Following a tragic week, during which at least 148 migrants lost their lives in two separate sea incidents off the coasts of Tunisia and Yemen, IOM Deputy Director General Ambassador Laura Thompson participated in the public debate “Migration, from Global to Local” where she discussed the challenges of managing one of the most important phenomena of our times: migration.

The debate, which took place last Thursday (07/06), was organized by the Swiss Press Club in Geneva and moderated by the Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin. Ambassador Thompson was joined by Volker Türk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, and Thierry Apothéloz, Geneva State Councillor responsible for social cohesion.

Amb. Thompson got the discussions underway by commenting on what she noted is the most common question put to her by the press: “What [is there] to do about the problem of migration?”

“Is migration a problem, an opportunity or both? I think that it can be both. I am not going to pretend that migration doesn’t have some downsides. Forced, massive migration movements are indeed a challenge for everybody, as large numbers of people arrive at borders. Irregular migration is another problem for everyone, especially for migrants, who often leave very vulnerable situations.”

“Social issues that are related to migration can also be a problem, such as separated families, lack of access to basic services and migrants who aren’t well integrated,” added Ambassador Thomson.

Despite these challenges, which mainly affect migrants but also transit and destination countries, migration is also an opportunity. “Migration generates jobs, contributes to welfare systems and helps with the flow of goods and knowledge,” highlighted Amb. Thompson.

For Amb. Thompson, the real challenges are the prevalence of myths rather than facts in policy-making, the lack of a coherent international framework to manage migration, and the increasing levels of discrimination and xenophobia.

She identified the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which have incorporated migration as an enabler of development – and the ongoing negotiation of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) as key opportunities to tackle these issues.

“What is needed to address these challenges is for the GCM to be sufficiently strong in the implementation and follow up of the commitments, [and to] have base-line information to allow the evaluation of progress, connecting the GCM to other international agendas, particularly to the SDGs, as well as moving from declarations to actions,” Amb. Thompson continued.

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Volker Türk contextualized the place of refugees within the larger population of people on the move during his remarks. He also noted that there are over 40 million people currently internally displaced within their own country due to conflict. In some instances, armed conflicts have even prevented people from seeking shelter within their own countries.

“You have a very sad picture of people in a desperate situation and predicament,” he said. “If they were able to access safety, it would be through movement. We must remain conscious of why people are put into this situation.”

Türk also reminded the audience that the vast majority of population movements take place in the Global South. “The whole debate around migration and refugee movements [in Europe] has gained a level of attention that doesn’t bear out in terms of numbers. Politics has unfortunately seized this matter.”

As a Government official who supports the non-politicization of migration, Thierry Apothéloz localized the conversation and highlighted the role of civil society organizations. “The title of the event mentions the local context, but the community and civil society level is missing. If the Canton of Geneva is able to provide political and financial support for the integration of migrants, it is civil society organizations who are implementing these policies on the ground,” he remarked.

A member of the audience expressed their disappointment in the lack of factual statistics and stories on migrants in Switzerland during the Q&A part of the debate, given its importance for combating the growing politicization and distortion of migration. The discourse between the panelists and the audience proved not only that the local perspective enriches migration policy planning at the highest levels, but that it is an essential part of the process.

A recording of the event can be found here.