Migration here to stay – IOM chief
Migration in all its forms will be a megatrend for the rest of the century and is an inextricable part of the economic and social process of globalisation, according the outgoing head of the UN’s migration agency the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
In a recent interview with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, the outgoing head of the IOM William Lacy Swing set out why he thinks migration will be a feature of geopolitical life for the rest of this century and what nations can do to cope with it.
Director Swing has been head of IOM over a time of serious migration crises all over the globe, most recently in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and during the crisis in the Mediterranean in 2014-15 which brought migration and refugee flows to the attention of the world.
But Mr Lacy says that alongside these crises there have been some positive developments in this field.
The UN has agreed to take up migration as a global issue, first by including it among the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, then by agreeing to negotiate a Global Compact for Migration.
At the same time, the IOM formally entered the UN system as a related agency.
Mr Swing says that migration has become a megatrend that will be with us until the end of the century and is part of the process of globalisation.
“When I came to this position in 2008… it was very difficult to get a longer conversation going on migration. You would get a few sentences in, and then people would want to go onto something else,” Mr Swing said.
“But that changed almost overnight because of the events of 2014-16. We now have armed conflicts, almost a dozen of them, from the western bulge of Africa to the Himalayas and beyond, with little hope of any short- to medium-term solution.
“We’ve had the results, of course: the outflows of people, collapsing economies, war, etc. So, anything we’ve been able to do in terms of protecting and assisting migrants is because we are now, and for the last maybe seven or eight years, riding the crest of a wave called migration, which in many ways is the missing piece in the globalization mosaic.
“And it’s likely to be a megatrend for the rest of this century, given what we know now about demographic predictions and the other drivers of migration,” Mr Swing said.
He said that 2016 was a defining year in many ways; there were massive outflows of migrants but also international recognition of the issue.
“We’ve never before had the heads of state of the world assemble for a General Assembly meeting to talk about migration and the solutions to that, so it’s already a historic occasion just to have gotten this far. And whatever we get out of the compact will be so much better than anything we’ve ever had before,” Mr Swing said.
“And, we’ve increasingly recognized that there are these mixed flows, mixed migration groups of people, and that for many of them there is, as you mention, no legal framework for protection or assistance,” he said.
“You have people who are going to join their family to reunify. At least 50 percent of people on the move today are women, many of them now moving for professional reasons, often traveling with children. You have victims of trafficking, you have the sick and the elderly, all sorts of people out there for whom not only is there no protection but there is no regard either.
“The Global Compact aspires to a state of safe, orderly, and regular—by which they mean legal—migration, there are so many obstacles to the safety of migrants.
“And not only refugees but other migrants who are not formally in need of international protection because their own governments will not protect them, but just as vulnerable because of the dangerous journeys they’re taking and the uncertainty of their reception in the places they’re aiming to go,” Mr Swing said .
He said A key question was how states can manage these flows in a more orderly and safer way.
“First of all, we need to be working with governments to engage in programs of public information, public education. We cannot blame the people for having fear of the other, if we’re not giving them evidence to the contrary.
“Namely our reading at IOM is that migration has always been overwhelmingly positive and beneficial to countries. So, we need to try to find a way to change the narrative.
“I think the media can be helpful because the word can go out there. Because what’s happening with the anti-migrant sentiment is not only are we endangering migrants’ lives, but we’re denying ourselves their contribution, which is the irony of the whole thing.
“So we have to change the narrative if we can, we have to help people, help countries and their populations embrace diversity, because our reading is that given the driving forces that we know of, that all of our countries are going to become almost inexorably, increasingly multiethnic, multicultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual. And if we don’t prepare our people for that, it won’t end very well. This is the issue and the challenge,” Mr Swing said.
He said that, long term, the most successful societies and the most dynamic cities are those that have embraced diversity and have handled it well.
“We have done a study with McKinsey Global Institute, and one of the findings there is that although international migrants over the last 40 years haven’t changed very much—the percentage is about 3.5 percent of the world’s population—what has changed is that we’ve had a quadrupling of the world’s population in the 20th century.
“So, numerically there are many more people but percentage-wise it’s the same. These 3.5 percent of the world’s population produce 9 percent of global wealth in terms of GDP and that’s 4 percent more than if they had stayed at home.
“So that’s the kind of evidence we need to deliver so that people can say, ‘Well, let’s give this a chance’,” Mr Swing said.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist