Friday, 15 January 2021

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Migration - mankind’s oldest poverty management strategy

William Lacy Swing IOM Chief, Brussels (EU) visit

Cooperation, partnership  and compromises for the common good is what is needed in order to tackle the challenges around migration in Europe, according to IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing. Following the September 2016 Summit on migrants and refugees, a process has been set in motion that should lead to the adoption of a Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration.

“The Summit was indeed a turning point in the global conversation”, says IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing in an interview with UNRIC. “It was the first time that Heads of State came together to address migration. There were no international legal compacts or agreements that provided assistance or legal protection to people on the move, and that’s why we’ve come up with the Global Compact to see if we can come together around some common principles and approaches that will allow us to have a greater sense of shared responsibility for people on the move.”

The intergovernmental negotiations kick off as parts of the European Union seem to be caught in a spider's web of populism and rhetoric demanding stricter border controls and less of Brussels-centered power, while counterforces try to keep the building blocks of cohesion, free movement of goods and people together.

“It’s not the most favourable atmosphere”, says Swing. “We have populist movements, major elections coming up in several European countries, and migration will remain a key topic. You can look at the rhetoric as a threat to the Compact, but you can also look at it as an opportunity! It’s an opportunity to inform those who seem to be moving in a populist direction that there is a way in which to manage migration in a humane and dignified manner. If we come back to a historically more accurate narrative, it is basically that migration has always been a positive force in societies.”

The amount of money sent back home by migrants in remittances remains larger than Official Development Assistance, according to the World Bank. Remittances to developing countries are expected to rise by around 4% a year in 2016–2017. However, the positive sides of migration rarely reach the news threshold and remain underreported.

“There is a lot of confusion in the public debate right now over migration. It’s true that more people are moving than ever before, but in percentages it’s only about 3 to 3.3 % of the global population. And most of them are moving regularly”, reminds Swing. “If you do an opinion poll in almost any country, people will tell you there are many more foreigners in their country than in fact is the case. It’s the fear factor.”

Spring and increasing temperatures usually have meant increasing traffic over the Mediterranean. So far in 2017, 521 migrants have lost their lives attempting to reach Europe.

“If you ask: ‘have the push factors gone?’, the answer clearly is no, they have not”, says Swing. “Therefore, this spring you can expect similar numbers to what we’ve had before. But the numbers have remained fairly steady. It will not be an invasion, it will not be something dramatic – they are perfectly manageable numbers if we have the right policies and open up more legal avenues. As long as you look on migration as a problem, as something to solve, you’re not going to get anywhere. You have to look at it as a human reality that’s as old as humankind. It’s mankind’s oldest poverty reduction strategy. As citizens, we have to find a way to manage it.”

UNRIC’s related links:

UNRIC Library backgrounder on migration
Article: Remittances – a High Cost lifeline to developing countries


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