Keynote Address: Orderly Migration in a Disorderly World - Dacor Bacon House Foundation

Date Publish: 
Saturday, September 23, 2017 - 12:15
Mr. William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration
Washington, DC


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a distinct honor to take part in DACOR’s Annual Conference. I am delighted that you have selected “The Challenges of Contemporary Mass Migration” as the theme of this conference. IOM has long held the view that large-scale migration is and will remain a “mega-trend” of this century.

Today, I would like to make three points:

I. A World on the Move.

II. A World Amidst A “Perfect Storm”.  

III. A World on the “High Ground”.


I. 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.

There are nearly 250 million international migrants, and some 750 million domestic migrants. In other words, there are 1 billion migrants in our 7 billion world. One in every seven persons on the globe is a migrant.

Were the international migrants to form themselves into a country, the population of “Migration-land” would be slightly less than Indonesia and slightly more than the population of Brazil.

The “GDP” of these migrants in the form of remittances or money sent home of $500 billion is roughly equivalent to the GDP of a small to medium size European country. At any rate, 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 is a major source of GDP.

As regards internal migration, China alone has more domestic migrants than the world 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 its oldest poverty reduction strategy.

B. “Drivers” or root causes of migration

The motives for migrating are multiple and complex. For simplicity’s sake, I have reduced them to seven, 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;
  • Distance-shrinking technology: cheap, rapid means of transport;
  • Digital revolution: instant communication and information;
  • Desperation: “survival” migration;
  • Disasters: natural and man-made.

C. IOM has long-held the view that migration is not a problem to be solved 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.

This is IOM’s vision for a world in which migration is well governed. Today, however, the world in which we live is vastly different.  And, this brings me to my second point.


II. A World Amidst a “Perfect Storm”.

Unfortunately, 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 my long life. Among the elements are:

  • The greatest forced migration since World War II: some 65 million persons forced to migrate. Of these, about 23 million are refugees and 42 are million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
  • An unprecedented series of simultaneous, complex and protracted crises, conflicts, and humanitarian emergencies – that stretch from the Western bulge of Africa to the Himalayas: Boko Haram in Nigeria, ethno-religious strife in the Central African Republic, ethnic warfare is South Sudan, nearly a half-century of conflict in Somalia, continuing instability in Libya and Yemen, and armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and an ongoing, five – year war in Syria.
  • An absence of any viable political processes or active negotiations that offer any hope of a short to medium-term solution to any of these.
    • Unprecedented anti-migrant sentiment and xenophobia that manifests itself in anti-migrant policies and actions that perpetuate stereotypes and endanger migrants.
    • A decline in public confidence in government’s ability to manage the increasing migration movements.
    • 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”.


III. A World on the “High Ground”.

When you’re in a storm, seize the “high ground” – in regard to migration, try to capture the moral high ground.

A.  Such migration policies serve three 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, whether regular or irregular.

B. In the midst of the migration storm, the “high ground” lies in well-managed migration. This means a number of things, including:

  • Giving top priority to saving life.  The numbers of migrants who have 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 this year alone, 3501 migrants have already perished in the Mediterranean despite valiant efforts by the Italian, Greek and Turkish Coast Guards.
  • Develop a global consensus on responsibility-sharing. This was the objective of this week’s “Summit on addressing large-scale movements of refugees and migrants”. This has opened up a two-year process, led by the UN Secretariat and IOM, to negotiate a global compact migration.
  • A comprehensive, long-term, multifaceted, “whole-of government” migration and asylum policy;
  • More legal channels of migration; decriminalization of irregular migrants; and replacement of migrant detention centers with reception centers;
  • Dual nationality legislation, and multiple entry visas;
  • Public education and public information programs to  assist local communities in integrating migrants and cautioning migrants concerning risks along the migratory routes;
  • Changing the migration narrative. At present, migration has a negative connotation in much of the public mind which leads to discriminatory migration policies and endangers migrants. What we need is historically accurate narrative, namely, that migration and human mobility, have always been overwhelmingly positive.
  • Learning to manage diversity.  Many countries are facing the challenge of migrant integration into their societies.  Migrant integration is best achieved by promoting tolerant societies which value diversity and migrants’ contributions.  These concerns can be overcome if the focus is shifted to the development of shared values and common interests. Instead of playing on the public’s fears, politicians have a responsibility to help people understand and deal with their concerns about migrants.  The focus has been too much on the clash of identities and cultures.  Trying to address these fears through the optic of identity will not work, but rather through seeking common interests.
  • Expose, arrest and bring to justice the criminal smuggling gangs.
  • Address “refugee amnesia”.
  • Improving Migration Management. Increased border controls alone will not stop irregular migration. Exclusive reliance on border controls, walls, fences and other “closed door” policies and restrictive measures such as tightened visa regimes and criminalizing irregular migrants will not lead to the expected results some would have you
  • Improve Partnerships and Coordination

Europe’s crisis is one of policy and leadership, not a migrant crisis. Considering its size and resources, flows should be manageable for Europe. Last year, the EU received one million migrants and refugees, slightly fewer than the number of Syrian refugees who entered Lebanon alone. But better coordination, responsibility sharing and intra-EU solidarity is imperative – coherent migration and asylum policies, better information and resource sharing, more organized migration management at borders to ensure registration of all arrivals and proper assistance to migrants. A short-term, crisis-mode response focused on security is not likely to achieve the longer term objective of regular, humane and orderly flows.


Migration is as old as humankind. Migration is the world’s oldest poverty reduction strategy and is 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 actively and promote commonly shared values and interests. Turning migration challenges into opportunities for all requires good migration governance; a broad, durable consensus among a wide constituency and coherent, coordinated policies among partners.

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