International Day of the Migrant, Director General William Lacy
Swing of the International Organization for Migration released the following
A report arriving on my desk twice weekly tells a tragic
story. It details the number of migrants who have died. They die when the
vessels smugglers cram them into sink, they die of exhaustion crossing deserts,
or much worse they die when those holding them captive - in places like Libya -
take everything they and their families can give only to murder and bury the
migrants in mass graves.
Sometimes they die far from their families. Sometimes their families are with
them, or close behind. We have had 65 years of getting to know about migrants
at the International Organization for Migration. And we know that, wherever
migrants die during dangerous journeys, many could have avoided their fate had
they had information about the risks ahead or opportunities for a better life
closer to home.
Extreme poverty, climate change, broken and corrupt economies
put millions of men, women and children at risk and on the move. Add to
that the eight full-scale conflicts happening in various parts of the world
which displace people inside and outside their own countries’ borders.
IOM, the United Nations Migration Agency, today calculates
that one in every seven people on our planet is a migrant—someone living,
working and starting a family somewhere other than his or her habitual place of
And, even though so many are just trying to live, too many
The report I receive twice weekly is produced by IOM’s
Missing Migrants Project, which attempts to identify every dead, missing or
“disappeared” migrant IOM’s staff has been able to track in the 165 countries
where IOM operates. In 2016, for the third straight year, the Missing Migrants
tally will top 5,000 fatalities.
Think about that: every day for the past three years, just
over a dozen migrants have died, on average, or one man, woman or child every
As of today, over 7,000 people already have lost their lives
along all these routes in 2016. And these are only the fatalities that we know
about. Many more deaths go unrecorded by any official government or
humanitarian aid agency.
We need to take a hard look at this shocking death toll and
the cold shoulder which the world increasingly turns towards them. This is
happening today, to families, many of whom are now following paths identical to
the ones our own parents and grandparents took, decades ago.
There is no longer any point in expressing sorrow, or horror,
or guilty feelings. We must recognize migration is the mega-trend of our time.
It’s a mega-trend which has pushed migration into the public’s consciousness
and at the top of every government’s agenda.
Images of migrants on the move in great numbers, or being
rescued at sea which are driving our politics to the extremes do not tell the
whole story. Think of the rising death tolls as early warnings of what has yet
to come as demographic, political, social pressures, often leading to conflict
– drive people to migrate in every greater numbers.
Despite appearances and media spin, migration doesn’t have to
be chaotic or seem like an invasion. It is not a looming disease, set to
contaminate our culture.
The upheaval we see all around in our politics should serve as a wake-up call to
prepare rather than panic. We need to mold the future rather than ignore it. We
should do this by embracing the inevitability of migration, changing the
perceptions of migrants among our publics and better integrating migrants in
There is a real demographic revolution going on today and
it’s up to us to manage it for the benefit of all. Most migrants simply want an
opportunity and would welcome even a temporary one—say, a short-term student or
agricultural work visa — to improve the lives of their families back home.
With the right support, those that stay will contribute to
whatever society they settle in, whether it is economically or culturally. It
is important that partnerships are built between migrants, host communities and
governments to nurture the benefits of their presence in the country.
On December 18th, International Migrants Day let us
recognize, that we have enough opportunity for all - we need only to share it.