The United Nations is not the fastest moving body in the world. It often takes decades for new ideas to become part and parcel of the UN agenda and worldview.
But yesterday, it appears that something new is happening — and it could have significance for millions, particularly in the parts of the world CNEWA serves.
It happened at a side event hosted by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, the International Catholic Migration Commission, Caritas Internationalis and the Center for Migration Studies. The event was for “ensuring the right of all to remain in dignity, peace and security in their countries of origin.” The concept emerging that is new and which kept surfacing at the event was the Right to Remain.
In sum: the event participants recognized that most refugees and migrants do not want to leave their homes and, when forced to, want to return as soon as possible. What results is the Right to Remain — which, the event stated, precedes the Right to Migrate. While migration is and remains a right, migration is often the less desirable solution. Thus it is recognized that for most migrants migration is not a free choice but is forced upon them by what the event called “Drivers of Forced Migration.” The major “drivers of forced migration” are: climate change, economic underdevelopment and internal conflicts.The Right to Remain stresses that people have the right to have these drivers removed, so they can remain in the native countries.
Clearly the issue of refugees and migrants has been a major concern at the UN. It is estimated that over 65 million people on the planet are in one way or another refugees or migrants (in what follows, the words migrant and migration will include refugees). The flow of these people from Africa and the Middle East has put European and other countries under tremendous economic, political and social pressures. In some areas the migration problem has bred nativist, xenophobic and often racist reactions which manifest themselves in different ways in different countries. For example, the rise of ethno-nationalist and rightist populist groups — political and otherwise — has been a concern for many.
The UN and Pope Francis have been consistent in calling for programs to help and accept people who are fleeing from their homes. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is responding to a situation of mass migration that has not been seen for at least a hundred years. While continuing to defend the right of people to migrate, however, the event recognized that migration must be: 1) sustainable, 2) manageable and 3) a choice, indicating that at present it is too often none of these. This recognizes not only the legitimate issues of the migrants but also of the receiving countries.
Recognizing the priority of the Right to Remain, the Holy See and its colleagues did not in any way question the right to migrate. However, it laid great emphasis on the fact that migration must be a free choice and that people have the right to have problems solved which are drivers of forced migration in their own countries.
Clearly at this point the Right to Remain does not enjoy the same legal standing in international humanitarian law as does the Right to Migrate. However, there is the recognition that migration must be sustainable, manageable and a free choice together with the indication and that such is not the case at present. This is leading to the the gradual emergence of a Right to Remain.
And, as I noted: this is something new and significant. It recognizes the rights of both migrants and receiving countries. And it provides a significant impulse towards making a Right to Remain one of the basic human rights.
Helping people to achieve a standard of living that is sustainable and human has been one of the major efforts of CNEWA. While CNEWA has not spoken of the Right to Remain or the Drivers of Forced Migration, in fact, almost all of our programs are geared to make it possible for people to remain in their homes in dignity, peace and security.