Migration was a key issue discussed at the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka from 11 to 14 November 2013, thanks to the work of the Ramphal Commission on Migration and Development. The Commission was represented at the Forum by Dr Alan Gamlen, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Migration Studies published by Oxford University Press, and author of the Commission’s First Report, published in 2011.
Dr Gamlen’s presentation, entitled ‘Re-connecting the Commonwealth: Managing Migration for Development’, began by underlining the ongoing importance of the Commonwealth as an enduring migration 'arena'.
Dr Gamlen argued that, at a time when the organization’s relevance and identity are often questioned, migration is a clear issue defining the Commonwealth. He said, “if it is true that Commonwealth countries are not foreign to each other, or that the organization is not only an organization of states but also an organization of peoples, then it is partly because Commonwealth countries are full of each other’s migrants.”
Citing United Nations data, Dr Gamlen pointed out that half of all migration to and from Commonwealth countries is from or to other Commonwealth countries, noting that the Commonwealth contains a fifth of all migrants in the world today, and demonstrating how the legacies of Commonwealth migration remain at the top of the political agenda in many Commonwealth countries.
The presentation also noted that migration is intrinsically linked to human development, although debates about whether the link is positive or negative remain contentious. Many development issues related to migration – such as brain drain, remittances, emigration from small island states, and environmental migration – are particularly acute in many Commonwealth countries.
Dr Gamlen concluded by summarizing the Ramphal Commission’s recommendations on how Commonwealth countries should respond to the challenges and opportunities of migration – by building migration management capacity, streamlining migration policies, helping migrants to share their successes, and enhancing international cooperation over migration.
Questions from the floor covered topics including the possibility of free movement as a solution to Commonwealth development problems, and how to deal with the issue of irregular migration. Dr Gamlen responded that Commission had found a general consensus amongst experts that migration policies need to balance the individual right to move against the right of groups to determine their own members.
He also noted that there was consensus that, so long as there was both demand and supply for it, migration would occur in spite of obstacles and restrictions, and that most experts therefore recommend ensuring adequate legal channels exist to allow migration to happen in an orderly fashion, and cooperating to regulate the international recruitment industry so that migrants are not vulnerable to smuggling and trafficking.
Dr Gamlen was joined by migration experts from the International Organization for Migration and civil society groups from Tonga and the UK-Somalian community. The session was attended by 40-50 leaders of civil society organizations from around the Commonwealth. Migration was mentioned in the final communique of the Forum.