was consistently constructive. The feared North-South tensions did not surface, and nearly all participants agreed on the value of continuing multilateral consultations.
Although some have dismissed the High-Level Dialogue as all talk and no action, it may yet be the beginning of a new era. Nearly all participating countries said they would like to continue a dialogue on migration and development but that such a forum should be state-led and should only promote cooperation, not produce binding agreements.
Belgium has offered to host the first meeting of a "Global Forum on Migration and Development" in July 2007, and Annan has extended Sutherland's mandate. The forum is expected to take the next steps in building a practical framework for cooperation among states to strengthen the positive links between migration and development.
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