Transnational phenomena such as migration and development are among the key global challenges human society is facing today. Yet national policymaking across the globe currently falls desperately short of providing the necessary solutions to these cross-border challenges which tie together the destiny of people from across the globe.

In a world that is becoming increasingly polarized and shaped by national or private interests, working together politically on issues like migration and development is no easy task. Yet it is more necessary than ever before, requiring a strengthened multilateral system and commitment to global agendas grounded in principles of human rights, development, peace and justice.

2015 saw a new milestone for global governance with the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The adoption of the SDGs has helped drive a shift from an aid-driven development agenda for the global South to a universal agenda for all countries, broadening the development vision beyond poverty reduction and social sectors to include new objectives such as inequality, decent work, climate change and inclusive societies.

Migration and the SDGs

Recognition of the two-fold relationship between migration and the SDGs is increasing. Migration can contribute to the achievement of the goals, while achieving the goals will also improve the development impact of migration, and reduce forced or distress migration.

Yet migration doesn’t feature prominently in the SDGs, despite the increasing body of research pointing to the development contributions made by migrants and a specific target 10.7 to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and to implement planned and well-managed migration policies.

Migration is a cross-cutting issue across all of the Global Goals; from poverty reduction (SDG1), equality (SDG 5, 10), social protection (SDG1), employment (SDG8) and access to services (SDG3, 4, 6, 7), to sustainable consumption and production (SDG12) and inclusive societies (SDG16).

Reframing the global governance of migration

Here are three shifts in global governance needed to help realise the potential of migration as a driver of development and deliver on the SDGs:

  1. Mainstreaming migration concerns across all SDGs, paying particular attention to specific migrant sub-groups that are exposed to higher vulnerabilities because of gender, sexual orientation, age, race/ethnicity, religion, health status, education or legal status. For this to succeed, we need to break up silos in policymaking, rethink nationally-based social contracts and engage with migrants as important stakeholders. Policy action and decision-making needs robust evidence and better understanding about the complex relationships and interlinkages between migration and sustainable development. Informing these policy processes lie at the heart of MIDEQ’s work.
  2. Moving towards a rights-based approach. Migration management is the current dominant policy approach across the globe, with roots in a neoliberal policy framework where migrants tend to be seen as a cheap labour for host countries and remittances providers for origin countries. Instead, governments should empower migrants as development actors and move towards a rights-based approach, where all migrants are entitled to the respect, protection and full enjoyment of their human rights, regardless of their migration status. This requires implementation and support of human rights treaties, relevant ILO conventions and other instruments.
  3. Mobilising civil society actors, including migrant representatives and advocates, to hold politicians to account on the implementation of SDGs, the newly adopted Global Compacts for Migrants and Refugees and relevant human rights and ILO conventions. Coalitions between different stakeholders and support of national-level action through international organizations and actors have proven instrumental in establishing better policy frameworks which benefit migrants and the broader society.

The fact that the SDGs, the Paris agreement and the global compacts for migration and refugees have been negotiated and agreed upon in contentious times is a big achievement in itself. Yet global agreements and frameworks alone are no guarantee of policy reform and transformative change. There is a real danger that we remain, as so often, at the level of good intentions, promises, discourse and rhetoric. Progress on the SDGs is lagging behind, and a progressive agenda of climate and social justice is under attack, with migrants and refugees being all too often the scapegoats of people’s fears and insecurities.

MIDEQ aims to counteract these developments by engaging in critical knowledge production through working directly with academics in the Global South; communicating the evidence, and building and deepening alliances for progressive change. Such alliances are important cornerstones of a new global migration governance approach that is rights-based, developmental and participatory.


Katja Hujo is Senior Research Coordinator in the Social Policy and Development Programme of UNRISD and member of the Institute’s Senior Management Group. She is coordinator and lead author of the latest UNRISD flagship report “Policy Innovations for Transformative Change – Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and coordinated the international conference on “Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization”.