Migrants can be beneficial for economies, new UN migration chief says

Amy Pope vows to work with countries that want to renew their labour forces

The new Director General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Amy Pope talks to the media about taking official functions as director general of the IOM during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. 02 October 2023. EPA
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Deaths in the Mediterranean Sea risk becoming "normalised", the new head of the UN migration agency said on Monday.

Former White House adviser Amy Pope has vowed to work with governments to provide options for economic migration to help address the crisis.

Ms Pope starts her role as head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) at a time of record forced displacement around the world and high political tensions over irregular immigration.

During the past week, an Italian minister and billionaire Elon Musk have criticised Germany for backing charities helping distressed migrants on the world's most dangerous route, where 22,000 people have died or gone missing since 2014.

Germany's foreign ministry defended its policies.

"Our biggest concern is that the deaths in the Mediterranean have been normalised and that people take for granted that this is just a cost of human movement," Ms Pope said when asked to comment on the debate.

"If we're really going to stop people crossing the Mediterranean on rickety boats and dying as they do so, we need to approach the situation far more comprehensively," she said.

She declined to comment directly on Mr Musk's remarks.

Ms Pope, who wants to build partnerships with private companies to better manage migration, won a tense election in May against her then-boss, becoming the first female head of the UN agency since it was created in 1951.

The IOM seeks to ensure humane and orderly migration and intervenes where needed.

About 500 migrants rescued off Italian coast - video

About 500 migrants rescued off Italian coast

About 500 migrants rescued off Italian coast

In her first press conference, she vowed to work with countries that want to renew their labour forces like Spain.

"The evidence is fairly overwhelming that migration actually benefits economies," she said, saying this was especially true in wealthy countries with ageing populations and low birth rates.

Ms Pope said her first trip would be to east Africa to meet the African Union Commission in Ethiopia and then to Brussels where she will meet senior European officials as they search for a deal on handling irregular migration.

In the absence of a long-stalled EU deal on sharing out asylum seekers reaching Europe, civil society groups say that it has become commonplace for authorities to illegally force them back over the border they entered from outside the bloc.

There were nearly 10,000 incidents of migrants being pushed back forcibly over EU borders - either on land or on water - between May-August, a Danish Refugee Council report showed on Monday.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 4:15 PM