LONDON – As the Mediterranean migrant crisis has escalated over the past year, the spotlight has been on national governments' policies, some of which have been generous, others callous. But non-state actors – individuals, nongovernmental organizations, and private companies – have been just as important in responding to the crisis, often literally coming to the rescue of refugees and migrants.
International cooperation among governments is necessary to help displaced people, but it is not always sufficient. The private sector provides critical support for migrants as they travel through legal pathways and integrate into new communities. So, to bolster this support, the Private Sector Forum on Migration and Refugees will be holding a Concordia Summit in New York this month to devise new, practical solutions to migration-related challenges.
Some of the world's most vulnerable people are bearing the brunt of the international community's indecisive response to the migrant crisis. Worldwide, only one-tenth of the people who need resettlement have been offered a place to call home, and half of all migrants are hosted in only ten countries. With public concerns about immigration fueling xenophobia and nationalism in the West, some countries are closing their borders.
But that is not the whole story. The migration crisis has also unleashed a wave of sympathy and humanitarian activism in some of the locales most directly affected by new arrivals. On the Greek island of Lesbos last year, more than 50,000 individual volunteers and NGOs such as Sea of Solidarity and the Hellenic Rescue Team, which this week won UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award, assisted exhausted migrants arriving from their traumatic sea crossing. The privately funded Migrant Offshore Aid Station, founded by a young Italian-American couple in Malta, has saved thousands of lives since it was launched in 2014.
After migrants arrive, NGOs – such as Refugees Welcome, established by three young Germans, and Startup Refugees, the brainchild of a pair of TV celebrities in Finland – help them find accommodation and employment opportunities, or even launch new businesses. Similarly, private-sector skills-matching initiatives, such as LinkedIn for Good's "Welcome Talent" program in Sweden and Talent Beyond Boundaries in Jordan and Lebanon, allow employers to tap into migrant talent pools that fit their hiring needs.
These private-sector initiatives are certainly helping individuals and families. But the global scale of the migrant crisis demands a wider response, which is why connectivity will be a central theme at the Concordia Summit.
Multinational companies like Google, Oracle, and Ericsson are already using information technology to help migrants and the communities that host them, and volunteers within the IT sector have founded Techfugees to coordinate the industry's efforts. Meanwhile, new start-ups have created apps to deliver real-time information to migrants on the move. Migrants can now use a scattering of Internet hotspots to access digital services and correspond with loved ones.
The Concordia Summit also will consider measures to improve migrants' access to education and employment, and look for new ways to channel private-sector investment to host communities. Through public-private partnerships, local governments can support new immigrants without disrupting services to existing residents. In Canada, for example, private citizens can sponsor migrants for resettlement and help them adapt to their new environment.
Migration is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted public- and private-sector response. But, more generally, we need to change the narrative to correct the many public misperceptions about migrants, while highlighting the numerous economic and social benefits migration brings.
Fortunately, global-governance institutions are taking the migration crisis seriously, and the Concordia Summit will coincide with the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants, organized by the President of the UN General Assembly. Leaders from 150 countries will meet to draw up a blueprint for enhancing multilateral cooperation and boosting UN member states and agencies' rapid-response capabilities for mass movements of people.
If the international community fails to capitalize on this meeting of minds, the costs of the migration crisis will only continue to rise, as will the nativist movements that now threaten decades of progress on human rights and international cooperation. In our globalized world, political instability and upheaval can spread quickly across national borders.
For government and non-state advocates alike, this month should be the start of a new chapter in global cooperation to accommodate migrants and refugees.
Peter D. Sutherland is United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for International Migration and Development.
© Project Syndicate 1995–2016