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Migration in Latin America and the Caribbean at the service of development and human rights

Op-ed by Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary.

16 August 2016|Op-ed

International migration has been a constant in Latin America and the Caribbean. Over its history, the region has witnessed major migratory movements that have played a key part in shaping its societies. Emigrants in the region number almost 30 million, representing just over 4% of the total population regionwide, but an even higher proportion in several countries.

As a social phenomenon, migration has had a huge influence in the region’s ethnic and cultural make-up and well as in social and economic modernization, the demographic transition, internal displacements of the population and their geographical distribution, the adoption of legal principles and the democratic institutional framework.

Contemporary international migration raises many concerns and offers both opportunities and challenges. In Latin America and the Caribbean in particular, it has taken on increasingly complex dynamics.

The international community’s recognition of the close triad formed by migration, human rights and development is manifested at the global level in the holding of two High-level Dialogues on International Migration and Development (in 2006 and 2013), the existence of increasing coordination among agencies, funds and programmes, and the establishment of a Global Forum on Migration and Development. The recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals include targets that make specific mention of migration. On 19 September 2016 the United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting to address large movements of refugees and migrants.

ECLAC has pioneered the study of migration issues with proposals for policy approaches and agreements, drawing attention to the importance of the triad mentioned and supporting the region’s active role in global debates. In its proposal on development and equality, the Commission argues that migration is neither a problem nor a threat, but instead a common good that can contribute to lessening inequality and reducing asymmetries in a globalized world. In this connection, ECLAC provides technical cooperation to the countries in the study of migration and the adoption of agreements, consensuses and policies on migration-related matters.

ECLAC views the rights-based approach as essential for examining any social or economic process. In the case of migration in particular, our concerns encompass the vulnerability of children and adolescents (especially unaccompanied minors), the situation of women who suffer discrimination and different types of abuse, those who find themselves migrating in irregular situations  (without due process), victims of smuggling and trafficking (despite the obligations existing under the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime—the Palermo protocols), repatriated migrants (including alarming cases of forced return), and those seeking refuge (who face enormous risks to their dignity and well-being).

At the same time, we are convinced that migration processes in the region need to be studied using reliable and comparable sources of information, such as census data.

International migration in Latin America and the Caribbean shows up obvious needs for protection, as well as opportunities. Education is needed to inform the discussion on the rights of migrants, in order to place it in a perspective of sustainable development with equality.   

Alicia Bárcena

Executive Secretary of ECLAC