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Migration in a world in disarray

By William Lacy Swing
Director General IOM

IOMDirectorGeneralWilliamLacySwing.Development.PortraitImageWe live in an era of unprecedented human mobility – a period in which more people are on the move than ever before – more than 1 billion in our 7 billion world. Of these, 250 million are international migrants, and 750 million are domestic migrants. International migrants have remained constant at about 3 percent of the world’s population for several decades, but numerically, migrants are more numerous than ever before. And this is because the world’s population quadrupled in the last century – a first that is unlikely to be repeated.

Demographers tell us that this population boom is likely to continue beyond mid-century at which time, the world’s population is expected to level out at 9 billion. Migration as such will continue to be a “mega-trend” of our century…

How then should we respond to or manage the realities and challenges that are now before us?
A. First, we must recognize these realities and put them in perspective….In addition, Europe must avoid institutional paralysis and psychological blockage in adjusting from being primarily a continent of origin for several centuries only to become a continent of destination over the past few decades….

New migration policies are clearly called for – or what I describe as a “High Road” Scenario. Policies have not kept pace with change. A high road scenario can include many elements, any combination of which will improve our migration policies. These policies must have three objectives:

1. Respect the human rights of migrants;
2. Address the root causes and drivers of migration;
3. Promotion of safe, orderly mobility.

Concrete examples of such policies might include: more legal avenues of migration; more resettlement countries and larger resettlement quotas; temporary protective status; seasonal worker permits; voluntary return (AVRR); humanitarian border management; relocation; integration; etc.

B. Dialogue and partnerships. Migration involves a shared responsibility – between and among countries of origin, transit and destination, and with the assistance of international organizations, NGOs, faith-based organizations, and others.
There needs to be greater and more regular dialogue…

C. Communication. Governments need to conduct public information, public education and awareness-raising programs and campaigns to help the citizenry to understand and prepare to manage the realities of human mobility. This also involves destroying the stereotypes about migrants and to “de-mythologize” migration. Some of these stereotypes include: we do not need migrants; migrants steal our jobs; migrants want to exploit our public services; migrants bring diseases and are criminals.

D. Comprehensive Approach. Let us also think in terms of migration as a whole – looking at migrant labor needs, circular migration, short-term acceptance, relocation, and resettlement…

In conclusion, I will leave you with what I see as three challenges – challenges which, if not met, will constitute failure – not just in migration governance, but in creating and maintaining peaceful, prosperous societies.

A. First, we must find a way to change the migration narrative. The public discourse on migration at present is toxic. To do this, we need to build a robust constituency to change course. Historically, migration has always been overwhelmingly positive. My own country was built, and continues to be built on, the backs of migrants and with the brains of migrants.

Migrants are agents of development. Migrants bring innovation. Migrants don’t take our jobs, they create new jobs. Migration and development belong together.

B. The second challenge is learning to manage diversity: Demographics, and the aging industrialized world, together with other driving forces I described, mean that the countries of Europe and other industrialized countries need migrants. Our societies will, therefore, inexorably become more multi-ethnic, more multi-cultural, and more multi-religious. To succeed in managing diversity will require political courage – a willingness to invest in public information, public education, awareness-raising and dialogue. Managing diversity means moving the debate from one of identity, to one of values: e.g., others may not look like me, they may not speak as I do, but we can both share common commitments and values. To this end, IOM’s multilateral approach involves mayors, for it is cities who receive the most migrants and benefit from them, and must manage diversity.

C. The third challenge is partly related to the first two, namely, formulating and implementing a balanced migration policy; conjugating the seeming conundrum of national sovereignty versus individual freedom; and national security versus human security.


Migration is as old as humankind. People will continue to resort to migration as a coping mechanism. Migration is the oldest poverty reduction strategy. Turning the migration challenge into opportunity for all requires good migration governance; a broad, durable consensus among a wide constituency; coherent, coordinated policies among partners.

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