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International migration watchdog urges sea-change in narrative, policies

January 6th, 2015
01:24 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

The international community must change its attitude on migration and outdated policies, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

“We need to change the migration narrative so that people understand that migration is inevitable; it is necessary if economies are to flourish and it is desirable if we have the right policies. But our policies are out of date,” Ambassador William Swing said.

Swing’s comments followed last week’s two “ghost ship” incidents, where hundreds of migrants were set on autopilot towards Italy’s coastline, only to be rescued by authorities.

When Amanpour asked Swing if he thinks these smugglers can be stopped, the Ambassador brought up “the example of the piracy off the coast of Somalia.”

“This was a disruption of international trade and they've put together an international task force and there is no longer any piracy on the Somali coast.”

“Now surely if you can do that there, you can put together a task force that could go after these smuggling gangs and do something to put them into jail and make them pay a price.”

The International Organization for Migration estimates that over 160,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2014, compared with 42,000 in 2013.

“The interesting thing is that we've never been able to organize ourselves within the international community to make this a top priority.”

“So we want to be working this year with the European Union and others who have this problem to try to get an organized effort to stop smuggling.”

He recognized that the willingness to help these migrants, most of them coming from Syria and Eritrea, is currently not there, “but it can, I believe, be put together and organized.”

“We're living in an unusual period now of unprecedented human mobility, unprecedented disasters.”

Swing, whose many ambassadorial posts include Liberia, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said he can’t recall “a time in my long career in which we've had so many simultaneous humanitarian emergencies, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya, Yemen and Ebola in West Africa.”

“And more importantly there are no viable political processes or active negotiations that give us any hope for a solution in the short to medium term.”

As to whether nearly four years of conflict in Syria are now affecting politics in the West, Swing said “that every conflict immediately becomes a regional conflict.”

“And the pressure that's being put on countries like Lebanon and Jordan is enormous.”

The Ambassador said “there are so many things that can be done” to tackle the dire situation faced by migrants, including “temporary protective status,” as well as “more countries that are prepared to accept refugees for resettlement, and we need larger quotas."

“We now have 16.7 million refugees and 33.3 million internally displaced persons, which makes 50 million forced migrants, the greatest number since the Second World War.”

“And clearly we have to come together as an international community and say these people need help.”

“We did a study last year and it shows that every country in the world overestimates how many foreigners and migrants are in their country. So it's a question of getting the word out there and explaining.”

Click above to watch the full interview.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Italy • Latest Episode • Syria
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