People’s participation in high-level decision-making spaces on regional migration

Source: Mídia Ninja

Advocating for the transparent and inclusive implementation of commitments made under the June 2022 Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection is the main opportunity that donors and large international organizations have to support participation. Twenty governments across the region signed this hemispheric-wide, non-binding agreement – which outlines a common regional approach to migration policy – at a parallel event to the 2022 Summit of the Americas. 

Its commitments revolve around promoting principles of safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration, strengthening integration policies, expanding access to international protection, and coordinating emergency responses to large cross-border movements, among other topics. 

Civil society organizations have denounced that the elaboration of the Declaration was a secretive process led by the US, largely in bilateral conversations with ministers from Latin American countries. People on the move and their organizations were excluded from the discussions prior to the signing of the agreement. 

Grassroots or local NGOs representing marginalized people on the move were also absent from panels at the IX Civil Society Forum to the 2022 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, due in part to the burdensome registration process for NGOs as well as the high costs associated with participating in that city.

As a response, non-governmental coalitions led parallel events that amplified the voices of marginalized groups. The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights held an “Inter-American Forum against Discrimination”, featuring panels with Black, brown, and LGTBQ+ activists. At another event, “From Deterrence to Integration: Civil Society Voices on Migration Policy Challenges and Good Practices in the Americas”, the US-based, Indigenous-led CIELO (Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo) and Haitian-led Haitian Bridge Alliance shared their concerns about anti-immigration policies that have led to human rights abuses. 

For its part, the People's Summit featured 250 organizations representing unionized workers, migrants, women, Black and Indigenous peoples, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Its panels shared the common theme “nothing about us without us,” denouncing that, at the Summit, government representatives agreed on policies that affect us in crucial ways largely without the input of the peoples of the Americas. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, local and national migrant- and diaspora-led associations and organizations have involved themselves in the regional migration policy agenda by engaging in the various regional and sub-regional cooperation mechanisms that provide a coordinated humanitarian response to displacement and humanitarian situations. 

Likewise, in recent years, many international agencies and humanitarian aid organizations have developed tools to ensure the participation and inclusion of local and national NGOs in displacement settings. To different extents, they have applied these to their projects and programming in local and national contexts. Nevertheless, progress concerning participation in high-level regional and international decision-making spaces and processes is much slower. 

What is meaningful participation in regional policy debates?

In high-level transnational decision-making spaces, meaningful participation mechanisms would, among other things, aid the democratization of the knowledge production process of national, regional, and international policy and advocacy agendas and standards, so that these reflect people’s main needs, interests.

Recently, a broader, more institutionalized movement has emerged from within the humanitarian aid and development sectors that pushes for the redirection of funds by donors to national, smaller NGOs; increased engagement and leadership in responses; more equal and participatory research and evaluation processes that actively involve the peoples benefiting from development and aid programs and policies; and meaningful participation and influence in international policy debates

That said, many of those initiatives do not work for people who are on the move. Yet, in the field of forced displacement and migration, the international community of development and aid agencies, organizations, and governments have made broad commitments to enable the political participation and engagement of migrants and refugees in international cooperation spheres

First, initiatives that do work for people on the move would systematically involve them as protagonists in a conversation that looks more like a two-way dialogue than an exercise in extracting knowledge from them. Second, they would try to reflect, to the extent possible, the enormous ethnic, cultural, racial, and intersectional diversity of people on the move in our region. Third, they would welcome a variety of viewpoints, even if they disagree with donors’ priorities and interests. And fourth, they would truly include the contributions of people on the move in  resulting policy documents and standards. 

In the Americas, participation can also help increase the profile of human rights violations experienced by marginalized groups on the move who have unique needs and vulnerabilities not systematically and effectively addressed by governments. Persons and populations who live at the intersection of displacement and migration and one or more marginalized identities include women and girls, survivors of gender-based violence, LGBTQIA+ persons (particularly transgender women), unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, Black people on the move (including Haitians and Sub-Saharan Africans), and Indigenous peoples. 

The grassroots, smaller, local, and less-resourced organizations traditionally representing these groups have fewer opportunities to participate in high-level decision-making processes and spaces, especially those taking place in (expensive cities in) the Global North, so special measures need to be put into place to enable their engagement. 

How can large international agencies and other donors contribute to meaningful participation?

Besides the provision of direct and flexible funding, large international agencies and other donors are well-positioned to make room for local and national NGOs’ leadership, including in the design of participation mechanisms that put intersectionality into practice to accommodate the needs of marginalized groups.

As Amina Jane Mohammed, former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, explains, “sometimes people don’t know what to do with the space you are giving them, so you have to build their confidence and help them until they’re comfortable.” This can involve building the capacity of these organizations to do policy advocacy in high-level policy spheres; helping to create community with other organizations already involved in policy communication or advocacy efforts; and improving access to collective mental health wellness programs, among others.

When it comes to the implementation of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, donors can support organizations that advocate for sustained consultation with migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, returnees, host communities, diaspora-led NGOs, and the grassroots; organizations doing policy communication to disseminate the outcomes of the implementation of the commitments; and organizations lobbying before signatory states to publish the texts of bilateral or multilateral agreements and any new national policies emerging from these agreements in plain and multiple languages. 

Note: The author thanks for their generosity the International Refugee Assistance Project and all the organizations and activists with whom she discussed the issue of meaningful participation during and after the Americas Summit and who allowed her to use this information.