75 Years of the United Nations: Why Care?
By IOM Director General António Vitorino
The 75th anniversary of the United Nations takes place at a paradoxical moment.
The major issues on the international agenda – not least the COVID-19 pandemic – demand responses that require stronger international cooperation. In such times, it is not unreasonable to ask whether the principal body created for just such challenges – the United Nations – is still up to the task.
Answering that requires looking at how best to marshal often differing interests and pressures in search of compromise and a sense of the shared responsibility necessary to succeed: the world of today is infinitely more complex in so many ways compared to that of 1945.
Op-eds from UN officials are not always the most exciting. This is, in part, because multilateralism is a process, not a revolution; an exercise in keeping partners in the tent, not excluding them. The coming months, possibly years, will require strong partnership to ensure that the impacts of the pandemic, as well as other major challenges, such as climate change, conflict and displacement, are mitigated.
Too often, it is migrants, and others on the move, who experience those impacts most sharply. While migrants around the world epitomize the resilience, kinship and entrepreneurialism to thrive in the twenty-first century, they can often lack the social and financial safety nets that offer essential protection when calamity strikes. They are, too often, an afterthought for governments responding to crisis or, worse, scapegoats to blame for crisis.
We have seen progress. Over the last decade there has been a substantial change in the United Nations framework: migration was, for the first time, included as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (2030 Agenda) and, at the end of 2018, the General Assembly adopted the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
These two instruments confirm the undeniable relationship between human mobility and sustainable development. The Compact recognizes that only through cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination, is it possible to protect the most vulnerable migrants, including unaccompanied minors, women and children, especially victims of sexual exploitation and violence.
The Compact has been put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation of many migrants has been exacerbated, whether left stranded by border closures, or suddenly finding themselves without jobs, housing or means of material support. But it has also demonstrated its value: recognition that excluding migrants from COVID-19 response – including access to health services – will make whole societies vulnerable.
Many states have responded positively, reducing incidence of detention, regularizing those without legal status, and extending visas to allow people to stay. But still more countries have forcibly returned migrants, endangering their lives, or excluded them from both economic and health-related responses. As the UN Secretary-General has said, “None of us is safe until all of us are safe.”
To leave no one behind – the core goal of the 2030 Agenda – will require decisive intervention by both public authorities (at national and local level), civil society, and the private sector. An inclusive agenda of economic and social recovery will require leadership that counters attempts to exploit, harass and discriminate.
Economic and social recovery is intrinsically linked to global human mobility. Migration, and travel in general, must reconcile the need for cross-border movement with the public health concerns of communities of destination. This means that border control systems, transport and immigration rules will have to incorporate health requirements and establish the necessary infrastructure. Most importantly, it necessitates international cooperation, or risk a global travel system that excludes countries, and their people, from the benefits of mobility in order to create an illusion of safety.
As the UN system embarks on its next 75 years, the world is in a deeply uncertain place. The pandemic has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of our societies. But as much as it dominates the daily agenda, we cannot ignore the longer shadows that have been cast over international cooperation which have weakened affection for multilateralism.
The UN will be called upon to adapt, as it has over the past decades, to new realities and ensure the equity of the common solutions needed, whether global vaccination programs, or efforts to slow environmental degradation. But it will only be as effective as its Member States allow it to be.
If the UN did not exist, it would have to be invented. No government can address these challenges alone. Luckily, as the UN already exists, we will have to reinvent it to meet tomorrow’s challenges, faithful to the UN Charter’s values, and in pursuit of a future of peace, security and prosperity for humanity.