High time to emphasize positive side of migration, IOM chief Antonio Vitorino tells Arab News

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Updated 03 April 2023

High time to emphasize positive side of migration, IOM chief Antonio Vitorino tells Arab News

  • Benefits of human flows often overlooked amid polarizing debate, according to director general of International Organization for Migration
  • Vitorino made the comments on the occasion of International Dialogue on Migration, a contribution of IOM to the upcoming 2023 SDG Summit

NEW YORK CITY: Migration is as old as humanity itself. Like birds, human beings are said to be a migratory species. Across all eras of human history, they have been inclined to wander away from home, driven by various motives, but always with some idea of a better life.

While migration has emerged as a prominent international and national policy issue, the public discourse on migrants has increasingly become polarized. The toxicity of the migration debate has intensified over the past few years, with the politics of fear and division setting the tone for discussions.

French rightists protest on February 25, 2023 in Saint-Brevin-les Pins, western France, against the establishment of a reception center for migrants. (AFP file)

Extremist politicians around the world deploy disruption and disinformation as tools to retain power, exploiting migrants for far-right xenophobic agendas.

Amid often negatively skewed discussions on migration and migrants, the many ways in which migrants contribute to societies is often overlooked. One can lose sight of the dynamism of migrants globally. They are overrepresented in innovation and patents, arts and sciences awards, start-ups and successful companies.

Antonio Vitorino aimed to bring these contributions to the forefront at the International Dialogue on Migration, or IDM, a biannual event that took place in New York on March 30-31, as part of the International Organization for Migration’s contribution to the 2023 SDG Summit in September.

The event brought together governments, youth representatives, civil society, local authorities and community representatives, UN agencies and experts to assess how the positive impacts of human mobility can be harnessed to attain the SDGs.

IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino says that while migration brings challenges, it is also a catalyst for economic growth. (AFP file)

“Migration is a fact of life. There have always been migrants everywhere,” Vitorino, a Portuguese lawyer and politician who took over as the director-general of IOM in October 2018, said during an interview with Arab News in New York City.

“We are very much used to seeing migration as a problem. There are challenges to migration, I don’t deny that. But I think the time has come for us to be more adamant in emphasizing the positive side of migration.”


Currently, there are about 281 million living in a country other than their countries of birth, or 3.6 percent of the global population — that is, only 1 in 30 people.

More than 100 million of those were forcibly displaced by conflict, persecution, poverty, climate disaster.

Most frequently, reasons underpinning migration are a complex combination of altered rainfall, armed conflict and a failure of government institutions and support.

Out of the 15 most vulnerable countries to climate change, 13 are witnessing an armed conflict.


The list of contributions of migrants is long indeed.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, who was on the front line?” Vitorino said. “Who was delivering the services and the food while many societies were locked out? Migrants were there on the front line.

“Look to the health system. Even in the developed world, many of the health care workers are migrants or of migrant origin.

“I do believe that migrants have a key role to play as entrepreneurs. When someone migrates, there is a strong will for winning, for confronting the new environment, and for making the best for the migrant (and) their family but also for the society in which they are working.

Migrant farm workers from Mexico pick spinach near a mobile clinic van near Wellington, Colorado, US. (AFP file)

“They are workers. They are consumers. They pay taxes. And this positive side of migration is not very often highlighted.”

Money sent home by migrants is a significant part of international capital flows. Remittances compete with international aid as one of the largest financial inflows to developing countries.

According to the World Bank, they are playing a large role in contributing to economic growth and to the livelihoods of many countries.

Asian workers at a construction site in Dubai. Many in the UAE’s labor force are migrants. (AFP file)

About $800 billion are transferred by migrants each year directly to families or communities in their countries of origin. This number does not capture unrecorded flows, so the magnitude of global remittances is likely to be much larger. They are often a lifeline for the poorest households, allowing them to meet their basic needs.

“There are countries where 10 percent, 20 percent, even 30 percent of their GDP depend on the remittances from the migrants and the diaspora,” said Vitorino.

“And now with the war in Ukraine and the (resultant) rise in food prices, remittances are used by the families in the countries of origin, mainly to buy food, (and pay for) education and housing.”

“So, it’s a contribution to the social stability and to the development of the countries of origin.

“But we are not just talking about money. We’re talking about something much, much more important, which is the link between the diaspora and the countries of origin: Family relations, friends. Migrants that come back to the country of origin, even for a limited period of a few months, transfer knowledge to their countries, expertise, and sometimes even technology.

“And that two-way flow is very positive also for the development of the countries of origin.”

Migrants from the Middle East and Asia receiving provisions at a migrant camp operated by the International Organization for Migrations near the Bosnian town of Bihac
in 2021. (AFP file)

IOM is attempting to make the case for integrating migrants into host societies. Vitorino acknowledges the complexity of the issue, which requires public policies, the engagement of civil society and local authorities. It involves the workplace, the school for the children, access to health and social security services.

“That is always challenging,” he said, “but that is where you win integration, and you take the best of migrants to the development of the host communities.”

Economic impacts vary across countries. And while migration brings challenges, there is broad consensus among economists that immigration is also a catalyst for economic growth and confers net benefits on destination countries as well.

In 2015, people on the move contributed more than 9 percent, or $6.7 trillion, to global GDP.

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, involving drastic restrictions on freedom of movement all around the world, has resulted in an unprecedented decrease in world trade and economic growth.

Migrants face-off with Moroccan riot police in the northern town of Fnideq, close to the border between Morocco and Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta on May 19, 2021. (AFP file)

That demonstrated that “if there is no human mobility, there will be a negative impact on economic growth. That’s why migration is very much aligned with different SDGs.”

The potential role of migrants in achieving the UN SDGs cannot be underestimated, IDM says.

Leaving no one behind being key to it, the 2030 SDGs agenda represented a major leap forward for migration where the latter figured not merely as a core development issue on its own, but also as a cross-cutting one that is intricately related to all other goals.

Vitorino said that the pandemic, for instance, demonstrated that excluding migrants from health coverage — SDG 3 being ensuring health and well-being for all — creates a problem for the entire community because the virus will tend to proliferate in those marginalized migrant communities.

A photo taken on February 26, 2022, shows people fleeing from Russia's invasion of Ukraine descending from a ferry boat to enter Romania. Over 8.1 million refugees fleeing Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, while an estimated 8 million others had been displaced within the country by late May 2022. (AFP file)

“Therefore, I think that the SDGs are a key guideline for us all. (On) the question of health coverage, it is very important that we guarantee that wherever they are, in countries of origin or countries of destination, migrants have access to health care. This is a fundamental right. It is inherent to the dignity of human beings irrespective of their legal status.”

Despite IOM’s efforts, “unfortunately, there is still a very uneven panorama about vaccination. The developed world has rates of vaccination around 70 percent and the low-income countries are still around 20 percent. This is an issue of concern to us. And this definitely something that does not help to fulfill the objectives of the 2030 agenda,” said Vitorino.

He visited Turkiye to oversee the organization’s operations following the Feb. 6 twin earthquakes; he said he had never seen anything like it.

“Nothing I’ve been in, theaters of war, even recently in Ukraine, (compares with) the degree of destruction and devastation that I witnessed in Turkiye.

“I see a city of 200,000 people totally smashed by the fury of the earthquake. The fury of nature should make us think very carefully about the frequency and the intensity of these natural hazards that are also related to climate change.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkiye and Syria had been rendered homeless and without livelihood by the massive earthquakes that hit southern Turkiye on February 6, 2023. (AFP file)

It is difficult to isolate climate factors from other social, economic, political and security ones underpinning migration.

Climate change intersects also with conflict and security. The Syrian civil war, where exceptional drought contributed to population movements toward urban areas that were not addressed by the political regime, illustrates this connection.

The World Bank estimates that 143 million people could be moving within their own countries by 2050 because of extreme weather events in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, in the absence of urgent global and national climate action.

Researchers highlight that an increase in temperatures could lead to growing asylum applications to the EU.

Undocumented Nicaraguan migrant workers carry their belongings as they are led from a sugar cane field by Honduran immigration officers. (AFP file)

Drought and desertification, heat waves and sea-level rise will cause depletion of ecosystems ranging from water shortages to loss of arable land, leading to conflicts over scare natural resources. The threats to human security might in turn drive people to migrate in search of alternative income and ways to meet their basic needs.

“Sometimes you have people displaced because of drought, and (others) because of floods, at the same time, in the same country,” said Vitorino.

“Look to Central America where the El Nino is changing the production of coffee and cocoa and people are deprived of their traditional agricultural means. They move to the cities. And if they don’t find solutions in the cities, they go on moving, usually toward the United States.

“My theory is to say we need to act to build the adaptation and resilience of those communities because they do not want to move. They are forced to move. And we need to support them to find the means of adapting to climate change.

“And also if they are forced to move, such as, for instance, in some Pacific islands that are going to unfortunately disappear because of sea-level rise, we need to make it safe, orderly and regular.”

IOM estimates that since 2014, about 55,000 migrants have died or disappeared. Of those, about 8,000 were en route to the US. They perished in accidents or while traveling in subhuman conditions.

The fire that killed dozens of people at an immigration processing center in Ciudad Juarez on the border with Texas on the night of March 27 was only the latest chapter in a continuing tragedy. A surveillance video has shown immigration agents walking away from the trapped detainees as the flames were engulfing them.

In 2022, 2,062 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Between 2014 and 2018, for instance, the bodies of about 12,000 people who drowned were never found.

Vitorino laments the recent increase seen in the number of irregular migrants moving around the world.

“We need to have a holistic approach to these movements and understand that you cannot just deal with one of the reasons without taking into consideration the other reasons,” he said, adding that “the need to preserve human lives and prevent deaths is a priority.”

IDM, he said, will provide conclusions that will feed into the report of the secretary general next year about the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration.

“We need evidence-based policies based on reliable and effective data. We need to guarantee the role of youth, particularly in the fight against climate change. We need to make sure that migrants are fully included in the health coverage, a critical issue to succeed in the SDGs.

“And we need to mobilize the diaspora to the development of the countries of origin.

“Those are the key messages that I hope from the IDM.”


NATO chief says Russia, North Korea pact shows mutual support by authoritarian powers

Updated 3 sec ago

NATO chief says Russia, North Korea pact shows mutual support by authoritarian powers

  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said North Korea had provided “an enormous amount of ammunition” to Russia while both China and Iran were supporting Moscow militarily in its war against Ukraine

OTTAWA: Russia’s new defensive pact with North Korea shows increasing alignment among authoritarian powers and underscores the importance of democracies presenting a united front, the head of NATO said on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a deal with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that included a mutual defense pledge, a move that overhauls Moscow’s policy toward Pyongyang.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said North Korea had provided “an enormous amount of ammunition” to Russia while both China and Iran were supporting Moscow militarily in its war against Ukraine.
“We need to be aware that authoritarian powers are aligning more and more. They are supporting each other in a way we haven’t seen before,” he told a panel discussion during an official visit to Ottawa.
“When they are more and more aligned — authoritarian regimes like North Korea and China, Iran, Russia — then it’s even more important that we are aligned as countries believing in freedom and democracy,” he said.
The growing closeness between Russia and other Asian nations means it is all the more important that NATO works with allies in the Asia-Pacific, he said, adding this was why leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea had been invited to a NATO summit in Washington next month.
Stoltenberg also said he expected Canada to meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Canada’s Liberal government, which has poured billions into social programs, only spends 1.37 percent of GDP on its military. In April it issued a plan to reach 1.76 percent by 2030.
Other NATO members “are concerned about the fiscal balance, they want to spend money on health (and) education” he said, adding that “if we’re not able to preserve peace, then what we do on health and climate change and education ... will fail.”


In Tijuana, shelter for Muslim migrants on US doorstep

A migrant prays at an abandoned warehouse turned migrant camp in Calais, northern France, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP)
Updated 27 min 19 sec ago

In Tijuana, shelter for Muslim migrants on US doorstep

  • Increasingly, migrants from the Middle East and North Africa also undertake the perilous route via South and Central America

TIJUANA, Mexico: From Algeria, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, citizens of distant, Muslim countries wait for US asylum at a shelter in the Mexican border city of Tijuana -- more used to seeing migrants from Latin America than the Middle East.
At the Assabil Inn, Mexico's first shelter catering for US-bound Muslim migrants, the backstories of the guests are as varied as the assortment of languages they speak.
"Almost everybody follows the same faith. So it feels like you're among your brothers and sisters," Maitham Alojaili, a 26-year-old who fled civil war-wrecked Sudan, told AFP before joining Friday prayers at the facility's mosque.
"People get kidnapped. Anything could happen. Sometimes, when you leave home, there's a very high chance that you don't come back," Alojaili said of the circumstances that compelled him to leave everything behind in search of a better life far away.
Data released this week by Mexico's National Migration Institute said some 1.39 million people from 177 countries have traveled through the country so far this year, trying to reach the United States without entry papers.
The figure represents almost the whole world -- the United Nations has 193 member states.
The majority came from Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and Haiti.

Increasingly, migrants from the Middle East and North Africa also undertake the perilous route via South and Central America.
For many, it includes a journey on foot through the dangerous Darien Gap, a dense jungle on the Colombia-Panama border replete with dangerous animals, criminals and human traffickers.
Yusseph Rahnali, a 31-year-old Algerian, told AFP he opted for the United States "because they accept everybody."
Europe is not an option, he said, because of visa requirements. Instead, he flew visa-free to Ecuador before crossing seven other countries to Mexico where he awaits news on the US asylum process.
Migration is at the heart of the campaign for the US presidential election in November.
Seeking re-election, incumbent Joe Biden signed a decree this month shutting down the border to asylum seekers after certain daily limits are reached.
On Tuesday, in an attempt to balance the crackdown criticized by the left and human rights groups, he announced a new potential citizenship path for immigrants married to US nationals -- which was in turn slammed by conservatives.

In Tijuana, 29-year-old Afghan journalist Fanah Ahmadi told AFP he traveled to Brazil on a humanitarian visa, then through "nine or ten other countries" to get to Mexico.
"There are many difficulties on the way but I am still grateful that... today, I am here," said Ahmadi of the Assabil Inn, where migrants receive food and shelter, "and we are near the border as well."
The Inn, opened in 2022, can house up to 200 people and allows Muslims to pray and eat halal. A stay can last from one week to seven months.
"Muslims have their home here in Tijuana," said founder Sonia Garcia, a Mexican who converted to Islam through marriage.
In 2023, a record 2.4 million people crossed the US-Mexico border without travel documents, according to US figures.
The flow hit a high of 10,000 people per day in December, which has since been reduced as both countries have cracked down.
For purposes of statistics, migrants from Muslim countries are grouped by US officials into a category labeled "other," due to their small number compared to those from Latin America, India or Russia.
Trump, as US president, banned migrants from Muslim countries in a measure that has since been overturned.
On the campaign trail he has ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric, saying migrants were "poisoning the blood" of the United States.


UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast

Updated 19 June 2024

UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast

  • Polling by YouGov showed Keir Starmer’s Labour was on track to win 425 parliamentary seats in Britain’s 650-strong House of Commons
  • Savanta poll, published by the Telegraph newspaper, said Sunak could even lose his own parliamentary seat in northern England

LONDON: Three opinion polls on Wednesday predicted a record defeat for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives at a July 4 election, forecasting the Labour Party would comfortably win a large majority after 14 years in opposition.
Polling by YouGov showed Keir Starmer’s Labour was on track to win 425 parliamentary seats in Britain’s 650-strong House of Commons, the most in its history. Savanta predicted 516 seats for Labour and More in Common gave it 406.
YouGov had the Conservatives on 108 and the Liberal Democrats on 67, while Savanta predicted the Conservatives would take 53 parliamentary seats and the Liberal Democrats 50. More in Common forecast 155 and 49 seats respectively.
Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, said its projection put Labour on course “for a historic majority.”
The three polls were so-called multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) surveys, an approach that uses voters’ age, gender, education and other variables to predict results in every British voting district. Pollsters used the method to successfully predict the 2017 British election result.
They are largely in line with previous surveys predicting a Labour victory, but show the scale of the Conservatives’ defeat could be even worse than previously thought.
YouGov’s forecast of 108 seats for the Conservatives was around 32 lower than its previous poll two weeks earlier.
Both Savanta and YouGov predicted that the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher could be left with the lowest number of seats in its near 200-year history contesting elections.
Sunak, who in a final throw of the dice last week pledged to cut 17 billion pounds of taxes for working people if re-elected,
has failed to turn the polls around so far in a campaign littered with missteps.
His task has been made harder by the surprise mid-campaign return to frontline politics by prominent Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, a right-wing populist, whose Reform UK party threatens to split the right-of-center vote.
Britain has a first-past-the-post electoral system, meaning Reform could pick up millions of votes across the country without winning any individual seats.
YouGov predicted Reform would win five seats and Savanta none. More in Common did not give a figure for Reform.
The Savanta poll, published by the Telegraph newspaper, said Sunak could even lose his own parliamentary seat in northern England, once considered a safe Conservative constituency, with the contest currently too close to call.
Sunak has acknowledged that people are frustrated with him and his party after more than a decade in power, dominated at times by political turmoil and scandal.
All three surveys projected several senior government ministers, including finance minister Jeremy Hunt, were on course to lose their seats.
Most opinion polls currently place Keir Starmer’s Labour about 20 percentage points ahead of the governing Conservatives in the national vote share.
Other polls in recent days have also presented a grim picture for Sunak, with one pollster predicting “electoral extinction” for the Conservatives.

Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’

Updated 19 June 2024

Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’

  • Iman Atta, of the Tell Mama organization which monitors Islamophobia in the UK, called on other political leaders to ‘step up’ to address divisions
  • Britain needs ‘leadership that will bring communities together, not divide them further,’ she says

LONDON: A Muslim community leader has accused Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of “attacking and undermining Muslim communities” in a bid to win votes during the July 4 general election, according to the Independent on Wednesday.
Iman Atta, of the Tell Mama organization which monitors Islamophobia in the UK, said Farage’s comments last month were “worrying,” and called on other political leaders to “step up” to address divisions.
When questioned about Conservative plans to bring in national service for 18-year-olds, the Reform UK leader said there are “a growing number of young people in this country who do not subscribe to British values, in fact loathe much of what we stand for.”
Farage confirmed during his interview on Sky News that he was referring to Muslims.
Describing his comments as “disgraceful,” Atta said the claims are “nothing new,” a reference to remarks Farage has made in the past.
After the Westminster terror attack in 2017, Farage told a US TV network: “I’m sorry to say that we have now a fifth column living inside these European countries.”
Referring to his “fifth column” remark, Atta said: “He obviously keeps on attacking and undermining Muslim communities in any way that he can find in order to be able to attract more votes and spread more polarization among communities.
“It’s actually quite worrying for us to see that, especially at a time when our country needs leadership that will bring communities together, not divide them further.”
Atta added that now is the time for “leadership that is calling out hatred and division, that is promoting integrity, that is addressing really what brings our communities together in a challenging time across the world.
“I think it’s a time that we need to see better leadership step up.”
Tell Mama has published its Manifesto Against Hate, with key proposals for the next government, including the appointment of a “hate crime czar” to prioritize and oversee initiatives; more ministerial engagement with local communities “to foster inclusivity and reduce social divisions”; and boards to be established at local, regional, and national levels to promote dialogue and collaboration between Muslim and Jewish communities.
Atta said that following the Oct. 7 attacks and subsequent Israel-Gaza conflict, the relationship between the two communities suffered “quite a fracture,” which will take years to repair.
“Communities on all sides have just forgotten about the basic elements of understanding, empathy and listening. There has been a lot of abuse online toward both Muslim and Jewish communities, but also offline,” she added.
Atta said there has been considerable “anger within Muslim communities on the approach the UK has had on the Israel-Gaza war.”
Regarding next month’s elections, she said some Muslims feel that engagement with a new government, “whoever that government is, is key in order to be able to lobby and change the dynamics of how we speak about the war, but equally how we address the issues that are arising (in communities in the UK) off the back of the war in Israel and Gaza.”

White House cancels US-Israel meeting in anger at Netanyahu’s latest accusations: report

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a state memorial ceremony at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Updated 19 June 2024

White House cancels US-Israel meeting in anger at Netanyahu’s latest accusations: report

  • Israeli leader’s claim Washington has been withholding weapons a ‘public stunt,’ officials say

LONDON: The White House canceled a meeting with Israel regarding Iran after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the US of withholding weapons on Tuesday, according to an Axios report.

In a video released on Tuesday, Netanyahu claimed he had told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that it was “inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.”

He implied the holdup was slowing Israel’s offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

President Joe Biden’s top advisers, angered by Netanyahu’s public statement, made a public statement of their own by canceling the US-Israel meeting scheduled for Thursday, Axios reported.

“This decision makes it clear that there are consequences for pulling such stunts,” a US official told the news outlet.

Another said the meeting had been postponed, not scrapped altogether.

Biden has delayed delivering certain heavy bombs to Israel since May over concerns about civilian deaths in Gaza.

However, Blinken said on Tuesday that the 2,000-pound bombs are the only ammunitions under review. He told reporters that “everything else is moving as it normally would.”