December 18 is observed each year since 2000 as International Migrants Day to highlights the increasing migration in the world and draw attention to the human rights of migrants. According to the United Nations, the number of international migrants in the world has grown significantly over the past 15 years, from an estimated 175 million persons in 2000 to 220 million in 2010 and 258 million in 2017. As of today, nearly two thirds of all international migrants live in Europe (78 million) or Asia (80 million), followed by North America and Africa.
Although especially at UN-level migration has been widely recognized as beneficial for States and migrants – for instance, powering economic growth, reducing inequalities and connecting diverse societies – this new reality has given rise to many challenges in both regions of origin and destination. In some case, it has also become a source of political tension and human tragedies.
After the 2015 European migrant crisis, when around one million people arrived in Europe from the Middle East and Africa, in the Old Continent the debate around migration has led to ambivalent outcomes. On the one hand, Germany’s historic decision to open its gates to all Syrian asylum-seekers fleeing the civil war, a move that won Chancellor Angela Merkel cross-cutting praise but also sparked a political backlash in her ruling coalition; on the other hand, the more recent outcry from several European countries against the UN global compact on migration.
This nonbinding agreement has been formally approved in Marrakech, Morocco, by a total of 164 countries among the 193 UN members on December 10, 2018. It is the result of a broader international plan aimed at making migration more orderly and humane, as well as stopping human trafficking and workplace discrimination. UN Secretary General António Guterres hailed it as an “unprecedented opportunity for leaders to counter the pernicious myths surrounding migrants, and lay out a common vision of how to make migration work for all our nations”.
Regardless the fact that treaty’s supporters have repeatedly denied that it would interfere with countries’ sovereignty, critics accuse it of being a mechanism to allow more migrants into rich countries. As a result, a growing number of significant players have pulled out of negotiations. In December 2017, the US announced that it would have deserted the final summit in Marrakech and since then, many European countries have followed the American precedent. Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia all sit out the negotiations, while Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland decided to submit the compact to the vote of national parliaments.
In a time of surging anti-immigration sentiments and during a more general trend of skepticism toward global institutions, international law and human rights, the International Migrants Day remains a unique opportunity to reflect on the condition of those who choose to emigrate across the globe in the hope of improving their condition and that of their families. Moreover, it is equally important not to lose sight of the fact that even though more Western nations are becoming less open to immigration, the vast majority of migrants live and originate in African and Asian nations, namely countries that have a common interest in creating a more orderly approach to migration.