Keynote Remarks, International Forum on Migration Statistics Welcoming Remarks

Date Publish: 
Monday, January 15, 2018 - 09:15
Mr. William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration
OCDE, Conference Centre, Paris


Distinguished Participants and Panelists,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to welcome you all to the very first international forum – a forum exclusively dedicated to migration statistics and data analysis. First, let me express my sincere gratitude to our partners: OECD – and Secretary General Angel Gurría – and UN-DESA for their excellent collaboration in co-organizing this timely event -- and a special word of appreciation to OECD for hosting the forum.

I would like to highlight three points:

  • Legacy of Peter Sutherland in the Field of Migration
  • Migration in Global Frameworks
  • Migration Data as a Fundamental Need

I. Legacy of Peter Sutherland (and the Sutherland Report’s contribution to migration data)

I would like to begin by paying tribute to my friend and esteemed colleague, Peter Sutherland. Peter’s death last week represents an incalculable loss to the entire migration community – and to migrants the world over. Peter was a global migration champion; a giant on the international stage; and one of the most powerful advocates of migration as essential to global cooperation, international dialogue and human development. In his role as the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for International Migration for more than a decade, Peter was key to the convening of the first-ever UN Summit on Migrants and Refugees in September 2016, at which Heads of State assembled for the first time ever to discuss migration and to agree upon formal consultations and negotiations on two global Compacts – one on refugees, and another on migrants. At that same Summit, IOM formally joined the UN system – a decision that Peter Sutherland had long advocated.

Peter Sutherland’s strong advocacy of international cooperation on migration and migrants’ rights included the urgent need to improve data and data analysis for fact-based migration policies and accountability. In his landmark report on migration – which came to be known as the “Sutherland Report” – Mr. Sutherland set out a vision for how international cooperation could contribute to effective migration management. The report highlighted how – despite good data being essential to better migration governance – we still struggle to understand some basic facts about migration, such as: who migrants are, where they are, where they come from, and why they moved, especially for movements across countries in the Global South.

The Sutherland Report provided key recommendations on how to enhance our knowledge of migration. His recommendations included (1) implementing expert recommendations on traditional sources of migration data; (2) harnessing the potential of new data sources or ‘big data’; (3) developing capacities to monitor migration-related SDGs; and (4) monitoring the protection of human rights for people on the move.

These are, undoubtedly, some of the many aspects of data that you will discuss over the next two days. This conference represents an excellent opportunity to draw on Peter Sutherland’s legacy and work together to make concrete progress in the area of migration statistics.

II. Global Frameworks

This Forum is remarkable in its timing, given recent developments signaling that this is truly a new era for migration – a “mega-trend” of our time. To mention only two of these milestones:

  • One, the formal recognition of migration as a force for sustainable human development, with the formal inclusion of migration-related targets in Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals; and,
  • The historic adoption of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, and the resulting consultations, stock-taking phases; the Secretary-General’s Report last week; and the much-awaited “Zero Draft” that will form the basis for formal negotiations to begin in February – all leading us towards the adoption of a “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”

Reliable data and astute data analysis will be essential: to making migration safer and more orderly and regular; (2) to harnessing migration’s potential for socio-economic advancement; (3) to protecting migrants’ rights and their dignity; and, (4) to identifying which policy interventions are working to achieve these objectives, and which ones are not. 

III. Fundamental Need for Migration Data

It is important that we speak today about the fundamental need for better migration data – which OECD, UNDESA, and IOM have long been advocating. We also urgently need, however, to engage in dialogue on a Global Action Plan – a Plan to ensure the availability to policymakers and others comprehensive National, Regional, and Global data and statistical analysis of trends in migration – a phenomenon as old as humankind and, today, one of the defining phenomena of our time. While we are all aware of the many gaps and limitations of existing migration data, particularly across countries with limited statistical capacity and resources, a Global Action Plan on how to improve migration statistics is still missing.

Lack of migration data, or poor presentation of such data, often leads to misperceptions about the scale of migration and its effects and creates misleading stereotypes and dangerous mythology about migrants. Poor-quality data feeds prejudice and distorts public debate. Data availability in itself is surely not sufficient to ensure that evidence is sensibly used to inform policies. Data may not even be sufficient to shift the public’s common and unjustified beliefs that migration is a threat to countries’ security, national identity, and social cohesion; that migrants take away jobs; or that migrants are a burden on social welfare systems. Reliable, accessible, and balanced information are a pre-requisite to sound management of migration. Sensible and effective migration governance depends, to a considerable degree, on data.


In conclusion, the overall improvement of data on migration depends upon partnership. This is manifest in the three of us – independent agencies – convening this Forum today. We need to work together in partnership to make real progress. This first international Forum – exclusively dedicated to migration statistics – provides a timely, welcome, and urgently-needed opportunity to promote dialogue and effective cooperation on this important issue. We value our partners and believe that collaboration will be crucial to enhance the data landscape, deepen our knowledge on migration, and appropriately act upon it.

So let me warmly welcome you all again and wish you a very fruitful discussion over these next two days.

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