Statement of Ambassador Laura Thompson at the Vienna Migration Conference High-Level Political Panel

Date Publish: 
Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 13:00
Ms Laura Thompson, Deputy Director General, International Organization for MIgration (IOM)

It is an honour and pleasure for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and for me personally to be here today at this Vienna Migration Conference and I would like to thank ICMPD for inviting me to participate.

With some 244 million international migrants in the world today, more people are living away from their countries of origin than ever before. This represents just more than 3 percent of the world’s global population, a percentage that has increased only slightly over the last several decades.  What is different, however, is that people are moving from and to more places than ever before, making migration relevant to all governments and all societies.   

The decision by our Member States for IOM to join the UN system reflects several realities: first, the global importance of migration in the international agenda; second, that migration is an enduring feature of our time; and, third, the urgent need to link human mobility, as a quintessential crosscutting phenomena, with related policy agendas – including humanitarian, development, human rights, climate change and peace and security.

It was not only a happy coincidence, therefore, that, at the very Summit during which IOM was integrated into the UN System, world leaders took the important decision to launch a process of intergovernmental negotiations leading to the adoption of two much-needed international compacts: on one hand, a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration; and on the other a Global Compact on Refugees.

While migration is very much an integral part of our globalised world, all too often we deal with it in a disjointed way. There are numerous interested parties but insufficient coordination. We focus too much on problems; too little on solutions, and when we do, we tend to “box” them into various compartments and actions which often do not maximize what is already in place, do not guarantee continuity of efforts and are evidently unbalanced. In recent times, we have, arguably, become better at addressing immediate needs, but we struggle to develop a comprehensive, long term vision for human mobility, still trying to address it instead with reactive and populist policies aimed at short-term political objectives.

In this context, the New York Declaration is an important step forward as it contains several bold commitments to:

(a)     protect the safety, dignity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status, at all times;

(b)     support countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants;

(c)     integrate migrants – their needs and capacities – in humanitarian and development assistance frameworks and planning;

(d)     combat xenophobia, racism and discrimination towards all migrants;

(e)     develop, through a state-led process, guidelines to protect and assist migrants in vulnerable situations; and

 (f)     strengthen global governance of migration, including by bringing IOM into the UN family and through the development of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

The decision to develop such a comprehensive framework for international migration is a momentous one – the promise of the Compact is that migration, like other areas of international relations, will at last be guided by a set of common principles and approaches.

This is a very ambitious agenda to be accomplished in just two years, particularly in an inclusive manner that brings in the views, expertise and priorities of all governments and stakeholders.  And all the more, to do so in a context of growing xenophobia, racism and discrimination against migrants in so many parts of the world.  

But, let us all remember that we are not starting from scratch. The Global Compact on Migration sets its fundamentals on a robust, albeit dispersed, normative framework for the protection of migrants and for the governance of migration – in human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, in international labour standards, in transnational organized crime law, including the smuggling and trafficking protocols.  We also have a great deal of practical experience and lessons learned through the Global Forum on Migration and Development and other Regional Consultative Processes on Migration. What is new, and unprecedented, is the political commitment of 193 Heads of States and Governments subscribing to the concept that achieving a global governance of migration is a historic opportunity and a shared responsibility.

The EU has been on the forefront of developing strategic and comprehensive approaches towards broad migration governance, from the launch of the Global Approach on Migration and Mobility, to the European Agenda for Migration and the latest Valletta Summit with its Declaration and Plan of Action. Yet, today’s migration management scenario in the Union appears one of constant crisis management, shifting priorities and serious difficulties in pursuing a common, long-term objective among its Member States.

If Europe, if all of us, want to move forward in a constructive fashion and in the spirit of global considerations, we need to endorse the message that short-term measures are not the answer, but structural changes are essential if we are serious in setting up a global migration response. It is time we shift our attention from “numbers” to the phenomena underlying global mobility today.  Only then will we realise that effective policies do not depend on how many people enter or are returned in the short term, but on their prospect of achieving real and durable changes back in their countries of origin and on the causes that have driven their “journey” in the first place. We will then be better focused on and engaged in pursuing long term objectives rather than quick fixes that might exacerbate the problems rather than solve them.

We need a shift in focus; we need stronger and more coherent actions to ensure real partnerships, continued efforts and genuine responsibility sharing across regions – the EU Global Strategy and Foreign Policy[1] makes direct reference to this by “committing to a comprehensive and geographically balanced approach”. IOM strongly believes and advocates the notion that only attention to the real drivers of migration, both push and pull factors, can generate a merger of interests and shared goals that are the basis for real and effective partnerships where all sides win: countries of origin, transit and destination and, most importantly, migrants and our societies.

In practical terms, this means for the EU and all of us, implementing current policies equitably and with a genuine and consistent, balanced approach. It means placing equal emphasis on regulating entries and also on facilitating regular movements for much needed migrant workers, a policy aspect sorely lacking at this point in time. It means protecting people, all people, first and foremost above all other considerations. It means partnership with third countries driven by their interests and long term needs rather than on conjuncture events. It means, in a nutshell, to affirm and strengthen those core values of democracy, respect for human rights and responsibility sharing that brought about the political project of the European Union in the first place, at a time when it was this continent struggling to rise from the aftermath of a devastating war.  

The EU has the historical and moral responsibility to bring this value-based vision to the negotiations for the definition of a Global Compact on Migration. The influence on the international scene of a genuine, strong Union, the impact of its policies and the strengths of its leaders and institutions could become the beating heart of the fundamental changes we need if only we can persevere with the courage and the responsibility of acting together and do not give in to the temptation of pursuing singular interests.

The road in front of us represents an opportunity of historical proportion; we are all called to seize it and not squander it.   

Thank you.

[1] EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy (June 2016)

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