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Is this the next migration crisis?

Image: Migrants stand near their tents during the evacuation from their camp under the Charles de Gaulle bridge near the Austerlitz train station in the southeast of Paris, France, September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

William Lacy Swing
Digital Member, International Organization for Migration (IOM)
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Migration was the defining story of 2015, as an unprecedented number of people sought to escape war, poverty and persecution. Faced with a crisis on a scale not seen since the Second World War, policy-makers struggled to know how to respond.

As winter approached, the flows of migrants slowed down. But as one crisis ends, another one could yet begin: a crisis of integration.

When migrants are successfully integrated into their new communities and instilled with a sense of belonging, everyone reaps the benefits. Unfortunately, the tendency of some to focus on the negative aspects of migration – mainly in the hope of political gains – could complicate the integration process, paving the way for a second crisis.

So how can we prevent a second crisis and instead maximize all the potential benefits?

As the director-general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – an organization that for over 60 years has worked to facilitate the safe, orderly and dignified movement and integration of migrants – I feel particularly well positioned to provide some insights into how this might be possible.

Let’s not create scapegoats

I am only too aware that countries today face growing challenges in managing social diversity. But while increased numbers of migrants can become a strain on communities and ignite xenophobia, cities and towns that are prepared and that have the necessary resources and training to work with migrants will undoubtedly fare better and reap the benefits of rich and diverse communities.

Any dialogue addressing migration should be realistic, honest and avoid politicized stereotyping and scapegoating. Otherwise, we limit the scope of the discussion, while also inhibiting progress and preventing us from finding the solutions that will help receiving countries manage the migration and integration process.

Misinformation and misperception surrounding migrants and migration can influence government policy, which in turn reinforces negative attitudes in mass media and hate speech in societies.

Integration: a two-way process

It is essential to recognize that integration is a two-way process that involves both the receiving countries and the migrants. National policies play a role in the integration of migrants. But decision-making that directly affects migrants also takes place at local and community levels. That’s why the IOM emphasizes the need for dialogue between local decision-makers and migrant organizations, the latter often being undermined or overlooked.

Policy-makers must recognize that if migrants are to be a positive force in their new communities, they will initially need help finding work, learning a new language and continuing with their education. These are all vital steps towards establishing roots in a new country, steps which not only lead to permanent settlement but also to a meaningful life of lasting contribution; I urge countries to put measures in place that can accommodate these needs and promote access across the board. We know through the IOM’s training and cultural orientation programmes that this sort of support makes a big difference.

Challenging negative perceptions

All too often, when people talk about migration and migrants, they focus on the negative aspects. We need to put in place nationwide campaigns to challenge these views. IOM’s global i am a migrant campaign is an example of how this could work. The campaign serves to debunk negative perceptions of migrants and instead illustrates their diversity and the many benefits they bring. Besides the fact that this campaign focuses on giving a human face to migration, it also provides a platform for migrants to tell their personal stories of courage and hope for a better future.

Another example is the Plural Plus youth video competition, which asks for contributors to address themes such as social inclusion, migration and diversity. The 2015 winners approach these topics in thoughtful and sensitive ways, and I encourage anyone looking for a deeper understanding of the issues to watch the videos produced by young people from around the world.

Migrant success stories

This past year, I found myself having to reiterate the positive civic, social and economic contributions that migrants, through their talent and resourcefulness, make to host communities. They often bring with them considerable skills and networks, and tend to be more entrepreneurial.

As transnational entrepreneurs, migrant networks are developed, and become far more than one-way channels – they are dynamic conduits through which people, information, capital and goods flow across borders.

Migrants bring a rich element of cultural diversity to the job market; 9% of the labour market in the EU is made up of migrants and 18% of large US companies are founded by immigrants and 23% by descendants of immigrants.

It is essential that we debunk a common misperception that every job taken by an immigrant is one fewer for a native-born worker. For example, the 2013 OECD International Migration Outlook, which looked at 14 OECD destination countries and 74 countries of origin, showed that for the period from 1980 to 2005, immigration increased employment one for one, implying no crowding-out of native-born workers.

If we are to ensure the successful integration of migrants, they must be celebrated for their resilience and determination to seek a better life, rather than being ostracized.

Making migration work for all

It is very important to acknowledge and commend the integration of migrants and refugees that is already happening in many parts of the world. The Refugees Welcome initiatives in Germany and other parts of Europe, or communities in Africa and the Middle East where millions of refugees and internally displaced persons have been welcomed by the local population, come to mind.

However, as we all endeavour to meet the challenges brought on by unprecedented levels of migration, we should already be laying the groundwork for the successful integration of these new arrivals. If we can avoid some of the mistakes of the past – which sometimes left large numbers of disillusioned, disgruntled and socially and economically excluded communities within our societies – the gains we all stand to make could be enormous.

Author: William Lacy Swing, Director-General, International Organization for Migration. He is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

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