IOM Director General on International Migrants Day: Migration is a force for Progress

December 18, 2018

By António Vitorino

Migration is the great issue of our era. Migration With Dignity is the theme of 2018’s International Migrants Day, which we observe on Tuesday (18 December).

Dignity is at the core of our mission. Treating all migrants with dignity is the fundamental requirement we face before anything else we attempt on migration—a troubling issue coming at a troubling time for the world community—because our future depends on it. So, too, does our present.

I am newly arrived at the International Organization for Migration, recently chosen to lead one of the international community's oldest and most effective organizations. Yet migration is as old as humankind. Which means that IOM, at a mere 67 years of age, is a relative newcomer.

So there remains much to do. And learn. But dignity comes first.
Foremost: the dignity to choose. We are today a species on the move—approximately one of every seven people planet-wide – in the broadest sense – are migrants.

Migration is a force for dignity because it allows people to choose to save themselves, protect themselves, educate themselves, or free themselves. It lets millions choose participation over isolation, action over idleness, hope over fear and prosperity over poverty.

We must dignify those choices by paying them respect. We respect them by treating those who make such choices with dignity.

We, too, have the choice. To answer migrants’ hopes with our acceptance, to answer their ambition with opportunities. To treat their arrival as welcome.

We must also respect and listen to those who have become frightened of the change migration brings to their lives. Whether their fears are warranted or not, they are authentic and deserve, too, to be addressed with dignity.

Unless we give all citizens the assurance their choices, too, are respected, we risk losing a real opportunity for progress.

Migration embodies choices we make together—either by responding to our new neighbours (or potential new neighbours)’ arrival with a sense of community, or to seek to erect barriers to keep our neighbours out.

The adoption earlier this month (10 December) in Marrakech of the Global Compact on Migration by an overwhelming majority of UN Member States takes us one step forward toward dignity for all, and toward a more balanced discourse and widespread cooperation on migration.

The Global Compact for Migration strikes a delicate balance between the sovereignty of nations and the security, and dignity, we demand for every individual.

As we turn now to celebrating the UN’s annual International Migrants Day we’ll do well to remind ourselves of that balance, and how the two sides do not compete with each other. They complement.
We do well to recall, too, that the Compact stresses all states need well-managed migration, and that no one state can achieve this alone. Cooperation on migration at all levels is fundamental to addressing migration.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed December 18 as International Migrants Day in 2000. That same year, in its annual World Migration Report, IOM stated that “more than 150 million international migrants celebrated the turn of the millennium outside their countries of birth.”

Eighteen years on, the trend of men, women and children on the move has continued upward. Eighteen years on, we’ve seen that the number of international migrants noted in 2000—150 million—has grown to an estimated 244 million people living on foreign soil. Another 40 million people are internally displaced, barely half due to violence.

Nonetheless, the greatest danger often lies sadly in migration itself.

IOM’s data show that close to 3,400 migrants and refugees already have lost their lives worldwide in 2018. Most died trying to reach Europe by sea. Many of the rest died attempting to cross deserts or pass through dense forests seeking safety far from any official border crossing. These numbers, compiled daily by IOM staff, shame us.

IOM renews its call for urgent action to save the lives of migrants. Our call is for migration to be safe, regular and secure for all—not just those on the move, but also those of the transit countries migrants pass through and especially receiving communities within their destination countries.

In that vein, IOM has chosen “Migration with Dignity” (#MigrationwithDignity) as its theme for this year’s International Migrants Day.

While reaffirming that migration is a driving force for progress and development, we also highlight the importance of the world’s engagement to ensure migration that is safe, orderly and dignified.


António Vitorino is the Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM)