The year 1994 was a defining moment in the recent history of multilateral cooperation on migration.6 The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo produced the first comprehensive agenda and call for global action to deal with international migration. In particular, Chapter 10 (“International Migration”) of the ICPD Programme of Action urged States to cooperate on issues ranging from promoting the development potential of migration to respecting the human rights of migrants, combating human trafficking and reducing irregular migration.7 It remains one of the most comprehensive texts on international migration adopted by the international community to date.

Following Cairo, the issue of international migration and development has been a sub- item with biennial periodicity on the agenda of the second Committee of the General Assembly. Major UN conferences and their outcome documents, including the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), the fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), the UN Millennium Declaration (2000),8  the 2001 Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance), and the World Summit Outcome (2005) all have addressed relevant aspects of international migration.

Yet throughout the 1990s and early 2000s a basic tension remained between the desire of some States to retain the sovereign right to determine who may enter and remain in their respective territories and the growing desire of others for rights- based and multilateral approaches to migration governance. Repeated calls by some Member States to convene a world conference on international migration remained unanswered, and it took almost a decade before the ICPD recommendations were acted upon within the UN system.

The lack of consensus among Member States about how and whether to move forward on the global migration agenda is in part exemplified by the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW). Adopted in 1990 after more than ten years of discussion, it took another 13 years before the ICRMW entered into force in 2003. As of 3 May 2013, only 46 States were party to the Convention, none of which were high-income destination countries.

At the same time, the need for better dialogue and cooperation on migration issues had become clear, as no State could effectively manage the full complexity of migration on its own. In the 1980s and 1990s, regional groups of governments began creating informal, non-binding regional consultative processes on migration (RCPs) to discuss common, “neighbourhood” migration challenges, in some cases expanding these to interregional dialogue processes.

A number of further developments occurred at the turn of the millennium, reflecting the need for more multilateral, interdisciplinary dialogue on migration:9

(a)   A global consultative process, the Berne Initiative, was set up in 2001 by Switzerland to manage cross-border migration through enhanced understanding and inter- State cooperation. Its outcome document, “International Agenda for Migration Management,” was in some ways a precursor of the GFMD.

(b)  In 2001 IOM Member States initiated the International Dialogue on Migration, a multi-stakeholder forum for migration policy dialogue, to allow themselves and IOM Observer States, as well as international and non-governmental actors, to analyse current and emerging issues in migration governance.

(c)   In his 2002 report on “Strengthening of the United Nations: An agenda for further change” (A/57/387), then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan identified migration as a priority issue for the international community. As a follow-up, Kofi Annan convened a working group which recommended in its final report in 2003 the establishment of the Global Commission on International Migration.

(d)  In 2003 the General Assembly agreed to devote a high-level dialogue to international migration and development in 2006. In contrast to a migration conference, which would require negotiations, it was determined that the outcome document of the high-level dialogue would be a non-binding “Chairman’s Summary.”

(e)  In 2003 the Geneva Migration Group was established by ILO, IOM, OHCHR, UNCTAD, UNHCR and UNODC as an informal consultative body for the heads of agency on cross-cutting migration issues.

(f)   In 2004 the International Labour Conference of the ILO adopted the Plan of Action for Migrant Workers, which is based on international labour standards, including, specifically, for the protection of migrant workers,10 and supports a rights-based approach to labour migration while recognizing labour market needs. The centrepiece of the Plan of Action is the non-binding Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration, approved by the ILO Governing Body in 2006. Both address migration and development and provide good examples of multi-stakeholder cooperation at the global level (governments and workers’ and employers’ organizations).

(g)   In 2005 the Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM) proposed six global principles for action and the establishment of a high-level group of agencies involved in migration-related activities to guide and implement a more coherent global system of migration governance.11

In response to the recommendations of the GCIM, Kofi Annan appointed Peter Sutherland to be his Special Representative for International Migration and Development (SRSG) and encouraged the Geneva Migration Group to expand into the Global Migration Group (GMG). The new inter-agency group was formed to promote the wider application of international and regional instruments and norms relating to migration and strengthen inter-agency coherence.12

The first UN General Assembly High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development was held on 14–15 September 2006. As a result of the UN HLD, the GFMD was created as an informal, non-binding, voluntary and State-led process to move forward the global dialogue and cooperation on migration. The GFMD was to operate outside the UN system, but closely linked to it through the SRSG. The GFMD process assumed a similar model to that of RCPs, which are also informal and voluntary in orientation.13

Framing the migration debate in the development context has helped reduce some of the heat around migration issues and open the way for more integrated and coherent policymaking. Since 2006, more evidence has been gathered about the potential benefits of migration for both developing and developed countries, which has allowed migration to be seen increasingly as a potential win-win option for all involved. Today, in the global discussions on redefining the global development agenda post-2015, migration is viewed as a potential “enabler” for equitable, inclusive and sustainable social and economic development, to the mutual benefit of affected countries, and the human development of migrants, their families and communities, if governed and supported appropriately.14

Today, the agency-led GMG and  State-led  GFMD  are two of  the most  important global  mechanisms  for  multi-stakeholder  dialogue  and  cooperation  on  migration and development which can underpin a more coherent global migration governance system. The GFMD is the largest forum for governments outside the United Nations to discuss migration and development issues, while the GMG brings to the table universal principles, the diversity of perspectives and the technical support necessary for such a complex, cross-cutting subject. As such, the GMG is the pre-eminent multilateral partner of the GFMD.

  • 6     Note that international labour migration had already been discussed for many years at the ILO, leading to the adoption of Convention No. 97 in 1949 and No. 143 in 1975, which (as well as their accompanying recommendations, No. 86 and No. 151) have been ratified by 49 and 23 States, respectively, as of 29 May 2013. Discussions on the UN Migrant Workers Convention started in 1979, and, in 1985, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Individuals who are Not Nationals of the Country in Which They Live (A/RES/40/144), available at www.
  • 7      See Chapter 10 of the ICPD Programme of Action at
  • 8      It should be noted, however, that the Millennium Development Goals do not make particular reference to migration.
  • 9      For further information, see: UNFPA and IOM, “Towards the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development: From the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development to the Present,” background paper for the 2013 High-level Dialogue Round Table, available at php/hld-series (2012); and United Nations, Compendium of Recommendations on International Migration and Development: The United Nations Development Agenda and the Global Commission on International Migration Compared (New York, United Nations, 2006), available from UN_GCIM_ITTMIG.pdf.
  • 10   The standards referred to here are contained in the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97) and the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143).
  • 11   See: Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Action (Geneva, GCIM, 2005). Visit the GCIM website ( for more information.
  • 12   The GMG today comprises of the following organizations: ILO, IOM, UNCTAD, UN DESA, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNITAR, UNODC, UNOHCHR, the UN regional commissions, UN Women, WHO and the World Bank. For more information about the GMG, visit
  • 13   See also: I. Omelaniuk, Global Perspectives on Migration and Development: GFMD Puerto Vallarta and Beyond (New York, IOM and Springer, 2012), available from