9th Annual Ambassadors Conference “Towards 2023: National Values and Global Goals”

Date Publish: 
Thursday, January 12, 2017 - 19:00
Mr. William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Ankara, Turkey


It is a distinct honor and privilege to have been invited by the Republic of Turkey to be the honorary speaker at the 9th Annual Ambassadors Conference.

To begin my remarks, it would be highly remiss were I not to offer my profound condolences to the Turkish government and people in view of the recent terrorist attacks that have taken the lives of so many innocent persons. IOM strongly condemns these acts and expresses its sympathy and support to the Turkish Government in its efforts to curb terrorism. The condemnation of those horrific attacks by the international community is a step forward and a joint effort to combat terrorism and support the victims and their families.

On a very personal note, it is been my honor and privilege to have known a number of Turkish Ambassadors over my half-century in diplomacy. These include your current ambassador in Geneva H.E. Mr. Naci Koru and H.E. Mr. Mehmet Ferden Carikçi, and their predecessors, as well as Turkey’s Ambassadors throughout Africa.

Turkey, given its geographical location, is directly experiencing  the impact of the Mediterranean and Syrian crises. It is important to acknowledge with deep appreciation Turkey’s generosity in hosting such large numbers of migrants and refugees, and we all know that you do so at great cost to your people and your economy.

Far too little public attention has been given to the sacrifices that Turkey and Syria’s four neighbors have made by keeping your borders open to receive those desperately fleeing armed conflict and oppression. Turkey is home to the largest refugee population in the world, according to the latest available data, hosting over 3.1 million people, the majority of whom are Syrians (90%). Most Syrians – some 72% -- are living in urban settings spread across multiple locations in Turkey. Aside from Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans make up the next largest populations of asylum seekers (4% and 3.8%, respectively). Additionally, some 422,895 foreigners hold residence permits in Turkey - including humanitarian residence holders - and are thought to be largely of Iraqi origin.

In November 2016 alone, official Turkish sources reported 32,387 irregular border crossings into Turkey from Syria, Iraq and Iran and registered 4,164 irregular crossings from Turkey into Greece, Bulgaria, Iraq and Syria.

Regarding resettlement programmes, from April to  November 2016, Turkey successfully resettled 2,336 Syrians to third-countries with the assistance of IOM under the One-to-One mechanism, mainly to Germany (937), France (401), and Sweden (278).

In addition, pursuant to the EU-Turkey Agreement, since April 2016, 747 migrants and refugees have been admitted to Turkey from Greece.

The situation in the Mediterranean remains critical: 384,527 persons were recorded to have arrived in Europe in 2016 by sea, and nearly 5,000  died or disappeared along the way.

This is extremely worrying in comparison with the previous year, when more than 1 million  refugees and migrants arrived by sea in Europe and 3,770 were reported missing. This means that in 2016 there was a third of the number of people arriving but sadly nearly a doubling of missing or dead migrants.

I would like to praise and express our deep appreciation to the Turkish Coast Guard for its relentless efforts in saving lives in the Aegean Sea, rescuing refugees and migrants under precarious conditions over the years.

In response to the Mediterranean Crisis, IOM Turkey established a presence in the Izmir region with teams supporting the Turkish Coast Guard rescuing migrants and refugees at sea. The team is providing food, non-food items, and referral services for those rescued at sea. IOM is also strengthening the capacity of the Turkish Coast Guard through EU-funded construction and provision of six search and rescue boats as well as capacity building for the Turkish Coast Guard. As a consequence of these joint efforts, last November, the Turkish Coast Guard saved 1,856 migrants at sea.

Migration in the region is an increasingly important focus of IOM Turkey’s programming, providing evidence-based guidance to Turkey and its neighbors for effective migration management policies.

Today, I would like to focus my intervention on three key points:

I.   A World on the Move: Migration a Mega-trend
II.  A World Amidst A “Perfect Storm”
III. A World Pursuing the “High Ground”

A. World on the Move: The Global Migration Context  

We live in a world on the move.  Numerically, there are more people migrating than at any other time in recorded history. This is largely due to the world’s population having quadrupled in the 20th century -- a phenomenon that is not likely to be repeated.  Consequently, international migrants represent just some 3.2 percent of the total world population, a percentage that has remained largely constant over the last several decades. 

There are nearly 250 million international migrants, and some 750 million internal migrants. In other words, there are 1 billion migrants in our world of 7 billion people -- one in every seven persons on the globe lives away from his or her community of origin. Unfortunately, as I will explore further later in my remarks, some 65 million persons have been forced to move – some 25 million refugees across borders and some 40 million displaced internally within their own countries.

Were all international migrants -- including 150 million migrant workers -- to form themselves into a country, the population of “Migration-land” would be slightly less than Indonesia and slightly greater than the population of Brazil.

The “GDP” of these migrants in the form of remittances or money sent home of approximately $585 billion annually – more than 420 billion of which flows to developing countries -- is roughly equivalent to the GDP of a small to medium size European country. Annual migrant remittances far exceed total foreign aid and are almost equal to all foreign direct investment. For a number of developing countries, migrant remittances constitute a significant portion of their GDP.

Regarding internal migration, China alone has more internal migrants than the world as a whole has international migrants.  And China’s internal migrants face some of the same challenges as do international migrants: anti-migrant sentiment; language barriers; family separation; etc.

Migration is as old as humankind and is its oldest poverty reduction strategy.

B. “Drivers” of migration

The motives for migrating are multiple and complex. For simplicity’s sake, I have reduced them to eight, all of which start with the letter “D”:

  • Demography:  an aging North in need of workers at all skill levels; and a youthful South in need of jobs;
  • Demand: labor shortages versus labor surplus;
  • Disparities: North – South socio—economic imbalances;
  • Degradation of the environment – due to rapid climate change
  • Distance – shrinking technology: cheap, rapid means of transport;
  • Digital revolution: instant communication and information;
  • Desperation: “survival” migration;
  • Disasters: natural and man-made.

IOM his long-held the view that migration is not a problem to be solved or a crisis to be resolved but rather a human reality to be managed.

Our simple thesis has been that – – given all that we know – – migration is:

Inevitable in view of the driving forces in an interconnected and interdependent world; Necessary, if skills are to be available, jobs to be filled and economies to flourish; and, Desirable for the contributions that migrants make both to countries of origin and destination and, most of all, the benefits to migrants themselves and their families.

IOM’s vision is for a world in which migrants move as a matter of genuine choice and not desperate necessity, in which the rights of migrants are protected throughout their migratory cycle, and in which migration is well-governed so it is a positive force for all the world’s peoples and societies. This is IOM’s vision for a world in which migration is well governed. Today, however, the world in which we live is all too often vastly different.  And, this brings me to my second point.

II.   A world amidst a “perfect storm”

fortunately, the world at present is in disarray and finds itself in the middle of a “perfect storm”—the likes of which I’ve not witnessed in the course of my long life. Among the elements are:

As I mentioned, we are witnessing the greatest forced migration since World War II: some 65 million persons have been forced to migrate. Of these, there are some 23 million refugees who have fled to other countries and 42 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). On a recent visit to Syria, I found that over 200 IOM staff there are solely focused on addressing the urgent needs of the four million displaced persons. A few weeks ago, in northern Iraq, I visited the sites on which we are constructing temporary shelters for some 100,000 persons expected to flee from Mosul.

In addition, a further 75 million people are living precariously only one meter above sea level. At least one of the 13 Pacific Island nations is already purchasing property in another country to prepare for when the sea levels rise and they can no longer live safe and productive lives at home.

An unprecedented series of simultaneous, complex and protracted crises, armed conflicts, and humanitarian emergencies stretching from the Western bulge of Africa to the Himalayas -- Boko Haram in Nigeria, ethno – religious strife in the Central African Republic, ethnic warfare in South Sudan, a  half-century of conflict in Somalia, continuing instability in Libya and Yemen, armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and an ongoing, war in Syria now in its sixth year. We are truly living in an age of humanitarian disasters, with climate change expected to result in many more if we continue on the current trajectory.

An absence of viable political processes or active negotiations that offer any hope of a short to medium-term solution to any of the political conflicts.

Unprecedented anti-migrant sentiment and xenophobia that manifest  in anti-migrant policies and actions that perpetuate stereotypes and endanger migrants and deny countries the contributions of migrants.

A decline in public confidence in government’s ability to manage the increasing movement of people.

An appalling dearth of political courage and leadership; a serious erosion of international moral authority; and violation of international humanitarian law by all sides in these conflicts.

These, then, are the elements that constitute a “perfect storm” -- a storm that in the course of recent months and years reached gale-force levels.

III.    A World on the “High Ground”

This is a man-made storm. It, therefore, doesn’t have to be.

How then -- in this age of humanitarian crises -- can the international community respond more effectively to these disasters? How can we better respond to a migrant dying of thirst on the Andaman Sea, drowning in the Mediterranean, or suffocating in the hidden compartment under a truck crossing a border? These people are seeking jobs or safety – often both – denied to them by the states they are fleeing, the states that have failed them, in one way or another.

We need answers for them and for millions of others caught up in mass irregular movements. The challenge we face goes beyond emergency situations. The vast majority of migrants are simply looking for work, education family unity and other  opportunities in a world that does not yet have an agreed framework to address the multi-faceted aspects of contemporary human mobility. Our migration policies are out of date, and our leaders too often play to the fears of people rather than addressing these concerns and pursuing needed long-term strategic objectives.

When you’re in a storm, it is wise to seek the “high ground” -- in regard to migration, this means to try to capture the “moral high ground”. A high road scenario is based on an understanding that migration, if properly managed, can contribute significantly to economic growth and development, on both host and origin countries.

Such a high-road policy serves three overarching objectives:

  1. To address the drivers of migration to reduce forced and irregular migration;
  2. To facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration; and,
  3. To respect the human rights of all migrants, whatever their status -- whether regular or irregular

In the midst of the migration storm, the “high ground” lies first and foremost in well-managed migration. Each country needs to develop a comprehensive, long-term, multi-faceted, “whole-of-government” and indeed “whole-of-society” migration and asylum policy – bringing in all relevant ministries at the national level including labor/employment, development, environment, security and justice, and bringing in key non-governmental stakeholders including employers and the business community, civil society service providers, advocates, and unions, as well as migrants and diasporas themselves. We do not have the time to review or even to list all the elements that should form part of such a package. Allow me, however, to point to some essential components: 

  • Giving top priority to saving lives.  The numbers of migrants who die or go missing every year is alarming. In its annual report called “Fatal Journeys”, IOM has documented 50,000 migrant deaths along migratory paths since the year 2000. (This is probably a gross underestimate since most governments do not maintain statistics on migrant deaths.) In 2016 alone, almost   5,000 migrants have already perished in the Mediterranean despite valiant efforts by the Italian, Greek, Maltese, Turkish and Libyan Coast Guards who have saved several hundreds of thousands of lives since 2013.
  • Opening more regular channels of migration as viable alternatives to irregular migration channels. Increasing the number of options for regular migration will not stop irregular migration, but it will reduce the incentive to move without documentation or authorization.   Regular migration channels are needed for labour migration at all skills levels, and for temporary, permanent and circular migration – depending on evolving national needs; for education; for family unity; and for humanitarian purposes. 
  • Establishing humanitarian border management. In so doing, law enforcement agencies meet the dual objective of managing risks to public security while ensuring that protection is made available to those who need and deserve it. The world needs to acknowledge and commend the six neighbors of Libya and the four neighbors of Syria for keeping their border open in times of crises and conflict in these two countries.
  • Combatting trafficking in persons and addressing the needs of vulnerable migrants: Sadly, there are those that would exploit the aspirations of migrants hoping for a better life, and those driven to migration out of a lack of other options. Human traffickers subject their victims to egregious rights violations; depriving victims of their liberty and dignity, and robbing them of the proceeds of their labour. Further, there are many vulnerable migrants who, while not formally trafficked, are subject to violence, exploitation, and abuse during and after their migration process. A comprehensive response that not only addresses the criminal justice issues associated with trafficking and associated forms of mal-treatment, but which restores the the rights and well-being of migrants, is required.
  • Tackling smuggling of migrants. This global and multibillion dollar industry is run by brutal and exploitative criminal networks. These smugglers are truly "travel agents of death." The large-scale smuggling of migrants across international borders has developed into a global threat to migration governance. Many migrants resort to using migrant smugglers when they do not have the option to travel in a regular manner. Once paid, smugglers often have little or no interest in migrants’ wellbeing, leaving them particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. All too often, migrants pay with their lives: they suffocate in containers, perish in deserts or drown at sea.

IOM, with the support of Turkey, developed a "Comprehensive Approach to Counter Migrant Smuggling" based on four pillars. 

  • Provide protection and assistance to smuggled migrants;
  • Address the causes of migrant smuggling;
  • Enhance States’ capacity to disrupt the activities of migrant smugglers; and
  • Promote research and data collection on migrant smuggling.
  • Strengthening capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies. Emergencies are, by their very nature, difficult to predict. Hence the need to develop institutional readiness to react quickly. This requires close coordination among all humanitarian actors such as government agencies, international organizations, the business sector and civil society organizations.
  • Developing effective integration programs. Many social problems arise because migrants are alienated and marginalized. The populations of all countries are increasingly characterized by cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. We cannot assume that social harmony and cohesion will emerge naturally from this. We need to invest in helping host communities and migrant constituencies to develop mutual respect for each other’s rights and responsibilities – to come to know their shared humanity. Recent violent attacks – in Paris, Nice, Brussels -- resulted from failed integration and inadequate social cohesion.  Successful integration does not happen without commitment and investment. 
  • Establishing public education and public information programs to enable local communities to come to an accurate understanding of the reasons that compel people to move, to provide them with advice on how to respond to migrants in need and to lend support during the integration process.

As we address these priorities, it is heartening to bear in mind that on 19 September of 2016, world leaders gathered at the UN in New York for the Summit on Refugees and Migrants.  Heads of state and governments committed to move closer to a comprehensive approach to migration governance including full respect for the human rights of migrants; to establish safe, regular and orderly channels for migration and the development of effective integration policies. The outcome of these deliberations was the “New York Declaration” which spelled out agreed commitments and, in particular, an undertaking to develop a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be considered for adoption in 2018 at an intergovernmental conference on international migration.

At the 19 September Summit, the UN Secretary General and I also signed an agreement whereby IOM entered the UN system. For the first time in its history, the UN now has a global lead agency on migration, comprised of 166 Member States and with field presence in some 480 locations worldwide.  The decision by Member States to bring IOM into the UN is a clear manifestation of the commitment to developing coherent global solutions to the migration challenges – and indeed capitalizing on the opportunities that migration presents.

We are on the cusp of something potentially great, a pathway to giving people real options to move and putting an end to fatal journeys.  We are on the verge of putting in place the mechanisms needed to realize the human and societal development potential of migration and human mobility.  We must not give in to the temptation of discouragement or pessimism.

As one whose country was built on the backs of migrants, I can attest that, historically, migration has always been overwhelmingly positive. We need to return public discourse to a more balanced and historically accurate narrative. We can help to do so through informed and open dialogue such as the one we are having today; one that recognizes that migration has been an agent of development for centuries, that migration and development belong together and that migration is humankind’s oldest poverty reduction strategy.

Migration is as old as humankind. On the high road, migration can be a key to a world in tune with itself. As we face the continuation of simultaneous, unprecedented and complex emergencies, the international community needs to tackle the root causes of forced migration actively and promote commonly shared values and interests. Turning migration challenges into opportunities for all requires good migration governance; a broad and durable consensus among a wide constituency; and coherent, coordinated policies among true partners.

IOM looks forward to undertaking this journey together with you, and supporting our common objective of ensuring safety and dignity for all.  

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