Migration Management; Agency Chief Urges Better Regulation, Public Education

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Special correspondent John Zarocostas interviewed Brunson McKinley, director general of the International Organization for Migration, Thursday in Geneva for The Washington Times. Mr. McKinley, 59, who has led the IOM since 1998 and was reappointed Friday for a second five-year term, is a former U.S. career diplomat. He has served as ambassador to Haiti, and was Washington's humanitarian coordinator in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1995 to 1998.

The Geneva-based IOM is not an agency of the United Nations but works closely with U.N. humanitarian and development organizations. It has about 100 member countries, an annual operating budget of $385.5 million and a staff of 2,700 worldwide.

Question: The IOM's new study published last week says nearly 3 percent of the people on earth now are migrants, and it concludes this trend will continue in the 21st century. What are the issues that policy-makers around the world must address to cope with this flow of humanity?

Answer: As we analyzed the trends, and particularly the causes, of this large-scale migration, we don't see things that are going to change anytime soon. The basic reason people are moving is for jobs ... because of economic disparities ... the fact that the richer countries are not producing enough native-born people to fill the good jobs that their economies are producing, and so they need to bring people in to those jobs.

None of these trends looks as if it's short-term or likely to go away. So migration will continue. The question is: in what form? Whether managed by policy-makers in terms of new legislation, new programs, new channels, or the way it's done now largely through illicit and irregular channels, with all of the difficulties that that entails diminished rights for the migrants themselves; inability to manage the money that migrants make, whether it's for taxation purposes in the country of destination, or for better use of remittances back home.

All of these things need to be addressed, and I think the way to address them is to put as much of these migration flows, inevitable migration flows, into regular channels as is possible through law and administrative procedure.

Q: We've seen from the industrialized countries, the Group of Eight, how difficult it's been to coordinate economic policies among the major powers. Here, we are talking about coordinating migration among dozens of countries. Is it doable?

A: I think yes, it is doable, but you have to set the bar pretty low.

If you tried now to have a global conference [on migration] along the lines of the World Trade Organization, certainly there is no hope in that, so there is no point trying. But to make steady progress bilaterally between two countries that already have strong migration links, ... there is about to come into effect a U.N. convention on the rights of migrant workers, and their families, and it sets certain standards. If governments were to abide by those standards, that would be a big step forward a big improvement in the conditions of migrants without the necessity of concluding a lot of new arrangements.

So, I would say to move right now to a world migration regime is pie in the sky. But, to take steps in that direction between countries and on a regional basis that's not only possible, it has happened in many parts of the world.

Q: Is the issue of migration misunderstood in public opinion?

A: Well ... there are problems, tensions and frictions involved in trying to manage migration flows. I don't think it's brand new. If you go back to the 19th century, even in America, my country a country built by migrants those tensions existed, and the newcomers always arrived at the bottom and had to fight their way up sometimes against resistance from better-established populations.

So what you see in Europe and other places that are now the crossroads of migrant flows should not surprise anyone. …