The United Nations Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants which took place on Monday in New York, provides a singular opportunity for the global community to forge a greater consensus on managing the world’s movements of migrants and refugees. IOM considers migration to be a mega-trend of the 21st Century representing unprecedented human mobility with one of every seven persons worldwide living or working somewhere other than their place of birth.
“We are gathered here today for an historic Summit—the first ever to assemble Heads of State from around the world to address the question of refugees and migrants,” said International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director General William Lacy Swing in opening remarks for Monday’s events.
With representatives of nearly two hundred nation states looking on, Ambassador Swing signed a document formally linking IOM to the United Nations. Starting Monday, IOM from now on will join the UN as one of its related organizations, giving the United Nations, for the first time, an explicit, official migration mandate.
With their signatures Monday, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon and IOM Director General Swing signalled the culmination of a process that began in earnest in June 2016 when IOM Member States unanimously endorsed the process to join the UN. Ambassador Swing emphasized that the process reflects a growing recognition of the importance of migration and the need to better link human mobility with related policy agendas, including in the humanitarian, development, human rights, climate change and peace and security domains.
“The signature of this historic agreement brings the leading global migration agency, International Organization for Migration (IOM) – into the United Nations – the culmination of a 65-year relationship. For the very first time in 71 years, the UN now has a ‘UN Migration Agency’,” Ambassador Swing said, adding, “This is a singular honour for our Organization – and a genuine success for migrants and Member States and indeed for this Summit.”
The UN Summit will also set in motion a much longer process focused on migration – a Global Compact on safe, regular and orderly migration that upholds the human rights of migrants and their families, irrespective of migration status.
“A record number of people are uprooted, forced to move--refugees, internally displaced persons, victims of trafficking, unaccompanied minors,” Ambassador Swing told the opening session, adding “climate change threatens yet a further 75 million living just one meter above sea level.”
Ambassador Swing also noted that he timing of this Summit was critical. “We’re facing, also, a series – that I have not seen in my lifetime – of unprecedented simultaneous, complex and protracted crises and humanitarian emergencies in an "arc of instability," that stretches from the Western bulge of Africa to the Himalayas.”
IOM’s director noted the world is witnessing an unprecedented level of human mobility, with more and more refugees and migrants leaving their homes and travelling alone. He added that the challenge of addressing large movements of refugees and migrants was not insurmountable, if the international community shared responsibility.
IOM’s collaboration with the UN is already close, and will become even more so with the organization as part of the UN system. This will help ensure that the issues surrounding the world’s 244 million international migrants are well addressed. Most importantly, the summit and the process leading to a Global Compact on migration, will be a defining moment for human mobility.