International Migrants Day: we need to change our thinking

By Simon Barrow
December 18, 2014

'Immigration' is set to be one of the most-used words in the run-up to the General Election -- at least if UKIP, large sections of the media and much of the current government has its way.

Notice that it's 'immigrant', not 'migrant'. People movements are multi-directional, but the people-blaming rhetoric beloved of those who hype and "immigration problem" ignores this -- as well as largely ignoring the real underlying issues that can make people movements forced and problematic (namely, vast global inequality, war, human rights abuses and climate change).

A different language, understanding and experience is needed around the whole question of migration. The churches are in a good place to help galvanise this, because they are both products of migration (willing and otherwise) and in touch with migrant communities. Their message is also (or should be) about hospitality, welcoming and shared transformation, not fear, scapegoating and locked doors.

Today is International Migrants Day. A chance for change (and a change of thinking and outlook) initiated within the global community.

On 4 December 2000, the UN General Assembly, taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants Day. On 18 December 1990, the General Assembly had adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

UN Member States and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are invited to observe International Migrants Day through the dissemination of information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, and through the sharing of experiences and the design of actions to ensure their protection.

At the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in October 2013, Member States unanimously adopted a Declaration in which they recognized the important contribution of migration to development and called for greater cooperation to address the challenges of irregular migration and to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.

The Declaration also emphasized the need to respect the human rights of migrants and to promote international labour standards. The Declaration strongly condemns manifestations of racism and intolerance and stresses the need to improve public perceptions of migrants and migration.

In his report to the General Assembly in October 2013, the Secretary-General put forward an ambitious eight-point agenda to “make migration work” for all: migrants, societies of origin and societies of destination alike. “Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family,” the Secretary-General said in his remarks.

Meanwhile, our associate Vaughan Jones' paper from the last General Election (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12034) showed cogently how political debates about migration in general (and immigration in particular) are distorted to revolve narrowly around two concepts: 'numbers' and 'control'.

In his paper, he shows why a broader view is essential. Situating UK concerns within an assessment of global challenges, it looks at the causes of human displacement and how to address them, attending also to the consequences of migration - including its significant benefits. Climate change, conflict, economic inequalities, community cohesion, and participation are among the 'drivers' highlighted.

Concluding with a positive alternative vision of people movements as a renewing factor in society, Jones' paper includes links to further resources and analysis from Ekklesia, and from a range of other NGOs and expert agencies / institutions.

* More on migration from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/migration

* "We need a positive approach to migration" - Ekklesia statement: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17659

* Migration: 'Why a broader view is needed', by Vaughan Jones (2010). http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12034

* 'Are immigration controls moral?', by Vaughan Jones (2005). http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/280405immigration

* More on the upcoming General Election from Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.