Immigration Advocate Tells Europeans to Remember History

As another International Migrants Day draws near, the situation of migrants and refugees seemingly grows more desperate with each passing day.

In different corners of the globe, peoples in movement confront hostile and corrupt officials, opportunistic criminals and death at the hands of humans or the natural elements. The flashpoints of the contemporary crisis include Europe and the Mediterranean region, Southeast Asia and the southern and northern borders of Mexico, among other places.

Gathered in Thailand this past week, international leaders considered the fate of thousands of migrants and refugees in Southeast Asia while touching on crises in other parts of the world. William Lacy Swing, general director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), appealed on European leaders to remember their own history and not slam the door to people seeking refuge from the Middle East and other conflict-ridden zones.

Swing told the Spanish news agency EFE that little Lebanon, with 4.5 million people, had accepted more than a million immigrants, while water-short Jordan was providing 10 million liters of water to refugees every day.  Swing rejected the notion of links between terrorism and the vast majority of migrants and refugees.

The former U.S. diplomat insisted that Europe, despite problems of unemployment in countries like Spain, was capable of absorbing 800,000 people seeking secure homes and futures to the long-term benefit of the continent.

“Countries with policies that  favor immigrants will be better than those that don’t. My message to Europe is that it should absorb more immigrants and refugees, not less,” Swing contended. “Given the demographic deficit in Europe, the societies will be more multi-cultural, more multi-religious and more multi-ethnic.”

In separate comments, Swing urged Europe to recall a chapter from its own past. “We have to remember that the IOM was formed at the end of World War Two to move one million refugees from Europe to more secure places,” he said. “We can’t develop amnesia with respect to refugees.”

Founded in 1951, the International Organization for Migration consists of 162 member states. In addition to policy research and dialogue, the organization works to protect the rights, health and gender equity of migrants.

The Bangkok gathering at which Swing spoke was a follow-up to a meeting convened last May in the wake of the flight of thousands of people from Bangladesh and Burma to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
According to Human Rights Watch, many of the refugees are members of a Muslim minority subjected to “ethnic cleansing.”

The latest meeting was attended by United Nations officials, representatives of the five governments directly involved in the Southeast Asian refugee matter, members of the European Union, and observers from the United States, Japan and Australia.

Like elsewhere in the world, Swing warned that the current handling of the crisis was favoring criminal profiteers while jeopardizing the lives of migrants.

“Deficient policies are involuntarily subsidizing (human) trafficking,” Swing said. “We need to reduce the drivers of desperation, because it is scandalous that we are losing 5,000 migrants globally every year. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

For more information about and from the International Organization for Migration:

Additional sources: El Sol de Tijuana/OEM/EFE, December 4, 2015., December 4, 2015.

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