Commonwealth raises migration issues

Ministers and parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth have joined the Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, to highlight the challenges and opportunities faced by the irregular mass movement of people across the world.

They were speaking at the “Migration in the Commonwealth: International Movement and Human Rights – Challenges and Opportunities” event at the United Nations today (18 September).

Secretary-General Scotland said, “International migration is a complex issue and is affected by several factors. Political, economic, violent extremism and terrorism as well as climate change. The benefits cannot be unlocked unless deliberate and intelligently designed migration governance structures are put in place.”

Leaders agreed to increase national and international efforts to tackle the causes of irregular migration at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta last year.

Actions included the prevention of violent extremism and terrorism, combatting organised crime, ending human trafficking and modern day slavery, while reinforcing the respect for human rights.

“At a national level, it requires states to adopt, or amend, existing legislation that domesticates internationally agreed migration standards,” the Secretary-General said. “We need to make sure that while addressing irregular migration, brought on by violent extremism and terrorism, we protect the rights of the most vulnerable”.

So far, just 48 UN member states have ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 13 of these are Commonwealth member states and Secretary-General Scotland urged more countries to sign up.

Migration remains a big challenge for the Commonwealth:

  • 80% of refugees are hosted in the developing world
  • Pakistan hosts more than 1.7 million refugees, more than any other country in the world
  • African countries account for 40% of all Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
  • Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Somalia are crucial factors which lead to the increase in refugees in East Africa, particularly Uganda and Kenya
  • Of the more than 850,000 asylum seekers worldwide, nearly 200,000 are present in South Africa alone
  • East Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean and South Pacific regions of the Commonwealth are particularly vulnerable to migration based on the effect of climate change

Secretary-General Scotland reinforced the connections between migration and climate change. She said, “Migration flows, as a result of climate change, are expected to increase and this realisation is reflected in various international frameworks, like the Paris Agreement.

“Commonwealth states are particularly vulnerable to climate change-induced migration. Climate change vulnerability indices repeatedly list Commonwealth regions, especially countries like Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati, as the most vulnerable.

The event took place ahead of two key discussions around refugees and migrants over the next two days at the United Nations General Assembly.