Switzerland – IOM Director General William Lacy Swing spoke of “Migration in a World in Disarray” and called for improved global migration management at a time of unprecedented human mobility.
He was speaking on Monday at Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies at the Geneva Challenge 2015. The event – a contest for international graduate students – addresses advancing development goals and this year focused on return migration and socio-economic development.
“More people are on the move than ever before – more than one billion in our seven-billion person world. Of these, 250 million are international migrants, and 750 million are domestic migrants. International migrants have remained constant at about 3 percent of the world’s population for several decades, but numerically, migrants are more numerous than ever before,” he said.
“Demographers predict that this population boom is likely to continue beyond mid-century, at which time, the world’s population is expected to level out at nine billion. Migration as such will continue to be a ‘mega-trend’ of our century,” he added.
“Today, more people have been forced to migrate than at any other time since the Second World War, namely some 60 million, about one-third of these are actual refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention, and the remaining two-thirds are internally displaced persons (IDPs). As a group, those forced to migrate constitute a population about the size of France’s population,” he noted.
Conflicts and accompanying desperation are driving people to migrate under dangerous circumstances – to the sea and to the desert. Some 550,000 irregular migrants already have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe leaving a “trail of tears” – as victims of criminal gangs of smugglers torture, extort and de-humanize their victims, said Ambassador Swing.
Such journeys have killed some 3,000 migrants already this year, after over 3,200 in 2014. These migration flows are a global phenomenon: in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden; in the Caribbean between Haiti and South Florida; on the Mexico-US border, and in Southeast Asia, where at least 2,000 migrants may still be at sea on smugglers’ boats.
This is also a period of unprecedented anti-migrant sentiment – even though there is unfilled labour demand created by an ageing Europe and the OECD area. Closing borders, instituting rigid visa regimes and criminalizing irregular migrants and other rash measures are driving more and more migrants into the hands of smugglers, said the IOM Director General.
There is also a vacuum of political leadership, lack of political courage, and an erosion of international moral authority on migrant issues, with international humanitarian law being violated by all sides. Public confidence in government’s ability or willingness to manage these migration flows is another element in this “perfect storm”; and a pervasive “globalization of indifference” as Pope Francis has described it.
“It is entirely within our capacity to weather this storm, however turbulent or long. IOM’s thesis is that migration is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be managed,” said Ambassador Swing.