We must avoid negative narratives about migrants, says IOM boss

Populism is having a toxic impact on support for refugees and migrants, says expert

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 12, 2019: H.E. Mr Antonio Vitorino, Director-General of International Organization for Migration (IOM) speaks during the opening session of Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference. Tuesday the 12th of March 2019 at Dubai International Convention Centre, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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The world must not fall into the trap of believing the “negative narratives” that are being spread about migrants, the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development conference heard on Tuesday.

Antonio Vitorino, director general of the International Organisation for Migration, said that the rise of populism was making it more difficult to have an open and honest debate regarding the issues surrounding migrants.

The conference, which is under the theme of People on the Move, is taking place in Dubai until Thursday.

“If we want to succeed in having a more humane and better world, we should resist the temptation of negative narratives that some want to spread about migration,” said Mr Vitorino.

“During the early years of the Syrian conflict, the absence of strong support from the international community for neighbouring states such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey reduced the ability of those countries to continue to host large numbers [of refugees]. Indeed, secondary movements to Europe were, in large part, a failure to act early enough with sufficient financial and material support.”

“We need to make sure those mistakes are not repeated and find more innovative ways to respond. Regional solidarity in hosting those in need is the first and most important element in providing aid.”

Mr Vitorino went on to tell the conference that the challenges around migration were constantly evolving.

“Environmental change will intensify and we will see more climate induced disasters such as drought, flooding and growing desertification,” he said.

“When these factors are combined with continued inequality then movement of people is likely to become more frequent.”

Populism has had a toxic impact when it comes to public support for migrants and refugees, according to Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the office of the director general of the IOM.

"Populism is certainly a toxic issue that is down to a misunderstanding of the issues," he told The National.

“The very nature of migration means that people tend to collect in urban areas and are highly visible. It is natural that people respond in a visceral way.”

He said the solution was to integrate displaced people into society.

“When you don’t have integration then you have serious problems like terrorism,” he said.

“It is in everybody’s interests that we work towards a better integration of migrants and refugees, not to do so is to store up problems for the future.”