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The new Director of IOM talks about the challenges of migration

This summer, Antonio Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino was elected the new Director General of the International Organization for Migration by acclamation. According to Augusto Santos Silva, Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vitorino has a proven record in dealing with migrations and an outstanding political experience. Besides, Vitorino has powerful connections within the United Nations, when he served as Portugal’s minister for national defense and deputy prime minister in the mid-1990s. Before the election, Vitorino spoke to 300 + representatives from diplomatic missions, UN agencies, NGOs and academic institutions at the Graduate Institute.

Although migration can be a conflictive issue in many countries, it also brings a unique opportunity for development in the international stage. The New York Declaration from 2016 is highly connected with the 2030 Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals, in which we all are fully responsible for a global migration solution. The Global Compact for Migration is framed consistently with target 10.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in which all 193 United Nations member states are committed to cooperate internationally to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration. The Global Compact is expected to be the first, intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Therefore, Vitorino posits that the key challenge is to overcome the paradox between retrenchment and openness of migration.

For him, this migration paradox needs a pioneer decision on the world’s shared gaps. Whereas migration policy is a national sovereign decision, Vitorino stresses the fact that effectiveness on national decisions depends upon international cooperation.  Whether the decisions comprise migration admission policies or migration integration policies, they are the two sides of the same coin – migration. Forasmuch as no country should take decisions alone when it comes to migration. For Vitorino, migration is a persistent trend that is already changing the socio-economic balance in the world. Thus, safe, orderly and regular migration is a shared responsibility amongst all countries.

In today’s world, migration is much more complex than it used to be in the past due to internal and international migration flows happening at the same time. The Second World War resulted in an estimated 60 million displaced. Today, there are 250+ million people, divided into forced migrants – those who were forced to move due to climate change conditions, refugees,  refugee-like situations, internally displaced people (IDP), asylum-seekers, economic migrants, disaster-induced migrants, other types of migrants, and resettlement people. Without international cooperation, no single country can face the migration issue alone, not even the most powerful nations in the world. Therefore, an interagency approach with multi-stakeholders – international organizations as well as countries, is the only viable solution for the migration issue. All international agencies such as the UN agencies need to have a shared approach, especially the IOM and UNHCR. These agencies must adopt the existing tools, the Global Compact for Migration which is being negotiated in New York as well as the Global Compact for Refugees which is being drafted in Geneva. Both Global Compacts are within the UN framework, and they need to be consistent with one another. Albeit the two dynamics are parallel, the need for consistency aims to avoid ambiguity, gaps, and loopholes. The Global Compact will not be a legally binding instrument, forasmuch as it needs to be powerful enough to integrate and establish a sustainable framework for cooperation in the international community. Such a pivotal instrument is based on three pillars: shared principles, shared objectives, and shared commitments. Member states who voluntarily subscribe in the negotiation process must agree with all of them.

For Vitorino, a successful Global Compact for Migration comprises a package deal where countries of origin, countries of transit, and countries of destination feel comfortable with the common outcome. To achieve this success many tradeoffs are necessary to keep all members involved. Likewise, the commitments must be fully understood and clearly identified, and the implementation and follow-up mechanisms have to be effective and efficient to guarantee a periodic review of the progress achieved. Although the Global Compact is not ideal, it should pave the way for a more positive narrative on migration. In sum, an advantageous global compact is a test case for multilateralism and interregionalism.

Vitorino suggests that the public debate on migration is based on misperception and misconceptions. For him, it is striking the fact that on many countries, the numbers of migrants diverge sometimes 5 times more than the actual number.  This gap between the misconception and the real number causes the problems. Besides, this gap is used to manipulate and distort the reality and play with public opinion, creating xenophobia, racism, and violence. To build a new narrative on migration, the international community needs to address the following requirements.

First, the narrative on migration as well as the public debate on migration must be evidence-based. We need reliable, compatible and timely data on migratory flows. It is not possible to sustain a public debate without credibility. For instance, international organizations have differences among their numbers in evaluating the flows of migrants in the relations south-south, south-north, and north-north. The difference sometimes ranges from 10% to 30%. If the data is contradicted, those who get the message will keep on being suspicious about it. It is imperative that the international organizations come together and set parameters that will be used for all of them. Reliable data will reinforce the sustainability and the credibility of the message.

Second, the narrative on migration needs to be based on values which are extremely important. The Human rights of migrants such as respect and dignity sometimes are put on hold, although they are inherent to all human beings. Accommodating the migrants as well as providing them with their human rights is a challenge for the policies that foster integration in countries which have a large number of migrants. For Vitorino, integration is a dual process because it requires the engagement of those who move and the acceptance of those who host the newcomers. To succeed in both integration policies, it is important to mobilize a diversified set of stakeholders. It is not just the national government that should oversee integration, the micro process in the working place contemplates all services such as schools, hospitals, commercial areas, and the working force. The private sector is as pivotal as the public sector to bring a thorough integration. Access to the labor market is also essential for success. Finally, the civil society is a key player to integrate both the host community and the migrants.

Third, the narrative on migration should consider the fear, anxiety, and rejection of both the host community and the migrants. Baring it in mind that desire of any migrant is to preserve her/his values, costumes, and traditions. It is the biggest challenge, yet it needs to be dealt with because different from other policies when it comes to migration there is no such a thing as “one size fits all.” What worked in one country or place, may not work in a different one. Humility and flexibility are crucial elements to interpret the dialogue between host community who fears the new or the unknown and the migrants who want to keep their own identity. Migration can no longer be used as a scapegoat for a country’s problems and misperceptions. Migrants are people with rights which should be properly addressed. Populist leaders can no longer use the migrants’ card to manipulate the public opinion, portraying migrants as a threat.

Fourth and last, the narrative on migration demands some pre-requisites such as addressing the root causes of migration, the link between migration and a sustainable development. To have a successful worldwide migratory system it is necessary to translate these abstract concepts into concrete actions. Therefore, policymakers should think in long terms to find an equitable solution for migratory flows. Additionally, the private and the public sector should work together to attract investments and create a long-lasting solution for their cities and the markets. Migrants are both consumers and workers which affect positively the economy by diversifying the sectors and industries. In conclusion, the narrative on migration should bring a new and positive correlation between migration and sustainable development. Migrants have proven to contribute to the development of the host countries as long as policies encourage their social and economic integration. The world needs to build a broad consensus in the international area about the advantages of migration.

This blog post was written by Patricia Zanini Graca. Patricia is a first-year graduate student at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia graduated in Business Administration and she holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a UN Digital Representative at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, the Executive Director at the Journal of Diplomacy, and the director of International Affairs at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management.

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