IOM: Moving toward people-centered migration policies

BySam Ursu

IOM: Moving toward people-centered migration policies

Over 32 million people became migrants in 2022 due to natural disasters, and it is predicted that hundreds of millions of people will become migrants by the end of the century as a result of climate change, according to the annual Migration Governance Insights published by the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) on March 13, 2024. The report, which gives a broad overview of how 100 countries and 69 local authorities address migration, puts forward recommendations as to how “people-centered” policies can be implemented.

Key findings from this year’s report include the fact that most victims of cross-border human trafficking were trafficked through official border control points (such as airports and land borders) and that approximately 61,000 migrants died between 2014 and 2023. The remains of an additional 25,000 migrants have not been recovered. Approximately 40% of human trafficking victims were men and boys while women and girls accounted for 60% of the victims.

In terms of numbers, currently, 38% of countries worldwide have a policy strategy in place to combat human trafficking while 80% of nations regularly report on counter-trafficking activities. When it comes to migration, 54% of countries have a well-defined policy strategy in place while 29% of countries have no national migration strategy at all. Approximately 54% of countries have formal cooperation (bilateral) agreements in place to prevent and counter the smuggling of migrants, with 100% of countries in Europe having such agreements in contrast to Africa, where just 41% of nations have formal bilateral agreements.

“Migration is a fact of life and a force for good. Today, and every day, we must work towards a more humane and orderly management of migration for the benefit of everyone,” said Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Three policy goals

The IOM has three overarching goals for the implementation of people-centered migration policies:

  • Save lives and protect people (reduce vulnerabilities)
  • Address climate-related displacement
  • Facilitate pathways for labor migration

These are based on three core tenets:

  • Migrants should have equal rights and equal access to opportunities
  • Migrant policies should be informed by data and international cooperation
  • All stakeholders must be united to form coherent migration policies

Of particular concern to the IOM is the rise in climate-related migration. Currently, only 22% of countries have climate change policies that include considerations for migrants. Interestingly, the region with the fewest countries that have climate-change policies which consider migrants is Europe (just 9% of countries) while Africa leads the way with 32% of countries having such policies. The IOM believes that climate change will be the number one driver of human migration by the end of the century, potentially affecting hundreds of millions of people.

According to the IOM, only 34% of countries have policies in place to address possible displacements that arise as the result of natural disasters. These policies include plans to ensure temporary housing, food, and other necessities for people who have been displaced by natural disasters and, in some cases, these policies also address conflict-related displacements.

Economic migration

In 2019, approximately 169 million people were international migrant workers, representing 4.9% of the global labor force. In 2023, nearly 80% of employers worldwide reported difficulty in finding skilled talent domestically, and 55% reported a willingness to hire foreigners. However, according to the IOM, the forced exploitation of adult workers is three times higher for migrants than among non-migrants.

Currently, only 18% of countries worldwide have a structural and legal framework (such as special visas) in place to promote the safe and orderly importation of migrants for labor purposes. Europe leads with 73% of countries in the region having such policies, while the Americas lags behind with only 4% of countries having a formal framework in place to facilitate both the outflow and inflow of economic migrants. That being said, 82 countries have formal bilateral agreements in place for economic migrants, and 61 countries are signatories to regional agreements for economic migrants.

Issues faced

Unfortunately, the IOM acknowledges that there is a gap between existing legislation to protect the rights of migrants and to ensure the ethical recruitment of migrants and the reality on the ground, where migrants often face excessive recruitment fees, are subject to non-transparent recruitment practices, and are forced into debt bondage. Other issues facing labor migrants include discrimination, limited access to information about their rights, and difficulties in seeking judicial remedies when violations do occur.

To help facilitate the safe and orderly flow of economic migrants, the IOM recommends that countries appoint labor attachés to their embassies in the countries of destination. These labor attachés could help in labor disputes, monitor the working conditions of their migrant workers in the destination country, and support the repatriation of workers. Other recommendations from the IOM include establishing partnerships with local governments, civil society, the established diaspora, and the private sector in order to better protect migrants as well as to identify more opportunities to employ migrants.

Empowering migrants

According to the IOM, nearly 43 million children were displaced due to conflict crises, but only 65% of refugee children were enrolled in primary schools and 41% in secondary schools. Ensuring the well-being of all migrants, particularly the most vulnerable, is the third pillar of the IOM’s policies.

A few key numbers from the 2024 report:

  • 50% of countries have regulations granting migrants access to government-funded healthcare.
  • 40% of countries have regulations granting migrants access to education.
  • 52% of countries engage with civil society to help to ensure migrants have access to education.
  • 32% of countries have a formal policy in place to combat discrimination against migrants, 68% of which have a gender-responsible strategy to combat discrimination against female migrants.
  • 23% of countries incorporate a gender perspective in their national migration strategy.

However, more in-depth and aggregated data is required from countries in order to measure their progress on a number of axes, including progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Currently, only 31% of countries provide this reporting, and only 42% of countries monitor the gender-specific dimensions of the SDGs. Finally, there is no single comprehensive reporting framework in place for monitoring the approximately 70 million people on the planet who are internally displaced persons.

In conclusion, beyond the adoption by all countries of the full spectrum of standards and policies outlined in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, the IOM recommends that countries conduct more frequent censuses and surveys in order to better capture migrant data, adopt policies to strengthen migration policy coherence between all stakeholders (including local governments, the private sector, civil society, and the diaspora), improve international coordination on migration issues, proactively prepare for disaster-displaced populations, and identify opportunities to encourage and utilize ethical labor migration.