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NNA – Director General of the International Organization for Migration, William Lacy Swing, delivered the following speech on “Forced Migration in the Middle East, and the mutual benefits of partnership”, at a reception held on Wednesday evening at Moevenpick Hotel – Beirut, in presence of ranking dignitaries:
“Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a distinct honor and privilege to be here with you this evening.
This reception is a celebration of partnerships and cooperation which have been instrumental in carrying out critical, life-saving work.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Lebanon for hosting IOM, and for working in close conjunction with us to carry out critical work in the fields of counter trafficking, border management, and the ongoing resettlement operation of Syrian refugees to Canada. We hope to welcome Lebanon as an IOM member state in the near future.
I would especially like to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior and Municipalities with whom I had very useful meetings today, as well as the Council of Ministers, the Ministers of Justice, Health, Labor and Social Affairs, the Lebanese Armed Forces, the General Security Directorate, Transport and Civil Works, Airport Authorities, and Internal Security Forces for their support and facilitation of IOM’s work and, in particular, the resettlement program to Canada and to other European countries.
In addition, no mention of partnerships would be complete without acknowledging the support of the many embassies and their staff who have participated in the resettling of refugees.
Of course, none of IOM’s work would be possible without the continuing support of donors on whose funding we rely to assist migrants, refugees and asylum seekers across the globe.
I would also like to thank the UN Country Team for their outstanding partnership and cooperation, in no small measure due to the capable leadership of Sigrid Kaag.
Furthermore, I would also like to express my appreciation to UNESCWA, under the guidance of Dr. Rima Khalaf, for their commitment to partnership with IOM, which has recently borne fruit in the production of the valuable and timely Situation Report titled “Migration, Displacement and Development in a Changing Arab World.”
Finally, I would like to express my very deep thanks to staff of all of the agencies and institutions involved in the resettlement of Syrians to Canada, particularly those working for the Canadian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish governments. I trust that this exercise will demonstrate to the world what can be achieved when people of goodwill join hands to uphold our common obligation to protect vulnerable people.
I. “The Perfect Storm”
I have often described the mobility-driven humanitarian emergencies confronting us as a perfect storm. We are facing an unequaled level of forced migration compounded by an unparalleled number of simultaneous, complex, protracted crises involving armed conflicts, political upheavals, natural disasters, and abject poverty.
One out of every seven human beings on this planet, more than one billion people, is in some way a migrant. Almost 60 million of those have been forcibly displaced from their homes as the result of war, instability, and increasingly, climate change. Millions of others are seeking opportunities in other countries, or elsewhere within their own countries-and most are moving for a combination of reasons.
Not since the Second World War have so many persons been forcibly displaced. Humanitarian crises force people to flee their homes in search of safer places and frequently generate prolonged displacement, which in turn can sweep away hard-won development gains. All of these factors exacerbate the number of mixed migration flows all over the world.
More than one million migrants — including refugees– have arrived in Europe since January 2015. Tragically 3,700 migrants have drowned or remain missing in this same period. The trend for 2016 is just as disturbing. In this first month of 2016 alone, 45,361 irregular and forced migrants have arrived in Europe — a twelve-fold increase over January 2015. Some 156 have already perished at sea, 43 only this past weekend.
Over the summer, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Syrian and Iraqi migrants and refugees who sought safety and a stable future in a Europe that was unprepared to receive, and more importantly, to integrate them. The need is acute to find spaces in which partnerships can form to develop smart, effective governance and affect a change in the discourse surrounding migration.
II. The Drivers of Migration and Displacement
In order to find the right policy responses to this perfect storm, we need to understand its underlying causes. Migration is a “mega-trend” because of a half-dozen or so “drivers” of large-scale migration, I list them under the letter “D” for easy memory:
1. Demography – an aging North in need of workers — some 40 million in Europe by 2050 — and a youthful, jobless South;
3. Demand for labor – the lure of improved working and living conditions developed countries is certainly a strong “pull” factor amidst the dominant “push” factors;
4. Socio-economic Disparity – between global North and global South;
5. Degradation – of the environment and climate;
6. Digital Revolution – today, nearly half the world’s population has access to the Internet and, therefore, to instant information;
7. Distance-shrinking technology that enables one to get to places quickly and cheaply.
III. Forced displacement as a shaper of regional migration trends
The Middle East and North Africa region is a perfect illustration of the interplay between the factors I just outlined. Foremost is the political instability that has convulsed many countries. It has serious implications for the politics, economies and social fabric of their neighbors.
Conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Yemen have provoked mass movements, often leaving migrants and citizens alike stranded or in vulnerable situations that have necessitated swift action to save lives.
However, no recent conflict in the Middle East has caused greater movements than the five-year long conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. Being in Lebanon, you are familiar with the numbers — there are over 4 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR; over one million of them are here in Lebanon.
Host countries in the Middle East have largely been left to manage this mass movement of people on their own, bearing the strain on their infrastructures, economies, and fragile political situations.
Bold, collective partnerships that look beyond the Middle East are needed to develop a truly comprehensive approach to the governance of migration. Migration involves a shared responsibility among countries of origin, transit and destination.
The ongoing resettlement operation, which has been set the ambitious goal of moving 25,000 Syrians is a reason for hope. The ongoing coordination underway between the Government of Canada, UNHCR, the Governments of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, implementing partners and IOM has led to over 7,000 Syrians from Lebanon alone being resettled in their new home.
Migrants are often seen as a threat to national security, and are viewed with a mixture of hostility and fear. This is both unfair and counterproductive. Migrants are the first and most vulnerable victims of war and violence and cannot be held guilty for wanting to seek protection. Given the opportunity they will be nation builders in their host countries. They much to contribute in terms of knowledge, skills and entrepreneurship.
For those who have left, return to Syria is now a longed-for but untenable proposition for most refugees. For twenty five thousand people, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal or even Edmonton will become a place of residence, but that does not make the longing for Aleppo, Damascus or Hassekeh any less acute. In due course, return options may become available but right now their most urgent assignment is to settle into their new country.
When one refugee was asked what they were most looking forward to in Canada, they replied, “I want to try skiing!” For many people going to Canada, the will to make Canada home is there — the key will be for effective integration policies to be put into practice not just for Canada but for all host countries.
Migration is as old as humankind. It is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be managed — a fairer, smarter, more humane manner.
We have become all too familiar with the image of the migrant boat crossing the Mediterranean, or teams of people with luggage queueing at border posts. Less public are the individual stories of migrants, which go largely unnoticed and unmarked amid the focus on numbers and overarching trends.
For those who have never been forced from their homes due to war, or compelled to seek better employment opportunities across a border, it is too easy to become complacent about the fact that lives are at stake. When we talk about migrant and refugee statistics, we are not simply talking about numbers; we are talking about lives that are forfeit to nations’ inability to make regular channels for migration accessible.
Let us all take on the responsibility of protecting and respecting migrants’ rights, and utilize our complementary strengths to build partnerships that uphold safe, secure and legal migration.