Migration in a Globalized World

Joost van der Aalst, Chief of Mission, IOM Norway


By Joost van der Aalst, Chief of Mission, IOM Norway

In April, I spoke at Amnesty Norway’s Euronation festival in Tromsø. It was a great event that spoke volumes about northern Norway’s commitment to international development.
As organisations, IOM and Amnesty have much in common: we work in hundreds of countries across the world, we have been operating for over half a century, we are independent and, perhaps most importantly, we exist to promote human rights and international law.

At IOM we are dedicated to the promotion of humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. But what are the practical considerations of our mandate in a globalized world. Interestingly, in the last fifty years the number of international migrants in the world – i.e. people living in a country different from the one where they were born – have tripled: from 74 million in 1960 to 232 million now. However, the world population has almost tripled as well in that period. Therefore, in relative terms international migration has hardly increased: from 2.7 per cent in 1960 to 3 per cent now.

Historically, nation states have controlled migration by creating borders, and in most parts of the world they are quite effective. Take Ellis Island in front of the port of New York, for example. For the thousands of landless Norwegians looking for new opportunities in the early 1900s, getting through the selection process on Ellis Island was a make-or-break moment. The new arrivals ran the risk of being returned home if they did not pass the tests; tests that were meant to find out if they were healthy and literate. Those who made it past
the entry point were certain that they could settle in their new adopted country; many never returned.
The physical border around Europe is only one of many barriers to be taken before a migrant can enter. Labour migrants of today, mainly Lithuanians and Poles are welcome as long as they offer their ‘cheap labour’.

Non-Western migrants are facing often more discrimination despite their valuable education and skills. Thus, labour market integration remains a challenge. For example, a family member of a migrant from a non-EU country wishing to enter Norway has to fulfil all kinds of criteria and those will become more demanding. There is a wide set of requirements, including documentation, income and housing requirements for the relative in Norway as well as a minimum age for the relative. Are we creating a stratified society akin to a class system? And how does that fit into the Nordic socially democratic model of society?

Statistics now show that the majority of illegal migrants are ‘overstayers’; people who arrived legally and then stayed on when their visas or other permits expired. Migrants who are allowed entry are facing many more sophisticated deterrents than a simple point of entry at the border. Our society is a very complex system that functions properly as long as a detailed registration and administration of population is secured. Consequently, those who reside illegally in a country will have a hard time surviving. Yet, creating legislation that identifies illegal stay into an offence pushes irregular migrants even more into the margins of society, and is of no interest to the migrants nor of host societies.

Many migrants don’t make it to what has been dubbed as ‘Fortress Europe’. It’s estimated that 1 in 25 people lose their lives making that journey. What we at IOM are calling for is the humane management of migration that benefits all.