Cooperation Key to Ensuring Rights-based Migration in Asia-Pacific

18 December 2021

The rights of migrants across the Asia-Pacific region have seen considerable progress in the three years since the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) was adopted. However, much remains to be done, particularly ahead of the first international review in 2022 (International Migration Review Forum), to effectively face both longstanding and emerging challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. International Migrants Day on December 18 is a reminder to redouble our collaborative efforts across nations and with other stakeholders to ensure the rights and welfare of the region’s migrants and their families.

To mark International Migrants Day, the United Nations Regional Network on Migration for Asia and the Pacific calls for greater regional collaboration and partnerships at all levels to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). This will be essential to reap the benefits of migration for all and respect and protect human and labour rights, while ensuring gender- and child-sensitivity. 

The number of international migrants in the region has grown from almost 52 million in 1990, to 65 million in 2019, representing a quarter of the global international migrant stock of 272 million in 2019. Women account for 49 per cent. Further, there are millions of international migrants from Asia working and living in other regions, particularly in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). 

Much has been achieved in Asia and the Pacific since the GCM was adopted in 2018: six countries have stepped up as GCM Champion countries, namely Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand. A first regional GCM review in March found that some countries have agreed to tackle the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through return and reintegration assistance. Others extended the provision of stay and work permits. Phone hotlines have been established for migrants for COVID-19-related concerns, and there have been increased consular assistance and protection, as well as targeted support for migrant children and their families, which included those who remained in their countries of origin.

Some countries have in recent years accelerated their use of non-custodial alternatives to immigration detention. Others have pursued bilateral, multilateral and sub-regional agreements related to rights protection in the context of migration, while still more have worked towards the development of a regional rights-based framework on climate change related to displacement, migration and planned relocation. 

However, much more needs to be done. The Regional Network stands ready to continue providing support to governments and stakeholders at all levels throughout the region to uphold and promote migrants’ rights, and to ensure that the GCM commitments translate into real change and positive impacts on the lives of women, men and children in the context of migration. The Regional Network will continue to ensure meaningful stakeholder engagement, and collaboration with the GCM Champion countries on a series of consultations to discuss priorities, identify key challenges, lessons learned and good practices, and forge common solutions to accelerate safe, orderly and regular migration, including in the context of COVID-19. 

As we mark International Migrants Day on December 18, celebrate the third anniversary of the adoption of the GCM, and look ahead to the first International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) in 2022, the Regional Network urges Member States and all stakeholders to strengthen regional cooperation and partnerships for safe, orderly and regular migration, including by taking the following steps:

  • Promoting a human-centred, gender-responsive and child-sensitive recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that includes all migrants, returnees, and their family members;
  • Supporting vaccine equity and explicitly including all non-national populations in COVID-19 vaccine programmes by tackling administrative barriers so that all migrants, regardless of status, can safely access vaccines and treatment without fear of immigration enforcement;
  • Ensuring equal access to essential services for migrant populations, including in response to gender-based violence;
  • Ensuring fair and ethical recruitment and decent working conditions for migrant workers who form a large proportion of migrants in Asia and the Pacific;
  • Increasing affordable access to safe, regular and accessible pathways for migration including for decent work, child protection, family reunification, education-related opportunities, and on humanitarian grounds;
  • Enhancing resilience strategies to address the adverse effects of climate change;
  • Investing in data collection on migration for evidence-based discourse and policymaking, while upholding migrants’ right to privacy and protection of personal data in line with international human rights law;
  • Publicly recognising and promoting awareness of the valuable contributions of migrants to communities and sustainable development to create a more positive evidence-based narrative surrounding the role of migrants and build public consensus on the need for safe, orderly and regular migration;
  • Engaging in South-South cooperation on the implementation of the GCM at country-level; and
  • Making concrete and actionable pledges in advance of the IMRF to act towards the tangible realization of GCM objectives and guiding principles.

National governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, trade unions, the private sector, and other relevant stakeholders, as well as UN entities, must all work together to ensure that no one is left behind and that migration-related policies fully respect labour and human rights and are truly gender-responsive and child-sensitive. No country can address the challenges and opportunities of migration alone.

Media contacts

Shima Islam
Regional Communication Specialist
UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific
Tel: +66 (0)23569407


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