We've moved to a new site!

Join us at publicservices.international - for all the latest news, resources and struggles from around the world.

We are no longer updating world-psi.org and it will be progressively phased out: all content will be migrated to the new site and old links will redirect eventually.

UN High Level Summit on Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees

23 September 2016
© Flickr CC/Fotomovimiento

“States have the ultimate responsibility to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees.  We need to see this responsibility shared fairly, concretely and without delay”

This week, we gathered at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees in order to bring UN member states to strengthen international cooperation in equitably sharing the responsibility towards migrants and refugees. Representatives of civil society were invited as observers to this one-day high level summit.

The summit concluded with the adoption of the “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.”

We have mixed views towards the New York Declaration: On the one hand, there is hope in seeing UN member States reaffirming their obligation to human rights and humanitarian law. Though their treatment is governed by different legal frameworks, migrants and refugees have the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. The rights-based normative framework remains paramount.

On the other hand, we have our doubts and disappointment. The New York Declaration fails to make full and concrete commitments on responsibility sharing for refugees. There is still a lack of commitment to end the practice of detention in the determination of migration status; particularly among children. This is unacceptable given that more than half of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are children. The declaration allows for increased border control and management, and the prevention of irregular border crossings, which often violate the urgent need of refugees for protection. We know that many violations of migrant and refugee rights are committed at the borders because of the absence of safe passage. There is emphasis towards circular migration. Circular migration is temporary labour migration, which undermines rights-based sustainable labour migration policy and weakens the principle of non-discrimination in the treatment of workers.

Of deep concern to PSI is the overwhelming welcome given to the private sector to upscale their involvement in migration and refugee services. It also welcomes the World Bank and the multilateral development banks to provide concessional development financing for affected communities. Do they mean poor countries hosting the bulk of the refugees will have to take on loans to support their refugee communities, when their economy is already in debt? Or would these loans be given to the private sector, with the state having to bear the brunt of the failures of these so-called public-private partnerships?

As we all work together to address the situation, and welcome the dedicated efforts of many humanitarian NGOs and migrant civil society organisations in helping migrants and refugees, we cannot allow the phenomenon of large movements of migrants and refugees to be treated as a market opportunity for the private sector. We are strongly against the treatment of migrants and refugees as if they are commodities, or a source of cheap labour. States have the ultimate responsibility to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees, address racism and xenophobia, work towards inclusion and to ensure that migrants and refugees have access to quality public services and social protection. Human rights obligation lies on the State.

In addressing the large movements of migrants and refugees, our message is clear: States have the ultimate responsibility to protect the human rights of migrants and refugees. We need to see this responsibility shared fairly, concretely and without delay.



International migration remains as an important characteristic of globalization. People move for various reasons, but most of them migrate to access decent work and to improve their living conditions. In 2015, the United Nations estimates that there are around 244 million international migrants, of whom over 150 million (62%) are migrant workers. While labour migration can positively contribute to the economic and social development of countries, it also comes as consequence of the asymmetries in development between rich and poor countries, with workers struggling to find work elsewhere.

In the last five years, however, the migratory phenomenon has become more complex, with the continued increase of large movements of migrants, internally displaced persons and refugees.  According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2015, more than 65 million persons were displaced globally as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations. This is a 5.8 million increase from the previous year and the numbers are expected to rise.

Of the total number of globally displaced persons, 21.3million are refugees, of whom more than half (51%) are children below 18 years of age. Despite the heightened debate on refugee arrivals in industrialised countries, developing countries are already hosting 86% of the world’s refugees (13.9million), notably 4.2million in Least Developed Countries. Therefore, a fair and equitable sharing of responsibility for refugee protection and human rights obligation remains high in the global agenda.

Along with the humanitarian crisis, climate change and environmental calamities are also a serious threat. Between 2008 and 2014, 18.4 million people were forced from their homes due to climate-related disasters. It is estimated that by 2050, up to 1 billion people will be displaced globally by environmental disasters if carbon emissions and factors contributing to climate change remain unabated.

Serious factors such as extreme poverty, repressive regimes, asymmetries in development, climate-related disasters and conflicts will lead to more human displacement in the coming years.

The world is facing new and more complex set of challenges brought about by these factors. Labour migration remains very important, however now intertwined with the humanitarian refugee crisis and the threat of more displacement. This calls for deeper analysis, increased cooperation and enhanced approaches in order to continue to defend human and labour rights, sustainable development, social justice and inclusion.

The UN High Level Summit is merely a launch of a two-year process of intergovernmental and multisectoral consultations towards the adoption of two major Global Compacts in 2018, namely, the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Over the next two years towards the adoption of these two major Global Compacts, PSI will be engaging with the United Nations system. In particular, we shall work with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Secretariat, the International Labour Organisation, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights, and the various UN agencies and regional bodies with mandates on migration.

We will strengthen alliances within the trade union movement and civil society in upholding the rights-based approach throughout these global consultations. We shall collaborate with local authorities, such as cities and municipalities, who, together with our members, are at the frontlines in receiving migrants and refugees and providing them access to health care, education, shelter, registration of documents, water, sanitation, child care and social services, among others.

While we work together to address the impact of large flows of migrants and refugees, we must continue to address the root causes and drivers of migration, to improve economic and social policies, so that migration becomes an option, and not a necessity.

Therefore, our commitment to realise the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals remains crucial. Towards this, the role of quality public services in delivering the SDGs is indispensable.

Also see