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Home » Development, Migration, UN

‘No forced migrant left behind’

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 12:37

The mounting migration crisis in Europe cannot be resolved by short-term solutions. To tackle this urgent humanitarian priority, we need a four-pronged approach with an emphasis on resilience building and sustainable development. Magdy Martinez-Soliman, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations and Assistant Administrator, UNDP presents solutions that address the root causes of the problem

Magdy Official Final PictureThe images of lifeless three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned tragically with eleven others while attempting the sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos, have become the symbol of today’s human tragedy: a mix of war, despair, flight, death and a call on the rich world’s conscience. We watch as Syrian refugees trail across our TV screens, walking miles in the wintry cold through Eastern European countries to reach Germany. We read about the large numbers of minors from Central America trying to make it to the United States to live a better life with their parents. And we read – a lot lesser – about the ethnic Royingya people, who leave Myanmar to seek safe haven in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Migration is today a combined humanitarian and a development priority.

Around the world, people are on the move, looking for safer and better environments in which to live, find work and gain employment. This is not a short-term crisis, but a long-term trend. The journey is risky, and puts forced migrants in harm’s way. Hence there is a need for a humanitarian response, to save lives; and a human rights approach, to protect them from abuse and uphold their rights.

The number of people fleeing war and conflict is at a historically high level. Sixty million individuals are displaced; 95% within their respective region of origin.

Beyond those forced to move, many people also cross international borders for economic reasons, to join their families or to study.

Today, 232 million people are international migrants. (1)

Ad hoc and short-term solutions to cope with refugees and migrants are no longer viable – or at least, they will not solve the problem. Only resilience-building and sustainable development will tackle the root causes.

This approach depends on four key points:

Bridging humanitarian assistance and development

When dealing with refugees and migrants, there is an understandable tendency to focus international efforts on emergency humanitarian assistance. However, the majority of the events we are witnessing today are not short-term crises that can be resolved tomorrow. On average, a refugee or an internally displaced person spends more than 17 years in displacement. For this reason, it is essential to establish early recovery mechanisms that promote humanitarian assistance as part of an over-arching long-term development strategy from the outset.

This means that, in the event of crisis such as in Syria, peace-building and relief efforts must bridge development interventions from the start. An integrated and robust international response to displacement, bringing together humanitarian and development actors, is the only way forward. The international response must empower refugees and migrants by helping them access economic, labor, and human rights so that they can contribute positively to their host country, or country of origin upon their return.

Addressing the root causes of migration and displacement

While helping refugees, migrants, displaced persons and the communities that host them, we must also ask what prompts large-scale migration and address the root causes and drivers. It is important to recognize that migration is not an evil that needs to be limited—human mobility is a positive driver of sustainable development. However, people are often forced to leave their homes and search for safer, better places for themselves and their children. Migration should be a choice, not a necessity, and the international community must address the most pressing drivers of migration and displacement. Four key root causes that drive the increased levels of migration and displacement are: i) insufficient development gains; ii) protracted conflicts and violent extremism; iii) governance challenges; and iv)  the negative effects of climate change.

The solutions to these challenges reflect these root causes: i) more effective and democratic governance; ii) economic opportunity, especially for young women and men; iii) action to prevent and mitigate the effects of environmental degradation and climate change; and iv) conflict prevention and more effective recovery after economic, social, environmental and political shocks.

For this reason, development actors—including the United Nations—must redouble their efforts to tackle poverty, improve governance and support the rule of law, prevent conflict and support recovery, and protect the environment and reduce disaster risk. These interventions are critical to addressing the push factors driving migration flows today. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has stepped up efforts to deal with these issues by adopting a resilience-based development approach in Syria and other crisis afflicted countries. This aims to help people cope, recover and sustain their development gains in the short, medium and long term. It includes emergency employment schemes for displaced women and youth, and providing support to local governments in countries neighbouring Syria to provide refugees and host communities with essential services.

Harnessing the positive contributions of migration

The current focus on the ‘refugee crisis’ overshadows other important development aspects of migration. Migration can be a successful adaptation strategy, enabling people to find better and more sustainable lives by moving away from difficult living conditions. Migrants often send home remittances, which provide an important boost to the economies in their countries of origin. For example, in 2014, international migrants sent back US$ 583 billion to support their families and communities. Diasporas can also facilitate exports from countries of their origin, while returning migrants can bring back home skills and establish new business. In addition, migrants bring new expertise and knowledge to their country of destination. They support the local labour force and address the effects of population aging. It should not be forgotten that migrants don’t move from poor to rich countries alone. Today, countries in the Global South host 41% of all international migrants (2) and over 86% of the world’s refugees. (3) For this reason, we must also focus our attention on developing our countries as countries of settlement and transit, and support local and national governments in developing regions to harness the positive potential of such inflows.

Facilitating comprehensive migration management

The newly adopted ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ recognizes the positive contributions of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development. It states that: “migration is a multi-dimensional reality of major relevance for the development of countries of origin, transit and destination, which requires coherent and comprehensive responses.” Recognizing the shared responsibilities of countries origin, transit, and destination, it is important to formulate and implement comprehensive national and regional policy and institutional frameworks that promote people-focused migration management.

Such migration management needs to involve local and national authorities, migrants and refugees, regional organizations, as well as global level institutions, such as the United Nations (UN). Only then can we maximize the gains and minimize the risks associated with migration and displacement, and support medium and long-term development solutions.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in September by UN Member States urges parties to protect migrant workers, in particular women migrants labour rights, to implement planned and well-managed migration policies, and to reduce the transaction costs of migrant remittances. The SDGs present a framework for taking collective action to develop and implement long-term development solutions for the most vulnerable people, including refugees.

The new ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ applies to all countries, at all stages of development, and aims to help shape the response to the migration and refugee crisis by developing comprehensive policy frameworks for migration, and harnessing the long-term positive development impacts of migration. The key challenges for the next decade lies in the implementation of these SDGs and mobilizing the resources to support implementation.

At the recent Valetta Summit on migration, countries agreed to the creation of a EUR 1.8 billion EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. This will fund initiatives aimed at rekindling the hope of African youth through poverty reduction, youth employment, promotion of peace, good governance, rule of law, and respect for human rights.

At the same time, the fund will enable countries to include migration into development planning and facilitate the positive contributions of migrants to sustainable development. We need the commitment of actors in all parts of the world to reach the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. No one, including migrants or refugees, can be left behind


1. United Nations (2013). International Migration Report 2013, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

2. United Nations (2013)

3. UNHCR (2015) Global Facts and Figures in the social values they hold.