Amy Pope, IOM director candidate: “The private sector benefits when there is well-managed migration”

Amy Pope, candidate for director general of the International Organization for Migration, in dialogue with Infobae (Credit: Cristian Gaston Taylor)

The migration crisis is one of the main sources of concern globally. In recent times millions of people have left their country for various reasons: armed conflicts, persecution, humanitarian crisis, recently the coronavirus pandemic and, increasingly, due to climate change. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2022 was the second deadliest year for these populations, with at least 445 undocumented travelers dead or reported missing.

Amy Pope is the current Deputy Director General for Management and Reform of the international organization. However, on May 15, she will seek to become the general director, a position currently held by the Portuguese António Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino. For that, she must outvote a European candidate.

As part of her trip to Argentina, the North American, who before joining the IOM was Senior Advisor to President Joe Biden on migration, spoke with infobae about his candidacy and the worrisome global immigration situation.

Despite the great challenge that this crisis represents, he highlighted, for example, the response of the international community to the massive mobilization of millions of Ukrainians after the invasion of Russia. As indicated, “everything we have learned about the response to Ukraine can and should be applied around the world when other populations are on the move.”

He also referred to the situation in Latin America, to the lessons that the enormous Venezuelan migratory population left behind, and recounted his experience after having spoken with people who decided to cross the dangerous Darien jungle to reach the United States. “The fact that people feel that this is their only option suggests that we are failing as an international community in addressing the problem,” he said.

refugees ukraine russian invasion
Amy Pope highlighted the response of the international community to the massive mobilization of Ukrainians after the Russian invasion (Yuriy Dyachyshyn / AFP) (YURIY DYACHYSHYN /)

-In the first place I would like to talk about your candidacy. In a few months she could become the next director of the OIM. What are the axes of her program?

-In short, I believe that people should be at the center of everything we do. We are a people-focused organization. We are at a time when there are more than a hundred million people on the move; many are displaced by conflict, income inequality, violence and, increasingly, climate change. So it’s important to me to establish as a starting point that everything we do is about the people we serve. You cannot have a single solution for all migrants in general; there are particular vulnerabilities, whether they are women and girls, indigenous populations, people with disabilities, youth, children… Solutions must be tailored to the people we serve and, to achieve this, we have to include migrants in the policies we establish and in the work we do.

We also have to rebuild and strengthen the relationship with our Member States. We are an affiliated organization of the United Nations, IOM has 175 members, so it is essential that we work closely with them. IOM is here to promote policies that support governments in order to support their own populations. And finally, it’s critical to me that we make sure our workforce is truly global. We are an international organization, but our current staff is not international enough. If we want to find win-win solutions, we have to make sure that our Member States are represented. More than 50% of our Member States do not have any representatives in our workforce, or have less than five. That doesn’t work when we talk about an international organization. To do this, we must start by prioritizing who we hire, recruit and promote… Also that we have to be more farsighted. We have to use our data more effectively; we have to involve the private sector. We have to bring the organization from the 20th century to the 21st century.

-You mentioned climate change, which is one of the great global threats. What effects does it have on migration and what has the coronavirus pandemic left behind?

-The interesting thing about the pandemic is that it highlighted why it is so important to have comprehensive migration policies. The pandemic demonstrated two things. One is that countries have to work together when it comes to the displacement of people. If one country stops migration, it has a ripple effect around the world. So the more policies can be created in which governments work together and in a complementary way, the better results will be obtained. But the pandemic also had a destabilizing economic impact around the world, especially in this hemisphere, putting pressure on more people to move. The same is true of climate change. More and more people are deprived of their economic opportunities, their livelihoods… Their homes are being destroyed as a result of climate change. They are destabilizing factors that will cause the displacement of people. So I think our organization has a responsibility to anticipate to mitigate and work with Member States to respond to these pressures, because everything indicates that they will be much more significant in the coming years.

-He said that the IOM must rebuild relations with member states. For years the United States has been calling for greater efforts to contain migratory flows. However, the numbers continue to rise. Can it be considered that for many countries in the international community it is not a priority issue?

-I think that the international community is increasingly busy with the issue. In Latin America, for example, we are seeing more people on the move than ever before. Obviously, the people who have left Venezuela have settled on the other side of America. But we see more and more migrants from Haiti, from places outside of Latin America… We have seen migrants from Afghanistan or refugees from the Ukraine. The world is, in some cases, getting smaller. There are more people on the move than ever. States are dealing with the issue, but I think IOM needs to be better prepared to support them as they manage the challenges, but also the opportunities that come from it.

Almost 8 million Venezuelans migrated due to the serious humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean country
Almost 8 million Venezuelans migrated due to the serious humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean country

-He referred to the case of Venezuela. There are other countries that have also been generating large migratory flows such as Cuba and Nicaragua. What is it like working with those governments? Do they show some kind of predisposition to help?

-They are member States of IOM, and IOM is dedicated above all to serving people in need, wherever they are, from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, Ukraine or Afghanistan. Our job is to provide often vital help to people on the move. Each Member State has to decide how they want to engage and work with IOM, and that is often very individual. But our role is to make sure that we are providing support to people who need it.

-The number of Venezuelan migrants or refugees is estimated to be close to eight million, similar to that of countries at war such as Syria and Ukraine. Why did such a migratory flow occur, beyond internal political issues? Were there certain failures of the international system?

-There are a number of reasons. There are political reasons, economic reasons, the destabilizing impact that the covid had on the economies of all of Latin America. We have seen Venezuelans leave Venezuela and in some cases return because they did not have opportunities in the place where they settled. The good news about Venezuela is that neighboring countries welcomed many of the fleeing Venezuelans, offering them opportunities to live, work and train in their countries, offering hospitality to people who would otherwise have no other options. I think we need to learn from it and identify ways to support other communities that are on the move.

-The one with the greatest displacement in the last year was the Ukrainian one as a consequence of the war. To such an extent that it was the largest mobilization in Europe since World War II. How do you evaluate the international response to such a humanitarian emergency, and especially the actions of neighboring countries that received the most migrants?

-It has been extraordinary. As you say, it’s the fastest displacement we’ve seen in decades, and it left several lessons. The first is that we have seen enormous support from neighboring countries, but also from other countries, not even from the hemisphere. I was in Brazil, which has hosted Ukrainian migrants and refugees. Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and several countries have opened their doors to people fleeing Ukraine. There is something extraordinary about it, and I think we can learn lessons about how quickly these governments open pathways for people fleeing the country to find safety. Another notable aspect of Ukraine is the interest of the private sector. We saw how the private sector responded by providing shelter, clothing, food… The amount of resources that were mobilized to support the people of Ukraine was incredible. I think the important thing is that we do not limit ourselves to what happened in Ukraine. Everything we have learned about the Ukraine response can and should be applied around the world when other populations are on the move.

– Do you think that because aid was so focused on the Ukrainian crisis, last year the focus was lost a bit on other cases?

-In the Ukraine there was an incredible avalanche of support. We have to reproduce that kind of support when it comes to Venezuela, to Somalia, when it comes to displaced people from Mozambique or South Sudan. The number of people on the move around the world has reached a record high. The innovations that emerged from the response to Ukraine are fully replicable in other situations. Our job at IOM is to make sure that we’re building on those lessons, that we keep the focus on the communities that continue to need that support, and we see that here in Latin America it’s showing up even today, whether it’s in Haiti , for example, or in Venezuela, where we see desperate people who need support, who need pathways for safe and regular migration.

-Another case that I would like to mention, and the IOM itself warned of the deepening of the crisis last year, is the situation in the Caribbean. There, for example, is the Darien jungle. How is the immigration situation right now?

-I have been in the Darién, I have met with many migrants who are arriving. I have met with the communities that support migrants there. The story of the Darien is a failure by the international community to provide more regular pathways to people who feel they have no other choice. No one would choose to make the trek through the Darien or take their children with them unless they felt they had no other choice. But making that journey, we know from the migrants who have made it, is extraordinarily difficult. It is extraordinarily traumatizing and people often do not survive. But if you are a person who is choosing between having no chance to feed your family for the foreseeable future or making that journey across the Darien in search of something better, that highlights why we need a better option for people. My hope is that the International Organization for Migration can work with governments to offer more regular pathways to people who have no other choice.

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Amy Pope was of the opinion that the lesson left by the international response to the mobilization of millions of Ukrainian migrants should be replicated (Credit: Cristian Gaston Taylor)

-As you remarked, there are large migratory flows for various reasons in all parts of the world: Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe. Are there differences in each case linked to the region, whether due to infrastructure issues, resources…?

Yes, there are differences. That’s why I started by saying that you can’t have a single solution. You have to take micro-solutions into account, understand what are the factors that push people to leave, and our goal is not to end human migration. Migration is normal, it is part of human nature. But our goal is to make sure that people have choices and are not forcibly displaced. As an organization, we can add value, for example, by using our data to anticipate the risk of displacement of our communities due to climate change. A few months ago I was in Somalia. There are more than a million people displaced as a result of the drought. They are about to experience another dry season. It’s totally predictable that people who can’t farm, who can’t feed their livestock, will be forced to move. I believe that IOM, working with our Member States, can anticipate where these factors are going to destabilize people and provide support even before people are forced to leave their homes.

-In the case of Latin America, what do you consider to be the main challenges facing the region to contain the large migratory flows?

-I am very optimistic about Latin America. First of all, I have seen that many Latin American countries approach migration from a very positive and constructive point of view. Today I am in Argentina, a country that is based on migration. I was in Brazil, where there is a very welcoming attitude towards migrants. I have seen the same throughout Latin America. That tells me that there is room to find new solutions, there is room to build partnerships and there is room to support people on the move. That does not mean that everything is easy and that no country can do it on its own. I think the International Organization for Migration could bring added value. First, we can offer best practices. What works, what doesn’t work… We can provide proof. We speak with migrants, with governments and with civil society. We can be a bridge that helps create solutions that work for everyone. I think it’s also important that we continue to look at the private sector as a way to invest in communities. The private sector benefits when there is a well-managed migration. They have every reason to invest in the training of nationals, to invest in the development of communities, to invest in the jobs of the future. I think if we really want to be successful, we have to bring all stakeholders to the table to find very practical solutions that work for ordinary people.

-The last. You traveled all over the world with your work. Was there any case, story or experience that you remember that had an impact or marked you?

-There have been a couple, but one of the ones that struck me the most was in the Darién. I spoke with people who passed through the Darién with their children. People who in some cases were professionals. I spoke with a woman who was an orthodontist in Venezuela. And you meet them at the end of their journey, they’ve just crossed the Darien and they’re on the other side, in Panama, and they’re devastated. They have just experienced something so traumatic and far worse than they could have ever imagined. To me, the fact that people feel that this is their only option suggests that we are failing as an international community in addressing the problem. I see a number of solutions. Some consist of providing humanitarian aid. Others are to ensure that the communities where migrants settle are also helped. So that the communities are not overwhelmed by a new population, but are provided with the necessary resources so that they can cope with the situation. This means that we have a solution that includes several countries that offer different opportunities. Evidence shows that migration drives development, keeps economies moving, has a very positive impact on both the communities that host migrants and the communities from which they come. So my goal is to advance opportunities to connect the dots between people who need to leave or create options for those people so they don’t have to leave, so we don’t find ourselves in a situation where a mother and child are walking through the Darien jungle.

Keep reading:

New York offers to pay for voluntary transfers of Venezuelan migrants to Canada

The number of migrants crossing the Darién is growing: in 40 days they almost equal the first five months of 2022

Getting a job, the challenge of Venezuelan migrants abroad in post-pandemic times