Regional Migration Agreements

Between 2007 and 2009, UNESCO published the book Migration without borders (in English, French, Spanish and Russian – Chinese version forthcoming), which called for rethinking migration policies and for promoting reflection around the free movement of persons. This scenario relies on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that 'Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country' (article 13-2) – thus raising the issue of the relationship between the rights to emigration and immigration. It further fits into a broader notion of globalisation in which not only goods, information, money and ideas circulate widely – but also people. 

On this basis, UNESCO is now working on regional migration agreements. The overall objective is to put the free movement of people on the agenda of regional organisations. While free movement may be difficult to achieve at the world level, it may indeed be a much more realistic policy option at the level of regional organisations. The purpose is therefore to ensure that free movement arrangements are considered and discussed by stakeholders within the regional organisations - and possibly advanced. An encouraging sign is that, throughout the world, several regional organisations are engaged in discussions and policies surrounding the liberalisation of the movement of people within their membership. This can take different forms, from the simple removal of visa requirements to facilitate intra-regional travel to the more comprehensive authorisation to settle down and work in any country of the region. Well-known examples include of course the European Union, but other regions are also concerned (ECOWAS, SADC, Mercosur, the Andean community, etc). Other regions, by contrast, are opposed to free movement (NAFTA and ASEAN, notably).  

The purpose of UNESCO’s activities in this field is to highlight the potentially positive effects of free movement, while also recognising the negative effects, whether real or perceived, and suggesting ways to address them. Positive impacts include: fostering regional integration by enabling human beings to circulate and exchange; promoting circular migration; accompanying and complementing the liberalisation of trade; addressing the fears and misrepresentations surrounding migration by enabling the progressive establishment of facilitated migration schemes. 

The strategy to achieve this is through a partnership with the Centre for Regional Integration Research (CRIS) at the United Nations University at Bruges (Belgium). In a first step, a major worldwide study on attitudes toward free movement among regional organisations was launched in 2009. Some thirty regional organisations were contacted and investigated in order to understand their approach toward free movement, the measures taken so far, their successes and achievements, the obstacles encountered and the steps ahead. Building upon this first mapping study, selected experts will be contacted to establish a network on migration agreements within regional agreements (planned for 2010). Through this network, detailed research will be conducted on the actual situation of free movement agreements and on the obstacles to the establishment of migration agreements. In a third step, policy recommendations will be elaborated and circulated through policy briefs and workshops with relevant stakeholders (in 2011).

The expected outcome of the project will be that regional migration agreements and the possibility to establish freer movement are not only better known and understood by all stakeholders within regional organisations, but are also concretely put on their agenda and discussed by relevant actors in the field of migration policy.

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