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New IOM head lays out her agenda

11 October 20230 comments

The new head of the UN’s migration agency IOM has laid out her agenda and priorities as she begins her five-year term.

Former US bureaucrat Amy Pope says her focus will be on climate, more regular pathways for migrants and partnerships, particularly with the private sector.

“I am starting with climate. We know already that there are millions of people displaced each year as a result of climate impacts, and we know that hundreds of millions more live in extremely climate vulnerable communities,” Ms Pope said in an interview with the New Humanitarian journal.

“My goal is to ensure that we, as an organisation, are well positioned to not only respond to climate disasters but to start to anticipate and work with communities to adapt to what is coming. That is an underdeveloped line of work, but it will be increasingly important when we look at what factors are displacing communities.”

Ms Pope said her second focus would be to build out more regular pathways for people migrating.

“We know that post World War II we set up a mechanism through the 1951 Refugee Convention to enable protection for people fleeing persecution who were targeted because of their nationality, their race, their background,” she said.

“But today, the number of people who are on the move for a variety of other reasons – whether it’s extreme poverty or lack of governance, whether it’s violence in their communities or, increasingly, climate change – it’s just not addressed in terms of protection pathways or other regular pathways.

“My goal is to work with member states to increase the available legal pathways for people who would otherwise be displaced or have no opportunities at home,” she said.

“The final piece, which is required to do both priorities one and two well, is around partnerships, particularly with the private sector. We at IOM do not have a great track record of working with the private sector. It happens occasionally, but in terms of overall private sector engagement, it’s very minimal.

“When you think about how much the private sector benefits when migration is well managed, and then when you layer on the fact that we will see significant demographic shifts over the next generation, migration will be a way for the private sector to continue to innovate, to continue to spur economic development, whether it’s in the countries where companies are operating or where migrants are coming from. Building those partnerships is ultimately key to success.”

Ms Pope said the current protection framework needs to be updated to better address the realities of modern-day displacement and migration.

“Regardless of which instrument we use, the bottom line is that as international communities who care about vulnerable people, we need to come up with better solutions. It’s not sufficient to say that just because someone does not meet the 1951 Convention definition then there is no hope or no option for them,” she said.

“A person who is starving, or whose children are starving, and cannot find opportunities at home, is suffering just as much as somebody who is displaced for any other host of reasons: It ultimately becomes a matter of life and death. For me, this is a question about how do we save more lives, and how do we create more opportunities for people.

“There are a lot of different ways to go about doing that, and I think that’s where IOM can come in, because we can work with communities to build out better options for people, and especially when there is no way to stay at home, enable them to travel safely and not force them to rely on smuggling networks.”

Ms Pope said a major challenge in achieving her agenda would be to build political consensus.
“This is a major priority. We’ve already started the work. We recently worked with the African Union to expand that Kenya declaration to more member states. Effectively, it acknowledges the impact of climate change on human displacement. The first step is admitting you have the problem.

“We also see similar awareness and acknowledgement at the political level in the Pacific Islands and, increasingly, in the Caribbean and Latin America.

“Our goal is, first and foremost, to build the global consensus of what we see on the ground. I spoke with some member states when I was in Nairobi for the Africa Climate Summit, and they said, “Isn’t it obvious? We see it every day in our communities.” But I don’t think that it is obvious to everybody.

“Because we do the work, we speak to the people on the move, we know that they are moving because of drought or storms or desertification. For us, it’s important to be telling their stories, bringing them into the conversation, and then focusing on very pragmatic, concrete abilities to help them adapt to what’s happening,” Ms Pope said.

She said increasing the opportunities for people to move regularly was becoming more important.
“The bottom line is that humans are going to move. That is part of human nature, and it is the most basic, fundamental human adaptation strategy,” Ms Pope said.

“For me, it’s not a question of whether people move; it’s a question of how they move and whether we, as international actors, can build out ways for them to move so they are not exploited, so that they have the potential to reach their human development, but also so that they can contribute most effectively to the communities where they ultimately end up.

“The more you can create a match between the people and the opportunities, the better economic, social, and cultural outcomes there will be.

“The World Bank released this fantastic report in March this year focusing entirely on how migration enables better development outcomes. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that, when you do this well, the outcomes are extremely positive, set aside the political rhetoric.

“The other thing is that the demographics are really going to push, I think, all governments to explore migration as a way to respond to their own individual challenges.

“So whether you’re a country who has a boom in young people but not enough opportunities at home, or you’re a country with an ageing population who can no longer sustain its economy, there are going to be interests that begin to align. I think Ms Pope is the eleventh Director General (DG) of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the first woman in IOM’s 72-year history.

She was elected in May 2023 and began her role on October 1.