United Nations, 28 September 2015 - At the opening of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, IOM Director General William Lacy Swing warned that growing anti-migration sentiment in Europe is unnecessarily endangering the lives of migrants, while ignoring the overall benefits that migration has historically provided to the world.
With Heads of State and other senior officials gathered for the historic session, Swing called on them to ensure that migration is governed in a responsible and humane fashion. One in seven people on the planet is a migrant – one billion in total – and billions more are impacted by migration daily.
“Migrants cannot remain just a number to be counted,” said the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) “Governments must ensure that migrants’ rights are truly protected once and for all. This General Assembly, in its historic 70th year, presents world leaders with the opportunity to acknowledge that migration is inevitable, necessary and desirable.”
He added that anti-migrant sentiment and the fears of officials are leading to lives being tragically lost and to families being separated forever from loved ones. Many are unable to come to closure. Education, careers and dreams are being abandoned.
“We mourn for the victims and for our entire shared humanity, but must seize the moment to take action," he said.
Swing was speaking as IOM reported that a record half a million migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far in 2015, many of them women and children fleeing war in Syria and seeking asylum in the European Union. Tragically, almost 3,000 migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty have perished on these journeys, most from drowning after their flimsy craft succumbed to the waves. Seventeen more Syrians refugees drowned in the last 24 hours as their boat sank off the Turkish coast on its way to the Greek island of Leros.
The migration issue has moved centre stage at the UN as a result of growing concern about those who take to the migratory route. They include people fleeing poverty and inequality, as well as those escaping war and human rights abuses.
Following the conclusion of the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit, which recognized the positive role of migrants, the General Assembly needs to highlight the many positive contributions migration brings to states and communities worldwide.
With populist leaders and elements of the media increasingly portraying migrants in a negative light, IOM points out that fear of the unknown is deepening community divisions and endangering the very people seeking a better or safer life. Delegates at the General Assembly must recall that migration fuels growth, innovation and entrepreneurship in both countries of origin and destination, Mr Swing said.
With an unprecedented number of simultaneous and complex humanitarian emergencies increasingly driving migration globally, current migrant realities must be met by adequate and humane migration policies. Responses that focus solely on immediate humanitarian and security needs, without a long term vision to guide policy and practice and to respond to community apprehensions, will leave us trapped in crisis-mode interventions.
This is a time for the world’s leaders to have bold, collective thinking and to take action to develop a truly comprehensive approach to the governance of migration to ensure channels for safe and regular migration.
Migration can be an opportunity for greater global development and a vital lifeline for many. As the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development advances with migration priorities included, this 70th Session of the UN General Assembly offers a prime opportunity to bring international cooperation for humane migration to the forefront of discussions and commitments.