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INTERVIEW: ‘It is important to let the positive side of migration be told’ – IOM Director-General

Every day, for the past three years, just over a dozen migrants have died on average, or one person every two hours, according to William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM), in a message to mark the International Migrants Day, 18 December.

A report arriving on my desk twice weekly tells a tragic story, says Mr. Swing in his opening sentence, adding that the report he receives at his desk 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.

The UN migration agency calculates that today one in every seven people in the world is a migrant � someone living, working and starting a family somewhere other than his or her habitual place of residence, says Mr. Swing. And, even though so many are just trying to live, too many are dying, he adds.

Mr. Swing’s knowledge about the issue is backed by years of experience. We have had 65 years of getting to know about migrants at IOM, he says, adding, 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.

This year, on 19 September, IOM was welcomed to the United Nations family as a related agency during a UN General Assembly high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach.

In the following interview with UN News, Mr. Swing speaks about IOM’s place in the UN system, the issue of migration and the need for a global shift in the perception of migrants.

UN News: William Swing just start by saying what the significance is, of this integration between the IOM and the UN; what are the benefits for the IOM and what do you hope the benefits will be for the United Nations overall?

William Lacy Swing: Perhaps I should go back and tell you why this happened when it did. I always say that in a way the earth moves beneath our feet in several ways. First of all, in the last 5 to 6 years migration has become a truly global issue. It is sort of a mega trend of our century, with more people on the move than ever before and more forced migrations and greater tension. So all governments now have migration as at least one of their priorities. Secondly, 2015 was a real important year for the United Nations and for migrations because if you take the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework of March 2016 or the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] of last September, or the Paris Climate Change Agreement of December 2015, [you have the UN] for the first time ever have a written mandate to deal with migration, and we are outside of that. So if you want to be a real player in the SDGs, then you need to be inside. In addition to that, there was the consideration that we are well known to the current leadership in the UN and to some of the major leaders of the world. Many of whose term will end in December or January. So we thought this would be an appropriate time to do this. So that’s the main reason we are coming in, but I think in the end there are 165 member states and we decided to go in because we thought that this is the best way to help migrants and help our member states.

UN News: So would you say you bring expertise and experience of longstanding?

William Lacy Swing: 65 years of experience. We were twined or joined at the hip with UNHCR in 1951. The former UN High Commissioner for Refugees [Antonio Guterres] used to say that the problem was they lost IOM to a birth certificate, and now we found it again after 65 years. So we’ve now come into the UN. Meanwhile, over the 65 years we’ve grown we are probably more than 50% in the UN system already: we use the UN grading and salary structure; we are in the security system and the retirement system; we’re in the cluster system � we run the shelter cluster in natural disasters; I’m the champion of the UN humanitarian system for preventing sexual exploitation and abuse for example. So, we were sort of partially in the UN already, making the transition very simple.

UN News: So what benefits will it bring to the UN overall? How will you bolster the UN’s work now that you are part of it?

William Lacy Swing: Well as I said in my remarks at the General Assembly on 19 September, for the first time the UN will now have a UN migration agency. For the first time they will have the global reach that we have which is ten thousand people in 500 places on all five continents which will give you a lot of ground, truth and knowledge, plus the 65 years of experience, as we’ve evolved with the migration issue. I think also our business model, perhaps will be something that will interests other agencies. By that I mean, we had a one and a half billion dollar budget last year, and we used only 50 million � about 2% � to run the organization. And of the 10 thousand people, we only have 300 in headquarters. So it is a very lean administrative structure, which I think stands in contrast to some of our sister agencies.

Source: UN News Centre