By Anne C. Richard
People do not make the decision to leave their homes lightly, but sometimes circumstances compel them to move. Many Bangladeshis leave home to pursue opportunities in the wider world. And tensions, conflict, and discrimination inside neighboring Burma have, over the years, led people from that country to flee across its borders into Bangladesh, Thailand, China, and beyond.
These phenomena – migration and flight – are not limited to this region. For many years Bangladesh has taken a leading role in multilateral discussions on refugee and migration issues. Such discussions support international efforts to protect the most vulnerable people who have been displaced from their homes. Bangladesh’s leadership again was demonstrated this week when its government hosted the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD).
Around the world, record numbers of people are on the move. The issue of migrants and refugees has exploded onto the international agenda. It was a dominant theme at last September’s high level meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York and the concurrent Leaders’ Summit on Refugees.
This week, more than 700 diplomats, officials and representatives from civil society converged on Dhaka for the Global Forum – two hundred more than originally expected. Participants came together to better understand the root causes of migration, share best practices, forge partnerships, and discuss ways to solve thorny problems. We talked about practical steps countries can take to prevent the loss of life, and to crack down on the ruthless smugglers who prey upon desperate people.
In Dhaka, as in previous Forum gatherings, we discussed how to create and promote legal avenues for migration. Well-managed migration can, after all, benefit both sending and receiving countries. Families rely on remittances sent home by overseas workers and these remittances provide more resources to many of the world’s poorest nations than development assistance does. Employers abroad need the energy and skill that migrants offer. And in countries with labor shortages or aging populations, migrants can propel economies forward. Studies show that migrants usually contribute more to society – including by paying taxes – than they receive in benefits.
Most participants shared a sense that more must be done to aid and protect those who are forced to flee and that we all have a legal and moral obligation to do this.
Just as Bangladesh and the international community have worked together to address the plight of the Rohingya, the world must make protection of refugees a priority and devote the necessary resources to this challenge – including support to nations that host refugees. Vulnerable and impoverished migrants also need ways to travel safely and legally. Victims of human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and people scattered by natural and man-made disasters want a chance to live in dignity, to heal and to rebuild their lives.
Clearly nations have a sovereign right to control their borders. Dangerous and unmanaged migration risks lives, enriches smugglers, traffickers and criminal networks, and undermines public confidence in government.
Thoughtful nations, however, have found ways to develop border control and migration policies that protect citizens, asylum-seekers, and migrants while maximizing the benefits of legal migration.
This year’s GFMD also advanced discussions related to the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a document produced at the United Nations in September that calls for the development of two separate “compacts” on refugees and safe, orderly and regular migration.
The compacts hold promise for improving the way the world responds to the global refugee and migration crisis – if nations can overcome their reluctance to embrace these issues constructively.
This is why I believe that the GFMD—and other migration dialogues around the world–are essential. They bring countries together to address equally the challenges and benefits of migration.
Governments around the world have recognized that the time for action is now. Through pragmatic leadership – of the type Bangladesh has demonstrated by organizing and hosting the Global Forum on Migration and Development –both migrants and the societies that host them will benefit.
Anne C. Richard is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration