The G20 Leaders’ Declaration on Migration

Blog Series: What remains of the G20 Hamburg Summit?

Photo: Trail

International migration has effectively entered the G20 agenda only two years ago. When Turkey hosted the Antalya Summit in November 2015, it had also recently become host to several million refugees, mostly from Syria – some of whom were moving on to the Balkans and further to Western Europe. Accordingly, the Antalya Communiqué describes the “ongoing refugee crisis” as a global concern and uses rather specific language in calling for burden-sharing among states and more support for refugees, including through additional humanitarian and development assistance and third-country resettlement.

Nearly one year later at the Hangzhou Summit in September 2016, G20 leaders mainly referred back to their Antalya Declaration and reiterated their call for more burden-sharing, humanitarian assistance and development funding. Importantly, they also promised to “address forced displacement in 2017 with a view to developing concrete actions” and to examine migration issues.

Hamburg outcomes lack concrete actions on migration

Unfortunately, the Hamburg Declaration fails to deliver on these promises. Admittedly, the Declaration does talk about both, migration (understood as international labor migration) and forced displacement (meaning forced migrants and apparently excluding individuals displaced within countries). However, in spite of devoting fully five paragraphs to migration and displacement, G20 leaders fail to develop any “concrete actions”. Leaders “look forward to” the outcome of the UN process towards Global Compacts on Refugees and for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – which is far weaker language than one might have hoped for, given the important role of the G20 countries in negotiations at the UN. G20 leaders also request annual updates on “trends and policy challenges” from the OECD in cooperation with other international organizations – which seems almost like an abdication of responsibility for setting their own policy priorities.

The absence of “concrete actions” is unfortunate because there are pressing needs in several policy areas related to refugee protection and labor migration. G20 leaders represent the largest and richest economies of the world and could have helped to make significant progress. The following three examples illustrate concrete actions that are not only necessary, but also could have been initiated at the Hamburg summit.

Opportunities for stronger commitments did exist

First, funding for humanitarian assistance for refugees falls short of global needs, as identified by UNHCR. G20 leaders could have committed their countries to filling that funding gap; literally, a few billion US dollars would go a long way. Furthermore, G20 leaders could (and should) have committed to allowing a much larger proportion of their national contributions to be used flexibly wherever refugees’ needs are greatest – rather than requiring funds to be spent on particular refugee situations.

Second, developing countries that host refugees in protracted situations need more development assistance as they struggle to provide public services (including education and health care), infrastructure, and economic opportunities to refugees and residents alike. G20 leaders could have committed to providing additional funds as well as initiating the necessary culture change among their aid agencies to ensure that humanitarian and development assistance providers cooperate fully to meet refugees’ needs.

Third, “safe, orderly, and regular [labor] migration” depends, above all, on expanding access to the labor markets of high-income countries, including G20 countries. Although countries individually determine their immigration policies, a concrete commitment by several G20 countries to provide more opportunities for legal immigration – say, for immigrants with vocational skills but not necessarily academic training – would at least begin to shift incentives from irregular towards regular migration.

One may argue that the G20 Leaders’ failure at their Hamburg Summit to deliver on the promised “concrete actions” does not matter much because the United Nations, rather than the G20, is the relevant global forum for negotiating the future international governance of migration. Indeed, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants of September 2016 represents a major step forward as it sets out the rights of migrants, the responsibilities of countries of origin, transit, and destination, and principles of burden-sharing. The Compact on Refugees and the Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration that are expected to be adopted in 2018 will likely consolidate the progress already made.

However, just like the broad principles agreed by G20 leaders at Antalya and Hangzhou, the framework established by the New York Declaration for the international governance of migration must be translated into specific policies (or “concrete actions”) to become effective. At the end of the day, progress depends on enough national governments committing additional financial resources and political capital to protecting refugees and expanding labor market access for immigrants. Unfortunately, at their Hamburg Summit, G20 leaders have missed an important opportunity to lead the world in tangibly improving the international governance of migration. Luckily, all is not lost: Ongoing negotiations at the UN on the two Compacts will soon create fresh opportunities for national governments to agree on concerted action to put the agreed framework into practice.


Previous blogs that appeared in the series on the outcomes of the G20 Hamburg Summit:

A step to the side: the G20’s climate dance, by Brigitte Knopf

Did the G20 Hamburg Summit advance 2030 Agenda implementation?, by Imme Scholz and Clara Brandi

What remains of the G20 Hamburg Summit?, by Axel Berger

From Taormina to Hamburg: A fruitful G7-G20 relationship?  by Franco Bruni

Empowering women means building a stronger, more balanced, more inclusive and fairer global economy, by Paola Subacchi

The G20 After Hamburg, by Roger A. Fischer

Image: Matthias Lücke

Matthias Lücke is a senior researcher and member of the management board at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, an adjunct professor at Kiel University. As co-chair of the T20 Task Force on Forced Migration, he is directly involved in the T20 process advising the German G20 presidency.

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