The Future of Migration Governance

DHAKA – We live in a rapidly evolving, hyper-connected world, where goods, capital, and people are more mobile than ever before. But, whereas countries have shown a willingness to cooperate on exchanging goods and capital, the international community has shown little appetite for improving how it governs human mobility.

After the wide-scale persecution and displacement of people in World War II, world leaders took the bold step of crafting the 1951 Refugee Convention. In doing so, they relinquished a measure of national sovereignty – by accepting the principle of non-refoulement – in order to promote global solidarity toward refugees.

On the other hand, country leaders saw migration as something temporary that could be managed ad hoc, through unilateral or bilateral agreements primarily designed to fill specific labor-market needs in developed economies. In hindsight, it is now clear that this approach was inadequate for dealing with the upsurge in human mobility that came with global and regional economic integration.

When writing about guest workers in Switzerland, Swiss playwright Max Frisch once observed that, “We asked for workers. We got people instead.” He meant that migrants are not goods that can be exported or imported, and they should not be exploited as if they were. Migrants are human beings with rights, and they are motivated by a complex combination of personal desires, fears, and familial obligations. Many migrants are searching for jobs because they have missed out on globalization’s unequally distributed gains, and they see no future for themselves if they remain where they are; countless others have been displaced by conflicts or natural disasters.