Migration is a fundamental part of human behaviour. Climate change, environmental pollution, natural disasters, violent conflicts, economic insecurity are some of the reasons why people migrate. While inequalities and power structures exacerbate the reasons to leave one’s home, the lines between forced and chosen migration are rarely clear.
Our social democratic vision for the future is a world in which migration is a free choice and mobility is based on the values of human rights and global solidarity. Based on the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees, and the Sustainable Development Goals and through close collaboration with the UN Network on Migration, OHCHR, the Treaty Body System, Special Rapporteurs, and civil society we work to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights of all migrants.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been producing the flagship World Migration Report Series since 2000. Today you are launching the 11th report. What is the aim of the report?
The first World Migration Report was published over two decades ago, initially as a one-off report designed to increase the understanding of migration by policymakers and the general public. It was conceived at a time when the effects of globalization were being felt in many parts of the world. Indeed, the first World Migration Report states that its origins are rooted in understanding the effects of globalization on migration patterns and how they were changing. Globalization is, of course, still shaping migration and mobility, and in this report we situate the current issue of COVID-19 impacts alongside broader global transformations related to technology, geopolitics, and environmental change.
How has the work evolved over the last two decades?
We have become more cognizant that people around the world need outputs and materials in their own official languages. Language translation is a meaningful, practical, and cost-effective way of supporting development and technical capacity-building for those working in migration. The 2020 edition of the World Migration Report was available for the first time in all six United Nations languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish), with key chapters also being translated into German, Portuguese, Swahili, and Turkish. This is a far cry from the 2005 edition, which was published in just one language, and a major improvement on the 2015 edition, which was produced in five languages. Our aim, with the support of donors from all sectors, is to increase our linguistic reach even further for this current edition. We are grateful to the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung for its funding of the German language translations.
In the report you present key data and information on migration as well as thematic chapters on highly topical migration issues. What stands out in terms of key information on migration and migrants in this report?
As you might expect, we have a keen focus on the impacts of COVID-19 in this edition. While acknowledging that COVID-19 will affect us, including socio-economically, for many years to come, this edition offers an initial exploration of current data and other evidence to answer the key question, “How has COVID-19 altered migration and mobility for people around the world?”
Data clearly show huge impacts in terms of mobility. Air passenger numbers globally dropped 60% in 2020 to 1.8 billion, down from 4.5 billion the year before. We saw the imposition of over 108,000 COVID-related international travel restrictions during the first year of the pandemic - a completely new data point of course that had not even existed in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic is no doubt “the great disruptor”. What are other emerging migration issues that you address in this year’s report?
We can't risk becoming overly focused on COVID-19, so the report answers many other questions beyond COVID-19, including on important topics such as the links between peace and migration, on disinformation about migration, on countering human trafficking and on climate change impacts.
The last report explored the links between environmental change and migration. The 2022 report looks at migration in the context of the slow-onset impacts of climate change. Can you give us some insight on what the new data reveals?
It's interesting that you put it in those terms - around new data - as we actually caution readers on the data aspect and the risk of focusing on the "big numbers" that can be overwhelming. We have data about what may happen as global temperatures rise; the goal is now to galvanize policymakers and practitioners into action. As such, the chapter provides examples of effective policy responses and examples of international cooperation forged by governments and other partners. The key message is that the projections are largely based on current global approaches but there is a lot that can be done at local levels to reduce slow-onset impacts and prepare communities for the changing years ahead.
The nexus of migration and development is an important element in the discussion on migration. How did the new report look at this issue and what would you like to highlight in terms of the findings?
We went back to the long-term empirical data to have a close look at trends over the last two decades in particular. Rather than use country-income data we decided to use the UN's Human Development Index as it is a more comprehensive data variable, that takes into account economic factors along with a wide range of other key indicators, such as health, education, and so on.
We found that migration is increasingly happening between highly developed countries, rather than from least or low development countries to high development countries. Of the top 20 countries of origin in 2020, excluding refugee populations given that they have been displaced rather than migrated, 18 of them were high or very high on the human development index, compared to seven in 1995. There were no low development index countries amongst the top origin countries in 2020, while in 1995 there were six.
What do you draw from those surprising developments?
These findings show that data collection and analysis are essential to shed light on dynamics and developments in the context of migration. It also highlights that there is a link between migration patterns and regional free movement agreements, which can provide people with valid options for moving. There is more analytical work to do of course, but this critical examination, based on empirical data, is a useful contribution as it provides a new perspective on how migration patterns have changed.
was elected Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) by its Member States in 2018. He has over 27 years of international and national political and academic experience, which brought him consistently in touch with the migration context. He served as European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, from 1999 to 2004. Prior to joining the European Commission, António Vitorino served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense of Portugal.