For only the second time in its history, the UN General Assembly will convene on October 3-4, 2013, to focus on international migration. It does so at a critical moment. New UN data show that the number of international migrants has grown from 175 million in 2000 to 232 million today, with Asia accounting for much of the increase. And the total is projected to reach 400 million by 2040.
Most of the growth in migration over the next generation is likely to continue to occur in the developing world. How to reap the benefits of migration for economic growth and development will be one of the key challenges for the 21st century.
The European Union has always had a strong commitment to migration and mobility and its single area of free movement, where more than 480 million European citizens can travel, study, work, and reside. The EU has addressed migration as an economic, social and foreign policy issue. After World War II, Europe's robust growth relied on millions of migrant workers, as is the case today in many emerging economies. EU expansion, in fact, has been the most successful immigrant integration policy in history. The European experience could have important lessons for countries around the world that are only now grappling with large-scale migration, and are looking for promising avenues for socio-economic development. Many emerging economies, such as Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia and Turkey, are dealing with large inward migration flows for the first time, and will need to build robust systems of migration and immigrant integration.
Europe, too, will need to further develop its migration policies. Despite all efforts to address labor-market needs by bringing more women into the labor force, raising retirement ages, and improving training, Europe will be in serious need of additional skills and talents from abroad for decades to come. Its yawning demographic deficit is simply too big.
Another bedrock of Europe's approach to growth and mobility is its commitment to human rights, which are at the core of the EU's values, and a "silver thread" in its relations with third countries. In engaging with its neighbors and other third countries, the EU is constantly aiming to strengthen migrants' access to rights -- including access to education and healthcare, the right to work, the right of free movement, the elimination of arbitrary detention, access to justice and equal treatment with nationals on employment issues. Empowering individuals to access rights is a winning strategy, both for effective migration governance and for sustainable development.
Putting in place a migration policy that will promote economic growth and ensure prosperity will bring serious challenges. We need to do more to make sure the newly arrived find their place in increasingly diverse societies. Adequate investments in schooling, housing, and training will be required. Public skepticism about migration, rising xenophobia, and swelling support for populist and far-right parties must be addressed. Europe's leaders have not created national narratives that embrace immigration. Politicians have a particular responsibility to lead the way in fighting racism and xenophobia; they must have the courage to tell the truth about the added value migrants bring, and explain that human mobility is a part of today's reality. Academics need to dismantle some of the worst migration myths, and show what role it really plays. Business leaders should step in and speak out about their labor needs -- and how economic growth depends in great measure on migrants.
The UN High-Level Dialogue offers a unique opportunity for the international community to find ways to organize and to govern ever-larger migration flows that protect the rights of migrants, reduce discrimination, and deter bad actors, like smugglers and rapacious recruiters.
We strongly believe that increasing international labor mobility should be a top priority for this debate. We should make much better use of the skills and talents migrants already have. And the EU and its Member States have a crucial role to play in driving greater international cooperation on migration and development. The EU can offer and share much of its experience on key issues of concern to the global community -- from promoting the protection of the human rights of all migrants and addressing their needs in life-threatening situations, to advancing regional and international labor mobility. None of this will be easy, but Europe brings long, and often hard, experience to bear on these efforts.