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EXCLUSIVE - Addressing the challenges of rising migration through fluid information exchange within and between governments

Migration is a subject frequently in the headlines now, with rapidly increasing numbers of people moving between and within countries[1], driven, among others, by economic opportunity, political conflict and natural or man-made disasters. Migration, when not well managed, can poses a complex web of challenges.

Established in 1951 in the aftermath of the Second World War, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the leading inter-governmental organisation in the field of migration, with 166 member states, a further 8 states holding observer status and offices in over 100 countries. IOM joined the United Nations system as a related organisation in September 2016 during the United Nations General Assembly high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants.

IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. The IOM Constitution recognises the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development, as well as to the right of freedom of movement and it seeks to promote promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all by providing services and advice to governments and migrants.

OpenGov had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Donato Colucci (above), Senior Regional Immigration and Border Management Specialist at IOM, about the IOM’s work in Asia-Pacific region, at the INTERPOL World event held in Singapore in June 2017. With UN, Mr. Colucci was Police Commander of the international airport of Pristine, seconded from the Italian Police Department (Polizia di Stato) to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). In Italy, he is a Police Officer from the Central Directorate of Immigration and Border Police of the Italian Ministry of Interior, currently on special leave for serving IOM.

Can you tell us about your role at IOM?

I am the Immigration and Border Management Specialist at the regional office of IOM in Bangkok. We cover the Asia-Pacific region. My specific role is to provide technical assistance to countries, governments and border management agencies, and also to IOM’s country offices in the region, in various aspects related to capacity building in border and migration management, including legal and procedural frameworks, training and capacity building, border management technology, infrastructure and international cooperation.

Can you tell us about the current areas of focus for IOM in Asia-Pacific region?

The Asia-Pacific region comprises not only major migrant countries of origin, but also traditional and emerging destination countries. In this region IOM is involved in many areas related to promoting and facilitating regular migration, as well as assisting the governments in enhancing their capacities to address all the issues related to the irregular migration and related transnational organised crime.

We are also involved in addressing the needs of the internally displaced persons and refugees, as the region continues to host a large number of refugees and displaced people, with Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, alone hosting more than 2.7 million Afghan refugees.

So, if I can say it in a few words, our main mission is to assist the governments and migrants to achieve humane and orderly migration for the benefit of migrants and society.

We have projects in many of these countries related to the development of policies, for example, enhancing the legal framework, providing training and capacity building activities to border agencies to curb smuggling of migrants and trafficking of human beings, and also assisting migrants directly with our direct assistance programmes.

We also facilitate the return to the country of origin of all those migrants who voluntarily decide to come back home, in a safe manner. In addition, we are assisting some of the most concerned governments in preparing for climate change impacts on migration, to assist countries in minimising the adverse consequences of climate change. We must consider that 75 million people are living 1 metre above sea level and the rise of the sea level will change the dynamics of the migration patterns around the world.

How does technology help governments in addressing the challenges of migration?

Before answering, let me tell you two key words. First of all, the “number” of migrants on the move. There are nearly 250 million international migrants, and some 750 million domestic migrants. In other words, there are 1 billion migrants in our 7 billion world; one in every seven persons on the globe is a migrant. Second is “the pace” of these movements.

The Asia-Pacific region is not only the largest region of the IOM, it’s also the region that hosts more than half of the world’s population, and witnesses very dynamic and diverse forms of migration. These migrations are constantly increasing in terms of number and are happening so quickly that governments need technology to cope with the challenges of ensuring adequate and timely responses to these phenomena.

If countries want to facilitate and effectively manage migration, they must to rely on technology. But not only. Technology should go hand-in-hand with the skills and knowledge of border officers. So, countries need to equally and simultaneously evolve in all aspects of the technology and capacities of the border agencies and officers.

This is a huge region, with a diversity of situations and variables. In this region, we have some of the most advanced airports in the world, but also some of the weakest land border posts and seaports. Not only from country to country, but also within the same country, we have widely diverse situations in terms of capacities, infrastructures and technology, ending in border management systems inadequate to cope with the numbers and pace of migration flows in this region.

Trying to have the same level of technology at all entry and exit points of the country is a big challenge, especially in terms of resources available.

How is data used in this area?

Without data, governments cannot have information. Without information, they cannot analyse the situation, hence, they cannot have the complete picture of how migratory flows are in their own country.

In IOM, we have a lot of initiatives where we collect and analyse data to analyse migratory flows and trends. For example, the Department of Emergencies of IOM has developed a specific tool, called DTM (Data Tracking Matrix) in order to understand the trends of the movements of people from country to country, from region to region and, finally, across the continents.

We also have specific databases for the labour market and for assisted voluntary returns. This is data directly collected by IOM to analyse trends and develop tailored proposals to assist governments in timely responding the changes of the migration patterns.

In my specific area of Immigration Border Management, we do not collect and manage data, because data related to border management belongs exclusively to the concerned countries. But we provide technical assistance to governments in order to strengthen their capacities to collect and analyse data, promote and facilitate exchange information with other governments.

In this specific area, IOM is committed in promoting international cooperation among border agencies to meet the growing operational challenges of countering smuggling of migrants and trafficking of human beings. In cooperation with the Regional Support Office of the Bali Process[2], and supported by the government of Australia, the Regional Biometric Data Exchange Solution (RBDES) will facilitate bilateral exchange of data among law enforcement agencies, by using a simple channel of communication, which allows participating Bali Process members to exchange biometric data with other participating Bali Process members in a timely, secure and harmonised manner.

The RBDES has been presented in March this year and currently, bilateral discussions with potential participating countries are ongoing to define the roadmap for the installation.

Also, governments need to have an understanding of what the movements are inside the country and not only across the border. This may have an impact, for example, on the health of specific communities inside the country or the level of services that the municipality can ensure to its inhabitants. The type and quality of services that a municipality may endure to 1000 people may not be sufficient nor adequate if 1 million people suddenly move to that municipality.

That’s why all type of movements need to be monitored, analysed, and addressed accordingly, and in one single word, “managed”.

How can technology aid in your direct work with the migrants?

First of all is identity. In a vast majority of these cases, especially for emergencies, people move without their passports, without their IDs, because they had to escape from serious risks and dangers. They simply do not have identity documents with them and not because they have decided so.

It is also true that in other cases, people try to dissimulate or hide their real identity to cross the border without the necessary authorisation or documents required by the immigration regulation of the destination or transiting countries. In other cases, unscrupulous traffickers move people across international borders under different identities with the final objective of exploiting these people in the country of destination.

In all these cases, the biggest challenge for the law enforcement agencies is to confirm the identity of the concerned person, in coordination with the country where this person comes from.

The second main area is the need of ensuring that all countries have consolidated and reliable border management information systems to can collect data and analyse data of the migration flows, in order to better analyse, and finally, effectively manage them.

Do you see a whole-of-government approach being adopted for migration related issues?

Yes. It is maybe a slow process, but countries are progressively moving towards a whole of government approach. Integrated border management, or whole-of-government management of migration, is the ultimate goal, to which all countries, some slowly, some rapidly, are moving towards.

To effectively achieve this, there are three different pillars that countries’ laws, regulations and policies have to address.

First of all, all the agencies involved in immigration and border management need to have an “intra-agency” smooth cooperation and communication system to ensure effective operation, from Headquarters to border control posts in the field.

In addition to this, all border agencies at the national level have to be able to speak to each other. Through an effective “inter-agency cooperation”, all concerned agencies should exchange information and data in all possible situations, maximise operational costs by conducting joint operations and make better use of human and financial resources, in order to ensure harmonisation and avoid duplication of efforts when enforcing the national law.

The third pillar of the Integrated Border Management model is the “international cooperation”. Once at the national level the management of migration is well incorporated into the national governance, countries are ready to cooperate with each other, with the ultimate goal of well-managed migration policies that ensure coherency across countries, regions and ideally also beyond.

With the exception of internally displaced people, we have to understand that migration, per se, is an international issue. There is no international migration without a border, there is no border without (at least) two countries. And if the countries do not effectively cooperate with each other by exchanging information and harmonising respective policies, no response will be effective.

[1]Two tools for exploring migration patterns:

http://www.global-migration.info/ and

https://www.iom.int/world-migration.

[2] The Bali Process aims to address practical issues related to smuggling, trafficking and related transnational crime. Co-chaired by Indonesia and Australia, it has more than 48 members, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the IOM and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as well as a number of observer countries and international agencies.

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