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Social Development

International Migration

A 15-year-old boy left behind by migrating parents and living alone in south Kyrgyzstan.

UNICEF/Kyrgyzstan/2020/Tabyldy Kadyrbekov

A 15-year-old boy left behind by migrating parents and living alone in south Kyrgyzstan.

Challenges and opportunities

In 2020, there were 66.6 million international migrants in the Asia-Pacific region, while 108.7 million migrants from ESCAP countries were living outside their countries of birth. Over 70 per cent of the foreign-born population in the region has consistently come from within it. More than 47 million migrants from Asia-Pacific countries moved to other countries in the region – 44 per cent of all emigrants from Asia-Pacific countries. 

People in the region migrate for work, education, family, permanent settlement, and retirement, also because of political and armed conflict, food insecurity, environmental change, and disasters.

When it is well-managed, migration can be a key driver of sustainable development: countries of destination can benefit from migrants’ skills and fill gaps in their labour forces, while communities in countries of origin can benefit from migrant remittances and the links they create between countries of origin and destination.

However, maximizing the potential benefits and minimizing the potential negative impact of migration remains a challenge. Much of the migration in the region is irregular. This renders migrants vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, harming migrants and all of society.

Our response

In recognizing these challenges, ESCAP is guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its call for member States to “facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies”.

ESCAP is also guided by the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which is the United Nations’ first intergovernmentally-agreed cooperative framework on international migration. The 23 objectives of the Global Compact aim to protect migrants’ rights and secure migrant contributions to sustainable development in countries of origin, destination and transit, while respecting the sovereign rights of States.

As the United Nations intergovernmental platform for the Asia-Pacific region, ESCAP supports dialogue and regional cooperation for making international migration safe, orderly and regular at the national and regional levels, with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders.

Our work

ESCAP supports preparations and follow-up for global processes related to international migration, such as the Global Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular Migration and the International Migration Review Forum, and the International Conference on Population and Development. It also directly supports regional and global dialogue initiatives, such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development.

In 2021, ESCAP collaborated with the Regional United Nations Network on Migration for Asia and the Pacific in holding the first Asia-Pacific Regional Review of Implementation of the Global Compact. This intergovernmental meeting convened member States, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations entities and relevant stakeholders to assess progress and identify good practices, lessons learned, challenges, and emerging trends. The meeting reaffirmed the region’s commitment to the Global Compact, including its cross-cutting and interdependent guiding principles and 23 objectives, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on international migration in the region, and called for more timely, accurate and integrated data and for enhancing national capacity on migration data. The meeting informed the International Migration Review Forum in 2022.

On a regular basis, ESCAP issues reports and papers on international migration in the region. By way of preparing for the above intergovernmental meeting in March 2021, ESCAP and the Regional United Nations Network on Migration authored the Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2020, which provides a baseline assessment of implementation of the Global Compact for Migration in Asia and the Pacific. The report, including an introductory video, were launched on 18 December 2020. 

ESCAP also helps governments build capacity in the field with advice on appropriate policies to harness the benefits of migration while mitigating its costs. On 18-19 April 2023, for example, ESCAP organized an expert group meeting on migration data in North and Central Asia. It also maintains a database on annual migrant worker outflows. The 2022 Population Data Sheet highlights the latest regional data on international migration.

ESCAP is a member of the Executive Committee of the Regional United Nations Network on Migration in Asia and the Pacific.