On October 3, the tragic sinking of a vessel carrying hundreds of migrants off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa resulted in the loss of more than 360 lives. Those aboard came from Eritrea and Somalia, and were trying to make it to a better life in Europe. Coincidentally, this tragedy took place the day before representatives from around the world were due to convene at the United Nations in New York for the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD). There, world leaders who had gathered to discuss the benefits and costs of international migration had a very somber reminder of its dangers when desperate people feel they have no alternative to taking risks.
I had the honor of leading the U.S. delegation to the United Nations conference. Many nations were represented and robust discussions concluded with agreement that governments should explore ways to ensure that countries -- and the migrants themselves -- profit from the benefits of migration while working together to protect the world’s most vulnerable migrants.
Many speakers touched on the subject of the human rights of migrants. Governments agreed that we must respect the human rights of migrants, regardless of their legal status. I noted that it is possible for nations to protect the human rights of migrants while simultaneously securing their borders and enforcing immigration laws. We affirmed our commitment to protect people who are illegally trafficked across borders and cautioned against conflating them with people who pay to be smuggled or migrate without papers. People trafficked are victims and should not be penalized as criminals.
We agreed to build on what works -- by supporting the practical and life-saving work of the International Organization for Migration and supporting the Global Forum on Migration and Development, and existing regional migration forums. The United States also agreed to help lead with the Philippines a “Migrants in Crisis” initiative. We need to develop ways to help migrants caught up in conflicts or following natural disasters through no fault of their own, as happened in Libya in 2011 and following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. A full list of U.S. positions on international migration can be found here.
International migration is a growing trend and a major driver for economic development globally. Some 234 million people now live outside their countries of birth, sending home billions of dollars each year in remittances. They, like all people, deserve to live with dignity and take advantage of economic opportunities. U.S. participation in the HLD underscored our commitment to work with the international community to ensure the maximum benefits of international migration are enjoyed by countries and the migrants themselves while working to avoid the worst dangers of irregular migration -- like the tragedy of Lampedusa.
About the Author: Anne C. Richard serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.