IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing has urged countries affected by irregular migration in the Indian Ocean region to use all available means to ensure safer migration across the region.
At the Second Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the region in Bangkok today, Ambassador Swing pledged IOM’s continued support to the five affected countries – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand – but cautioned that migrant-friendly policies were essential.
Migration is inevitable, necessary, and – if well managed – highly desirable, he stressed. Measures such as short-term visas, temporary refuge, protection strategies, seasonal work visas and more should be in place to underpin the top priorities of humane reception and lifesaving measures for vulnerable migrants.
“Bad policies are unintentionally subsidizing the smugglers,” he told an audience of diplomats, government representatives and international organizations. “We need to reduce the drivers of desperation, because it is scandalous that we are losing 5,000 migrants globally every year. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Ambassador Swing welcomed regional moves that had been made to manage migration since last May’s crisis but noted that the numbers were relatively small: at the height of the crisis some 8,000 people were stranded at sea in a region with an overall population of 350 million.
Noting the global migration and refugee crisis, DG Swing noted that countries like Lebanon, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan each host hundreds of thousands of refugees. “We have to remember that IOM was founded to bring millions of refugees in Europe at the end of the Second World War to safer shores. We must not develop refugee amnesia.”
Moving forward, governments in the region must improve access to vulnerable populations, he stressed. “If you give us full access we can often help you to understand the needs.”
Earlier, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai quoted Ambassador Swing’s memorable remark at the first Special Meeting in May 2015: “Migration is not a problem to be solved, but a phenomenon to be managed.”
Other speakers at the conference included UNHCR, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the European Union, the ASEAN Secretariat, and the Indonesian, Australian, Thai, Malaysian, Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments. Responding to a request from the organizers, IOM gave a brief presentation on the role of information campaigns in ensuring safe migration, tacking smuggling, and reducing irregular migrant flows.