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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 111, December 2009







Mr. William Lacy SWING

Director General

International Organization for Migration


Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, Your Eminencies,

Excellencies and Distinguished Participants, 

It is an honour to be in Rome to participate in this prestigious event.

I am grateful to our hosts, the Holy See, for this opportunity for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to address, together with you, the important subject of “care for and protection of migrants.”

The theme you have chosen is timely and critical, for we live in an era of the greatest human mobility in recorded history. In percentage terms, perhaps not, but in sheer numbers there are more people on the move today than ever before.

Since its establishment in 1951, IOM has carried out activities to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of these migrants the world-over, in particular refugees and internally displaced persons; working closely with UNHCR, IOM has resettled more than 15 million people.

Each year, IOM spends more than $ 100 million on one way air tickets to move refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and others out of harm’s way, to safe resettlement countries. There are similar outlays to address the need of victims of conflicts and natural disasters.

During the past decade, IOM has grown exponentially from 67 Member States in 1997, to 127 today, and witnessed a commensurate expansion of its programmes, staffing, offices and budget (US$ 200million to 1 billion). This is testament to the growing interest of States to develop migration management systems that are orderly and humane. IOM is honoured to count the Holy See among its Observer States.

With that introduction, I have three points that would like to make today. 

I. Human mobility: an inevitable and necessary phenomenon

My first point is that migration is both necessary and inevitable. While the communications revolution may have launched today’s movement of people (nearly 1 billion if we add the 714 million internal migrants to the 215 million international migrants), it is current global demographics, labour market, economic trends and North-South disparities along with climate change, that will ensure continuing large-scale flows of people throughout the 21st Century.

The migration challenge therefore demands responsible policy decisions, on the part of us all; decisions that best serve the national interests of host and home country and, of course, the migrants themselves.

Failure on the part of Governments and the International Community to facilitate human mobility sends the wrong message to the developing world.

Many migrants, out of sheer desperation, may turn to human traffickers, and put at risk their most basic human rights. Trafficking in human beings is one of the most heinous international crimes of the globalizations era. Trafficking, to be blunt, is a modem form of slavery. (IOM’s approach is a three-fold one: Prevention, Protection and Prosecution. Around the globe, IOM sometimes with the Church, establishes and maintains shelters for victims of trafficking and, provides these victims psycho-social counselling, job training and access to best assistance.

At a time of economic downturn, such as at present, the positive contributions of migrants to society are increasingly being called into question and some Governments have adopted hardened attitudes towards migrants, including criminalizing them. It is vital therefore, thorough public information and public education programmes, to acknowledge the economic and social contributions of migrants to global economic recovery and human development --- in both developed and developing countries.

Highly skilled migrant workers bring the knowledge and innovation needed for economic recovery; low-skilled workers contribute to economic growth by taking essential jobs that host country nationals often shun.

Furthermore, migrant remittances remain a major source of income for many countries. Conservatively estimated at some US$ 300 billion per year, migrant remittances are twice as large as Official Development Aid (ODA) and nearly two-thirds that of total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in developing countries, and roughly equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of IOM’s host country, Switzerland.

II. The migration-religion partnership

My second point is that if migration is indeed inevitable and necessary, we then need to evolve migration policies and systems that address all aspects of the migration cycle. These include border control, migrants’ human rights, migrants’ health, regional dialogue between countries of origin and destination, and the involvement of civil society organizations, including religious institutions and associations.

In this regard, religious institutions and associations play an important role throughout the migration cycle. In this regard, IOM recently co-sponsored with the Moroccan government a conference on “Migration and Religion in a Global Word” and published a volume on this subject.

First, religious institutions play, as they have always played, a crucial role comforting and assisting people in need, people who, in search for a better life, or fleeing from war or persecution, find themselves in dire straits. Religious communities and associations provide housing, counselling and legal assistance to migrants and refugees, as do we.

Second, religious institutions and associations play an instrumental role in the integration of migrants into their host societies. Demographics are forcing even traditionally closed societies to examine seriously integration as an additional option in addressing their labour market requirements.

Religious communities and associations provide leadership training and support to migrant associations. They promote language schools and courses for vocational training. They run homes for refugees and for unaccompanied minors, for mothers with small children, and other vulnerable groups. These associations play a supportive role in the integration process, and governments are encouraged to promote and facilitate their role.

Third, religious institutions and associations work with communities to minimize discrimination and xenophobia and promote migrant contributions to their societies. We all as partners need to do much more in the area of public information and public education. 

III. IOM cooperation with Catholic institutions and organizations

IOM is proud of its cooperation with Catholic institutions and organizations. For example, we enjoy excellent cooperation with the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in many Refugee Resettlement programmes around the world; and with Caritas in several post conflict countries; with Catholic Relief Service (CRS) and with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, to name only a few.

We also take particular pride in our work with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG). The Holy Father expressed appreciation for what he described as a “laudable initiative” promoting the need for “a renewed awareness of the inestimable value of life and an ever more courageous commitment to the defence of human rights and the overcoming of every type of abuse”.

The cooperation between IOM and the International Union of Superiors General has proven to be so successful that we hope to extend this programme to involve men in addition to the sisters, in future activities. (Incidentally, IOM, with the UN and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has just published a Handbook on “Caring for trafficked Persons)”. 

IV. Conclusion

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, Your Eminencies, Excellencies and Distinguished Participants,

Let me conclude by summarizing my remarks.

One: Migration is here to stay. The question confronting us is how to manage the migration process most responsible --- in the best interests of countries, communities and people, in particular the migrants themselves.

Two: We have to develop a comprehensive approach to migration; one that addresses all options available including involvements of religious institutions and associations as valued partners.

Tree: We must come together as an international community to harness the collective energy, expertise and resources to promote the economic and social contributions of migrants to our countries and communities and their countries of origin.

In closing, I wish to assure you that IOM is committed to its fruitful cooperation with the Catholic Church in the interest of promoting orderly and humane migration, in dignity and in full respect of human rights.