The number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly over the past fifteen years reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000. Never since the creation of the United Nations has international migration and large-scale refugee movements been higher on the international agenda or a subject of more intense debate at national, regional and international levels.
Two conflicting narratives are colliding in today’s world. Some argue that migration and migrants are bad for national economies, as well as a threat to law and order, culture and traditions, and even national security. Under this view, migrants unfairly compete for jobs, drive down wages and educational standards, drain national resources and services that are already in scarce supply, are more likely to commit serious crimes, while constituting a pool of potential terrorists. The growing vilification and criminalization of migrants and refugees in public discourse and national policies is a clear manifestation of this view. The other narrative is that migration is an integral part of the human condition and that migrants and refugees bring valuable human capital. Rather than being criminals or potential terrorists, migrants and refugees make positive contributions to economies and societies when enabled and empowered to do so. Migration can be harnessed as a positive force for sustainable development by filling gaps in labor markets; injecting fresh talent, expertise, dynamism and innovation; and enriching national culture and society with diversity. It can be managed only through better analysis and action on empirical evidence regarding migration – not just emotions and political rhetoric – and in closer cooperation between States, be they ‘sending’, ‘receiving’ or ‘transit’ States or a combination thereof. The way migrants and migration are treated in the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is a good example of this view.