Making migration work

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Making migration work

by Michele LeVoy

2013-10-04-migrants.jpg

Arriving on the island of Lampedusa. The terrible day in October when more than 130 migrants died. This shows how difficult it is for them. (Sara Prestianni/No Borders Network under a Creative Commons Licence)

Most of us in Europe expect to go to school when we are children, to try to get the job of our dreams or to see a doctor when we get sick. Often we do not see that there are other people who cannot use the classrooms or hospitals, even in societies with the best health and education systems. This is the case for “undocumented migrants” - migrants with no official documents. They often cannot use essential services, although they have the right to them as humans.

From 3 – 4 October, at the UN General Assembly in New York there were important talks. The UN High Level Dialogue (HLD) on International Migration and Development is taking place for the second time in history. They talked about how the countries people come from and the countries people go to can both benefit from migration. They have the slogan ‘Making Migration Work’.

It is good progress that Heads of States and government officials can see the benefits of migration and how migration helps development. But how can migration work? And how can migrants and communities benefit when people only have access to services, protection and justice if they have the right paperwork and residence status?

We are in a crisis, but the European Union still needs workers in many different areas. But the migration policies do not fit with these needs. Workers who get visas often have to pay a lot for the visa. They get low salaries and have no trade union protection. And they are sent back to their country if they question bad working conditions. Their residence status depends on one job with one employer. It is easy for the employer to end the job and say he will tell the immigration authorities if a migrant worker asks for better conditions.

If they have no documents, workers usually cannot use services, protection or justice if they are treated badly. Many areas of work get rich from employing cheap, flexible workers, who cannot say anything about bad conditions because they could be sent home.

There are examples of progress. The International Labour Organisation Domestic Workers’ Convention (No. 189) began on 5 September 2013. This gives basic labour rights to all domestic workers. Ten countries have agreed so far.

But there have been reports recently on migrants with no documents living and working like slaves in domestic and agricultural work. This shows us the urgent need to make sure the workers really get these rights.

We also need to question border security and how undocumented migrants are made criminals. We have to look at the reasons why people migrate with no documents. We need to make sure all men, women and children living and working in Europe have equal treatment, dignity and rights.

We need to look at other problems too. For instance: bad visa and residence policies, bad administration, not enough protection, and no opportunity to get support or complain. In Europe today, if a migrant parent loses their job, their child can become ‘irregular’ and lose the right to healthcare or education. If a woman decides to leave her violent husband, she could become “irregular” and be sent back to her country.

Countries should make it possible for migrants to move for work and bring families together. They should bring in a permanent way of getting long-term regular migration status based on conditions such as years of residence, participation in education, and connections to country they are moving to.

Countries will benefit from this, so they should make sure that irregular residence does not stop people getting permanent residence status and citizenship (if they meet other requirements). We should have “family reunification policies” to let children join their parents when the parents had to leave them behind when they migrated. This will stop irregular and unsafe migration.

At the UN High Level Dialogue, they have discussed this and are trying to make it happen. We can only achieve social cohesion and development if governments of countries where migrants are going make sure they can access services, protection and justice. This must include migrants with no documents.

Watch the web documentary Undocumentary: (http://www.undocumentary.org/) to find out more about the real life of undocumented migrants in Europe. PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants) went to Spain, Cyprus, Italy, France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden to get the stories of migrants and people who work with migrants.

Michele LeVoy is Director of (PICUM) , a non-governmental international organization that works for respect for the human rights of undocumented migrants in Europe.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/blog/2013/10/04/making-migration-work/