By Dana Graber Ladek
No matter how you look at it, migration is a journey, and this is a good time of year to think about migratory journeys, as many of us – particularly foreigners like me – have made long journeys back home to visit loved ones.
International Migrants’ Day is marked on 18 December each year because on that day in 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
This is a particularly special time for IOM to be celebrating migration with you. On 19 September, we became a United Nations agency, and on 5 December we celebrated our 65th birthday. In addition, 2016 marked 30 years since Thailand became an IOM member state.
To mark this important year and International Migrants Day, IOM held a Global Migration Film Festival in December. This festival aimed to change negative perceptions and attitudes towards refugees and migrants, and to strengthen the social contract between host countries and communities, and refugees and migrants.
Changing perceptions about migration is an extremely important aim, and I would like to look at what is happening in our world right now to explain why.
We are peering into a world in tumult and crises. The effects of climate change, the increasing frequency of disasters, and the emergence and reemergence of killer diseases are constant threats. Society at large seems to be reacting by voting in a different sort of leadership, one that promises tough, firm action, at the expense of migrants.
So now more than ever it is important to embrace, rather than resist, the inevitability of migration. We need to change the perception of migrants among our public and better integrate migrants in our societies. Most migrants simply want an opportunity to improve the lives of their families back home.
IOM, the UN Migration Agency, today calculates that one in every seven people on our planet is a migrant – someone living, working and starting a family somewhere other than his or her habitual place of residence. And, even though so many are just trying to live, too many are dying on their migration journey.
IOM’s Missing Migrants Project attempts to identify every dead, missing or “disappeared” migrant in the 165 countries where we operate. In 2016, for the third straight year, the Missing Migrants tally will top 5,000 fatalities.
Think about that: every day for the past three years, a dozen migrants have died, on average, or one man, woman or child every two hours.
And these are only the fatalities that we know about. Many more deaths go unrecorded by any official government or humanitarian aid agency.
Along with our sorrow and our shock at these deaths, we must recognize that migration is the mega-trend of our time. It’s a mega-trend which has pushed migration into the public’s consciousness and to the top of every government’s agenda. It is also a trend that contributes greatly to society – migrants promote economic development. They build the apartments we live in, they take care of our children and elderly, they pick the fruit we eat, they sew the clothes we wear.
With the right support, those migrants who stay will contribute to whatever society they settle in, whether it is economically or culturally. Therefore, it is important that partnerships are built between migrants, host communities and governments to nurture the benefits of their presence in the country.
As we commemorate International Migrants Day, let us recognize that we have enough opportunity for all – we need only to share it.
Dana Graber Ladek is Chief of Mission of IOM Thailand. She has spent most of her adult life living and working outside of her home country, the U.S.