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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Keynote speech at United Nations High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development
United Nations High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development / New York
3 October 2013
Migrants can make very powerful contributions to our societies. But these contributions can only be made if we are ready to recognize and use the potential of migration.
Seven years ago, the UN Secretary-General urged participants in the first High-Level Dialogue to build a common understanding—based on evidence—of how international migration can bring benefits to all.
I believe that, thanks to the excellent work of many of you who are gathered here in New York today, we have accomplished just that.
I believe there is sufficient evidence that allows us to recognize the enormous potential that human mobility can bring to our world.
For we all know that migration is the fastest, most efficient way to help people escape poverty. We all know that remittances are so effective because they go directly to households; there are no middlemen.
We all know that migration - and in a broader sense, human mobility - is a vastly under-used engine for international development and economic growth. It is a little bit like owning a Porsche and always driving it in first gear. We need to shift gears.
For me, finding ways to unleash migration’s enormous potential for the benefit of migrants and our societies is the main goal of this High-Level Dialogue.
Increasing international labour mobility should be one of our top priorities. This involves, primarily, removing unnecessary barriers and facilitating movement.
While fully understanding the need for security, there is nonetheless much more we can do to promote legal channels for mobility.
There is, for instance, space to adapt our visa policies. Why do we make it so difficult for bona fide migrant workers to have access to our countries, even once they have proven to be no threat to anyone?
Why do we ask migrants to produce all sort of costly papers and documents just to prove that they are indeed to be trusted?
Why do we still allow unscrupulous recruitment agencies to operate?
We will need to change those policies - and we can.
Promoting international labour mobility will also mean making the best use of the skills and talents of migrants. We need, therefore, to launch an international campaign to harmonize the recognition of labour qualifications.
There are many other goals to which we must commit if labour mobility it to become a reality. Social and pension rights, for instance, must become truly portable—you should be able to take them with you, just as easily as you place a credit card in your wallet.
And, of course, we must integrate migration policies into our development policies, establishing the appropriate legal frameworks and administrative structures.
I think we can all understand the importance of these measures. But time has come to move from rhetoric to action. Our Dialogue today allows us to start that process.
Let us work together to identify the key elements that will constitute a common agenda for international mobility and development, and let us define a roadmap that will allow us to fulfil this agenda.
The European Commission is ready to contribute to this on a scale that reflects the EU’s place in the world and the importance of migration and mobility to our Member States. And I want to contribute personally to this endeavour as well.
I therefore intend to meet in the coming weeks with the UN Special Representative for Migration and Development to help shape an agenda.
A concrete agenda for international mobility and development ties in very well with the priorities already set by the Global Forum for Migration and Development, which will next meet in May in Stockholm.
Let's build on the excellent work already done by Peter Sutherland and aim to present am operational agenda when we meet again on Stockholm next spring. The task ahead of us will not be simple.
To be successful, we will need to establish the right environment and address the challenges head-on.
Protecting the rights of migrants needs to be our overarching concern.
Seven year ago, as a member of the European Parliament, I fought relentlessly to improve human rights for all. Ever since I took up the post of European Commissioner four years ago, I have continued that struggle.
I see it as my task to contribute as much as I can to the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants.
And the EU is actively pursuing the protection of those rights, both internally and in our external relations.
But more needs to be done. Too many migrants are still to be found in jobs that are dirty, dangerous, and degrading; too many suffer human rights violations, discrimination and exploitation.
The European Commission attaches great importance to the Domestic Workers Convention. Improving the working conditions in personal services is a key objective. Therefore the Commission is urging EU Member States to ratify this instrument as soon as possible. Some EU Member States have already done so, but let me use this occasion to repeat our call and express my hope that all Member States will have ratified this Convention by 2015.
But protecting human rights is also about ensuring that migrants have access to health facilities, that they have adequate housing, and that their children have access to the education system. More needs to be done here too.
And let me underscore the need to fight human trafficking – to protect the most vulnerable in our societies—our modern-day slaves.
In order to succeed, we will definitely need to support of our citizens.
We should recognize that especially in times of economic crisis, people are uneasy about their future and that of their children. Anti-immigrant politicians are gaining ground. And in times of crisis, xenophobia, racism and increasing discrimination are never far away.
In difficult times, stirring up emotions is easy to do. These emotions, which can spiral out of control, are too often directed against those who look different than us, who speak another language or who are simply newcomers.
We need to counter these dangerous trends. We need to promote an environment that gives migrants the opportunities they deserve. This can be done only if we own up to our responsibilities: politicians, academics, the business sector, and the media.
We all need to contribute to changing attitudes. Politicians have a particular responsibility to lead the way in fighting racism and xenophobia; they also must have the courage to tell the truth about the added value migrants bring and that human mobility is a part of reality of the world we live in.
Academics and policy makers need to dismantle some of the worst myths and show what role migration really plays.
We need business leaders to step in and speak out about their labour needs and about how economic growth depends in great measure on migrants.
And we need the media to give migration a human face, to give migrants a voice and to help move society away from stereotypes.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I strongly believe that the evidence we have today allows us to speak out loud and clear on the need for migration to be integrated as an enabler in the post-2015 development framework.
I, however, also am convinced that we should try to take decisive and more immediate steps.
Migrants enrich our societies. They have done so always and always will. Let us work together to reap the benefits that a well-managed global migration policy can bring. Not doing so is simply not an option.
Thank you for your attention.