Opening Remarks, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) Course on “Global Migration Crisis: Challenges and Responses”

Date Publish: 
Monday, July 4, 2016 - 08:45
Mr. William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Good morning. It is an honor to be here with you today.  Welcome to this joint IOM-GCSP Course – entitled the “Global Migration Crisis: Challenges and Responses”. I would like to thank Ambassador Christian Dussey, GCSP Director General, for extending an invitation to IOM to co-develop this course.

I believe that this is the first course that we have developed together.   I certainly hope that we can continue such synergies with GCSP.  I say this because migration continues to be a global issue, and it is through courses such as this that we are able to explain realities more effectively – an evidential-base that is needed now more urgently than ever  if we are to combat today’s toxic and misleading narrative on migration.

Three major facts that I want to highlight to you to set the scene, I hope you will keep these in mind as you go through each of the modules over the next four days, are:

  1. First, that migration is inevitable;
  2. Second, that migration is necessary; 
  3. And finally, that it is desirable when well managed.

I. My first point is that migration is inevitable.

Migration is a mega-trend of this century.  All countries host a migrant population, and all countries have citizens abroad. Movements internally and across borders will only increase in the years to come, as the world becomes increasingly globalized. At the same time, no country is immune to natural disaster or conflict.

IOM’s experience is that in every crisis, migrants are always among those affected. And, migrants are among the most vulnerable. Migrants are largely “invisible” when a crisis occurs.  As I speak, IOM is helping thousands of migrants stranded in Yemen. And migrants were among those affected by the earthquakes in Haiti, Nepal and Ecuador, and Typhoon “Haiyan” in the Philippines. 

I hope that in the next four days, you will gain a deeper and broader understanding of various migration crises including the drivers that compel people to move from one place to another.

II. My second point is that migration is necessary. 

There are dual realities that necessitate migration:

First, migration contributes to economic development and it enriches the social and cultural fabric of our communities. 

  • These benefits can be frustrated, however, when a crisis hits.
  • Economies that rely on migrants for their workforces can suffer if migrants leave because of a crisis, making recovery even more difficult.
  • Communities faced with mass returns can experience social tensions, and strains on local resources and services. 

Second, in some situations, migration can be the only option for communities affected by crises – especially those in which there are no alternative solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its 5th Assessment Report, acknowledged that migration can be an adaptation strategy to cope with climate change – an adaptation strategy whereby “expanding opportunities for mobility can reduce vulnerability for such populations”.

It is therefore, important, that when people are compelled to move, we make sure that it is done in a dignified and humane fashion – which leads me to my third and last point.

III. My third point is that migration is desirable – when well managed.

In the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, all governments committed to working together to facilitate “safe, regular and orderly migration,” including through planned and well-managed migration policies.  Such policies include being prepared to deal with the negative consequences of crises. 

After IOM’s experience in assisting evacuating and repatriating to 54 countries some 230,000 migrants caught in the civil strife in Libya in 2011, we took swift concrete steps to be better prepared for the future. 

We developed the Migration Crisis Operational Framework; the MCOF is an operational tool to improve how IOM supports States and others in responding to the needs of crisis-affected, vulnerable populations. This course will give you a unique insight into the MCOF as one of our specialists will explain how to plan and respond to large-scale migration.

The course will also tackle specific topics which need to be addressed when crises strike, including addressing the issue of unaccompanied migrant children, and the increased risk of trafficking in crises. A special session is also devoted to protecting and assisting migrants in countries in crisis. 

There is more work to do, however, including the need to incorporate migrants and their needs into humanitarian and development policies and plans. 

I hope that this course will inspire and motivate you to think of other concrete ways in which your government or organization can assist migrants caught in crises; or how you can mitigate the consequences of such crises, to cushion their adverse impact on populations.


In closing, let me reiterate that migration is inevitable, necessary, and desirable. I would urge you to approach migration as a human reality to be managed, not as a problem to be solved.

This course will help deepen your understanding of why such crises occur; what the concomitant challenges are; and how we can be better equipped to respond.