Vision and Leadership Are Needed to Embrace Mobility and Diversity

Migration has shaped the history of humanity and is here to stay. Building fences, using various forms of violence, detaining on a massive scale, withholding access to basics such as shelter, food or water, and using threatening language or hateful speech, will not stop migrants from trying to cross borders.

Yet, globally, States attempt to "seal" borders, without offering viable avenues for legal migration: in this, States are destined to fail. States have paradoxically lost control over some borders they have been most trying to secure. Prohibitions and repressive policies, without regular migration channels for asylum seekers and much needed low-wage migrants, have only entrenched smuggling operations and underground labour markets, resulting in more deaths and human rights violations at the hands of unscrupulous recruiters, smugglers and employers.

A fundamental shift in the way migration is perceived and framed is needed. Migration governance cannot be about closing off borders and keeping people out. We must regulate mobility, by opening regular, safe, accessible and affordable mobility channels, promoting integration and celebrating diversity. By facilitating migration - as requested by the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development - instead of restricting it, we would move from a zero-tolerance attitude to one of harm reduction, thereby undercutting the smugglers, addressing the security concerns of States, and reducing human suffering.

Effectively regulating mobility requires States to develop a much more sophisticated conception of migration, taking into account all its benefits and challenges including economic growth, demographic changes, cultural diversity, social integration, personal freedom, and respect for the Rule of Law.

Present migration policies remain short-sighted, focusing on trying to stop migrants now, or extract as much labour for as little pay as possible, now. As they do for energy, agricultural or environmental policies, States need to develop a long-term strategic vision of how they see their migration and mobility policies and practices in a generation from now. Appropriate consultations in a robust public debate, inclusive of migrants' voices, will allow States to delineate a critical path, determine timelines and forge a shared understanding of the necessity of regular, safe, accessible and affordable mobility channels, which will reduce the vulnerability of migrants and empower them to fight for their rights. I see the Global Compact as a first step in this direction.

As a percentage of the world population, the rate of migration remains low, actually slowing between 2010 and 2015. What we have is not a "migration crisis", but rather a crisis of moral and political leadership, based on fear, fantasies, exclusion and sometimes outright bigotry. It is my hope that the UN Migration Summit ushers in principled leadership that will take the human rights of each and every person as the moral compass for all action.