Advancing development by improving human mobility

Posted On February 3, 2021

Godfrey Lado works with his colleagues to organize cultural events in Amsterdam. Godfrey was born in Sudan, and fled to the Netherlands during the war. Migrants increasingly contribute to developing new businesses, fostering trade and innovation, and investing in social initiatives which benefit both their communities of origin and destination. Photo: UNDP/Lena Mucha


Last year was one many of us would like to forget. There was little to cheer as we watched decades of hard-won economic, health, and education gains lost, along with millions of lives to COVID-19. Yet in the face of such despair, there were silver linings. Among them was the recognition of the critical role that migrants play in responding to the pandemic.

It was not just that the first approved COVID-19 vaccine, which uses groundbreaking medical technology, was developed by a company in Germany founded by Turkish immigrant Özlem Türeci, and Uğur Şahi. We also applauded as migrants played a visible and vital role in providing health care to the sick, or in keeping food on our tables. As we consign 2020 to the dustbin of history, let’s not forget migrant populations, especially as we plan our recovery.

Migrants increasingly contribute to developing new businesses, fostering trade and innovation, and investing in social initiatives which benefit both their communities of origin and destination.

Yet migrants often suffer from a lack of inclusion in the economies and societies of their host countries. Discrimination and xenophobia, a lack of employment opportunities and social safety nets, as well as gender and social protection gaps, lead to divisions that harm everyone and put a brake on progress.

Whether a person leaves home by choice or by force, without anything but the clothes on their back, they always carry the possibility to contribute to human development. Just as we know we cannot defeat COVID-19 unless everyone is involved in vaccination and recovery plans; efforts to eradicate poverty, improve health and education, and promote gender equality and decent work cannot succeed if we do not include migrants.

Innovative partnerships for sustainable development

It’s a pivotal moment for policymakers as they review a year when human mobility came to a historic halt and look ahead to see how to get the world moving again so development is back on track. While the world faces dramatic challenges, it also has improved tools to help.

The Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) is a space for discussion and consensus building among governments, through interaction with civil society, the private sector, municipalities and young people. This year participants focused their discussions on the future of mobility, looking specifically at how they can weave innovative partnerships for sustainable development.

The Forum has played a key role in moving the migration and development agenda forward. It paved the way for safe, orderly and regular migration targets to be included into the Sustainable Development Goals and to be reinforced in the Global Compact for Migration. A recent survey of 111 governments showed that 54 percent of them have introduced such policies.

We are looking to governments for coordinated plans to reopen borders when it is safe, and expand legal pathways for migrants, especially for low-skilled workers. We need to tackle discrimination and xenophobia, improve access to livelihood support and social safety nets, and close gender and social protection gaps to foster greater socio-economic integration and more cohesive societies.

In 2020, migrants dug deep into their savings to send money home to ensure their families could send their children to school, feed themselves and get the medicines they need. Governments can make that money go further by reducing the costs of remittances.

UNDP is ready to help decision-makers move beyond COVID-19 recovery towards the 2030 Agenda of eradicating poverty and achieving worldwide sustainable development.

By supporting governments with the knowledge, skills, and partnerships to tackle conflict, climate change, inequality and exclusion, we can reduce the factors that force people from their homes. Through job opportunities, supporting entrepreneurs, providing skills training and developing digital innovation, we can foster economic and social integration.

And by harnessing the contribution of diasporas, their knowledge and resources can drive development in countries of origin. Since 2015 in Moldova UNDP has worked with the diaspora who have contributed US$2.6 million towards 82 community projects benefitting 316,000 people.

Under the spectre of the pandemic, the Decade of Action to deliver the Global Goals started off on the wrong foot. By developing an ambitious agenda where migrants and their communities are fully integrated into the post-pandemic solution, we can get back on track. We will all benefit from it.