- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

Special correspondent John Zarocostas interviewed Brunson McKinley, director general of the International Organization for Migration, Thursday in Geneva for The Washington Times. Mr. McKinley, 59, who has led the IOM since 1998 and was reappointed Friday for a second five-year term, is a former U.S. career diplomat. He has served as ambassador to Haiti, and was Washington’s humanitarian coordinator in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1995 to 1998.

The Geneva-based IOM is not an agency of the United Nations but works closely with U.N. humanitarian and development organizations. It has about 100 member countries, an annual operating budget of $385.5 million and a staff of 2,700 worldwide.

Question: The IOM’s new study published last week says nearly 3 percent of the people on earth now are migrants, and it concludes this trend will continue in the 21st century. What are the issues that policy-makers around the world must address to cope with this flow of humanity?

Answer: As we analyzed the trends, and particularly the causes, of this large-scale migration, we don’t see things that are going to change anytime soon. The basic reason people are moving is for jobs … because of economic disparities … the fact that the richer countries are not producing enough native-born people to fill the good jobs that their economies are producing, and so they need to bring people in to those jobs.

None of these trends looks as if it’s short-term or likely to go away. So migration will continue. The question is: in what form? Whether managed by policy-makers in terms of new legislation, new programs, new channels, or the way it’s done now — largely through illicit and irregular channels, with all of the difficulties that that entails — diminished rights for the migrants themselves; inability to manage the money that migrants make, whether it’s for taxation purposes in the country of destination, or for better use of remittances back home.

All of these things need to be addressed, and I think the way to address them is to put as much of these migration flows, inevitable migration flows, into regular channels as is possible through law and administrative procedure.

Q: We’ve seen from the industrialized countries, the Group of Eight, how difficult it’s been to coordinate economic policies among the major powers. Here, we are talking about coordinating migration among dozens of countries. Is it doable?

A: I think yes, it is doable, but you have to set the bar pretty low.

If you tried now to have a global conference [on migration] along the lines of the World Trade Organization, certainly there is no hope in that, so there is no point trying. But to make steady progress bilaterally between two countries that already have strong migration links, … there is about to come into effect a U.N. convention on the rights of migrant workers, and their families, and it sets certain standards. If governments were to abide by those standards, that would be a big step forward — a big improvement in the conditions of migrants without the necessity of concluding a lot of new arrangements.

So, I would say to move right now to a world migration regime is pie in the sky. But, to take steps in that direction between countries and on a regional basis — that’s not only possible, it has happened in many parts of the world.

Q: Is the issue of migration misunderstood in public opinion?

A: Well … there are problems, tensions and frictions involved in trying to manage migration flows. I don’t think it’s brand new. If you go back to the 19th century, even in America, my country — a country built by migrants — those tensions existed, and the newcomers always arrived at the bottom and had to fight their way up — sometimes against resistance from better-established populations.

So what you see in Europe and other places that are now the crossroads of migrant flows should not surprise anyone. But it does need to be addressed in a more comprehensive and rounded way. …

In fact, migrants are there because there is demand for their labor. They are socially and economically useful players in their country of destination, and then, I would argue, you need to take the next step: That being case, let’s find a way to make them legal, make them regular, make them honest tax-paying, law-abiding citizens. Don’t force them underground by a failure to acknowledge their presence. So give them the status they deserve. And I think, more and more, that line of reasoning is catching on. …

There is a problem, because migration means different things to different people. And the classical model of migration — which is the Australian or the North American model, where large, empty countries are filled up by newcomers, you know, who become farmers and settle the land, and nation grows because of them — that’s not the model of what we have anymore in the 21st century.

That was the 19th century. Now it’s the 21st century, and although there are parts of the world that can be settled by newcomers, there aren’t many left, and not where the action is. The action is in Europe, and places like Europe, already very well settled and heavily populated, where the name of the game is to find the right niches in the economy for newcomers. …

Coming in at the bottom and finding your way up, some of that exists, but mostly what you have is people coming in short-term or who want to come in short-term and fill gaps in the employment scale all through the economy from the top to the bottom. And yes, there are a lot of jobs the citizens of richer countries no longer want to take. But there is plenty of other work, too — in health care, for example, doctors and nurses from overseas are much in demand, or in engineering and construction.

Much of the building being done in Europe is being done by people not born in Western Europe. In [information technology], the schools and universities are not turning out enough specialists and technicians to keep up with the information revolution. So, at all levels, it’s a question of finding the people with the right qualifications to fill the gaps.

And then, yes, if some of them want to stay, marry, bring their families, become citizens, of the new country — fine, that ought to be possible. But a very large number of them, I think, will not want to do that. They will want to save their money, take it home, and start a business, invest — that’s the kind of system we ought to aim for.

Q: How did the attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington affect migration policies, not only in the United States but other countries with big migrant populations? We’ve heard about ethnic profiling and innocent people locked up, but do you see anything positive from increased screening of people coming into countries?

A: September 11 and the events subsequent to it have caused people to scrutinize migration flows more carefully … all around the world. I think some of [it is] an overreaction, because in fact the huge majority of all migrants are perfectly innocent job seekers … and making it harder and harder for them to move or get in is not … going to solve your terrorism problem. Unfortunately, the terrorists are smart enough to work around the regulations. …

But the point of your question was whether this is all negative, or could it be turned in useful directions, and I think it can. Because if the goal is to regularize, normalize, and manage through open legal channels these migration flows, then better techniques to identify people and screen those people and control those flows are not necessarily steps in the wrong direction. They could be steps in the right direction.

In setting up procedures for making it easier for governments to know who is entering their country, you are also creating conditions … that we would advocate for more positive outreach and recruitment of the kind of workers that are needed. I think that’s the kind of a market-based system, if you will, that we ought to be aiming at, where supply and demand and needs and capabilities to fulfill those needs are matched up. …

The fact that now we’re in a period where greater scrutiny will be applied at points of entry does not have to necessarily discourage migration flow. It could be a tool for better regulating that migration flow.

Q: Your report points out that in cases like Japan, lack of immigration could be not only a demographic time bomb but an economic time bomb, in the sense they have an aging population and will not have sufficient working population to sustain the system.

A: I think that’s right.

Q: Is that sinking in for governments of countries facing rapidly aging populations?

A: Yes, it certainly has. A lot of studies, a lot of good journalism, has now brought to the attention of policy-makers, and to the attention of the general public, that there is a problem that has to be grappled with. Now, of course, governments are inherently rather conservative.

Governments exist to execute laws, which probably were passed 10 to 15 years ago. Bureaucracies are set up with particular objectives and terms of reference. If the reality changes, the bureaucracies are slow to move. …

I think, that opinion-makers and policy-makers now know that they have a lot of work to do, and that they have to retool. And you can see that starting. But again you have to deal with the inertia of procedures in place.

But you can see it in the revamping of the European asylum system, for example. You can see it in the measures that were initiated between Presidents Bush and [Vicente] Fox [of Mexico] two years ago, which now have been put on the shelf because of other preoccupations — but which I think will come off the shelf because the basic idea is sound. And as soon as the two governments have the ability to get back to that agenda of better managing U.S.-Mexican [labor] migration, they will do so.

Things are starting [to change], and in Japan, too … I can assure you that from my own visits and discussions, the key Japanese are perfectly well-aware that they have to do something about it.

Now, inertia of government apparatus is not the only problem. There’s also a big problem with educating public opinion. Because all of these things require rather sharp changes in mentality, and that takes a lot of time. You see in many societies — I would say all societies — resistance to outsiders, resistance to uncontrollable change.

In the United States, it took a long time to develop the ideas of a multicultural society where people could behave according to their traditions. It’s gone very well in the U.S. and Canada, but other societies have not come that far, and maybe they won’t all. …

Q: How can institutions like IOM, and the World Bank, the International Labor Organization, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and others help with migration issues?

A: We can help a lot. We try hard to be of use to governments.

We at IOM are an organization composed of governments. The governments come to us, they join, they agree to work together for the better management of migration, and they pay an annual contribution, and their presence is voluntary.

When I say we have 101 countries interested in managing migration, it’s because of the way we’re set up. They don’t have to join us. They come to us and they do join because they feel they need some help.

And some of these are rich countries, poor countries — they’re on every continent. … We’ve had a growth spurt since the end of the Cold War, when a lot of barriers came down. … Ten years from now, our organization will be much bigger and the scope of our work in the kinds of services we provide will be, I think, much broader, much deeper.

I think this is an issue that’s just going to grow.

You mentioned the World Bank — they are very interested in the economic aspects of migration, particularly remittances flows. This is a huge amount of money that flows around the world — earned by people outside their country and sent home. And tapping into that and using it better could be a source of great benefit to countries of origin in terms of their development.

The [International Labor Organization] is very interested from the standard-setting side of work, also for foreign workers.

The [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is very interested in the refugee aspect of migration. This is a small part of the total migration flow, but it’s one which needs particular attention because the people by definition are victims of persecution.

And other organizations, too: The World Trade Organization has an interest in what they call service providers — essentially business workers and others involved in the international flow of trade, commerce and services, and whose ability to function in many countries … needs to be better regulated because it affects free trade.

In a sense, free movement of traders is an aspect of the free movement of trade. …

Q: To what extent is the multibillion-dollar industry of illegally moving people across borders being tackled by governments? Are they coordinating sufficiently?

A: Well, governments have certainly taken notice and are moving fast to cope with it. We get a lot of work in that very field — measures to counter trafficking and smuggling, assistance to the victims of the traffickers, technical cooperation with governments to penalize this kind of criminal traffic.

I think there is a strong argument the regularization of migration flows will help to diminish the irregular flows and traffickers, and smugglers are part of them, because it basically undercuts their appeal. Their sales line is: “Give us some money, we can get you in.”

If it’s possible to get in without a huge wait … and under much better conditions, with … a job, more people will go the regular route rather then the irregular route.

I don’t want to suggest it will be possible to eliminate trafficking entirely, because, let’s face it, there will always be a lot of people who want to get someplace and don’t qualify to go in under a job program or a family-reunification program, or some other program.

But I think a combination of opening the door to regular migration, and strong enforcement, and public education measures to work against the traffickers, can minimize this trade, if not eliminate [it] entirely, and that’s the effort we’re making along with many governments.

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