GENEVA - On assuming her post as the new director general of the International Organization for Migration, Amy Pope said that one of her main priorities was to build more regular pathways for migration for people who have lost hope for a viable future and cannot stay home.
"I am taking the helm of IOM at a time of unprecedented movement around the world," she told journalists in Geneva on Monday. She also said conflicts, the inability to find a job or a future at home, or violence within neighborhoods or communities, drove more and more people "to find a better life somewhere else."
The IOM estimates there were about 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, about 3.6% of the global population.
Pope, the first woman to head IOM in its 72-year history, said the No. 1 goal of the organization she leads "is to really harness the benefits and the promise of migration."
Pope said it was important to build up more regular channels because the current situation was not tenable.
"If we do not work with member states to build out more regular pathways for people who are in need of movement, we will continue to see overwhelming appeals for asylum systems and people coming up to borders trying to cross the Mediterranean," she said.
She said this situation was playing out in many parts of the world. In the Americas, for example, she said the number of people on the move and the profile of people on the move has evolved considerably.
"We are seeing people from all over the world show up and try to cross the Darien these days," she said, referring to the Darien Gap migration route, a perilous stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama.
Hundreds of thousands of people cross this dangerous territory every year in hopes of reaching the United States.
Pope said people make this journey because there are not enough regular avenues for people who are desperate to find work and improve their impoverished lives.
"Right now, when we look at the opportunities that exist, most people are searching out asylum pathways. And so, they are crossing the Darien because they look to present themselves at a border to seek asylum at that border," she said.
Though many do not qualify, she said people continue to claim asylum because they see this as the only option open for them.
"That, to me, says that we collectively, with our member states and with the support of IOM, need to build up more regular pathways.
"Whether they are labor pathways, whether they are other humanitarian or family reunification pathways, we need to ensure that people who cannot stay at home have a safe way to move without going through extremely dangerous jungle," she said.
Pope leaves for the Horn of Africa on Sunday. She said she chose this region as her first mission abroad because more than 80% of migration takes place within the African continent.
"Ultimately, our job as a U.N. organization is not to focus just on South to North migration, which I know occupies a lot of political space and a lot of print space, but to work with communities across the world to enable migration and outcomes no matter where they happen," she said.
Pope begins her trip in Ethiopia, where she will meet with the African Union Commission and government officials, and then travel to Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti.
A focus of her visit, she said, was to identify safe pathways and opportunities across the African continent and see how IOM can ensure migration enables development within countries in Africa.
"We have seen increased migration heading south down to South Africa. We know that migrants along the route often are facing discrimination, dangers, a lot of violence along the way, and often when they land," she said, adding that it was crucial to build awareness and better pathways for them.
Pope said she also will seek solutions for African migrants who are going to the Gulf for work. She likely was referring to the Gulf of Aden, where the IOM has been dealing with problems relating to Somali and Ethiopian migrants crossing into Yemen to reach Saudi Arabia for work.
"There have been many troubling reports about the treatment of migrants coming back from the Gulf," she said.
Pope said she wants to ensure better protection for migrants against exploitation and better access to services.
Regarding the state of West African migrants, the IOM chief called the situation in Niger, which recently went through its third coup in less than two years, particularly worrying. She said that many African migrants expelled from Algeria were among some 5,000 migrants currently in eight transit centers in Niger waiting to go home.
"We are very much advocating to have some humanitarian corridor that is open so that we can allow the migrants who want to go home to be able to go home safely," she said.
Pope refuted arguments that migrants were a drain on society. She said overwhelming evidence showed that migration benefits economies.
"When you look at economies that have had a significant influx of migrants over the years, if you look at how they are performing in the future, we see overwhelmingly that people tend to be better off as a result of migration," she said.