Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Leader covering wide range of migration related issues, Richard Danziger, Chief of Mission of International Organization for Migration highlighted the importance of migration related activities to Sri Lanka. “Migration plays an important role in the Sri Lankan economy and has enormous impact on society as a whole. There are some 2 million Sri Lankans abroad. That is almost 10 percent of the population. Many of these perhaps as much as thirty percent – have a tertiary education. The total amount of money remitted to Sri Lanka will likely be over 3.5 billion US dollars this year,” he said,
“These Sri Lanka migrants are providing benefit to both their home country and their countries of employment or residency and their contributions should be fully recognized. But while it is important to maximize their contribution to society through, for example, trying to ensure their fair treatment and full enjoyment of their rights, it is equally essential that we try to mitigate some of the negative consequences that can occur such as neglect of children from families where one parent – often a mother — is away,” he added.
Full text of the interview
Richard Danziger assumed duties as Chief of Mission of the, International Organization for Migration in Sri Lanka in mid July 2010. Prior to this he was Head of IOM’s Counter Trafficking Division based in Geneva since 2004 where he was responsible for administering IOM’s global database on victims of trafficking, and the Global Assistance Fund which provides for protection and assistance to vulnerable migrants around the world. Mr Danziger was a founding member of the Steering Committee of United Nations Global Initiative to Fight against Human Trafficking and currently chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade.
1) Can you tell us something about the International Organization for Migration?
IOM is an intergovernmental organisation with 127 Member States originally founded in 1951. Although not formally part of the United Nations, we collaborate closely with the various UN bodies and agencies and are part of the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka.
We have a broad mandate encompassing migration and indeed are the only global, intergovernmental body that has a unique focus on migration issues. We work at both the policy and operational levels which in Sri Lanka, for example, means that among our current activities we are partnering with the Ministry of Health to assist the government in
developing and implementing a migration health policy, while working on the ground in the North and East with the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation providing reintegration support to former LTTE cadres. We consider the former cadres as part of the overall displaced population but with their own particular vulnerabilities and needs.
2) How long has IOM been operating in Sri Lanka?
IOM’s first involvement with Sri Lanka was in late 1990 on the eve of the first Gulf War when we assisted over 94,000 thousand Sri Lankans to return home by sea and by air from the Middle East before the fighting broke out. We did something similar in 2006 during the war in Lebanon when once again we were requested to help evacuate stranded
Sri Lankans. By that time, Sri Lanka had become an IOM Member State and the Organization was very active inside Sri Lanka having opened an office here in 2002.
While our first collaboration with the Government of Sri Lanka was the humanitarian evacuation of Sri Lankan workers abroad, we were invited to open an office in Colombo with the express intention of providing technical assistance in the field of migration management. This included, for example, strengthening immigration and consular
procedures, an assisted voluntary return programme for Sri Lankans abroad and an information campaign to promote safe migration.
3) What were some highlights of IOM operations in the country?
Our presence here, and consequent daily work with the government, also led to the establishment of the Colombo Process which, at the first annual conference held in Colombo, brought together Ministers from ten Asian labour-sending countries with the aim of collaborating more closely on overseas worker issues in order to maximise benefits for the sending countries and strengthening protection for their labour migrants.
Although international dialogue on labour migration is common today, in 2002 it was an issue quite jealously guarded by sovereign states. It was farsighted of the Government of Sri Lanka to provide the momentum for this process which has seen a number of tangible results not the least of which has been the strengthening of dialogue with the worker receiving States on the Middle East.
Soon after we opened the office, we became involved in more humanitarian-oriented work such as the RECLAIM project with supported the socio-economic reintegration of former combatants from both the LTTE and SLA as part of the Cease Fire Agreement. Activities were curtailed when hostilities broke out again but the programme was nevertheless recognised by the government as a success.
In December 2004, like every agency present in Sri Lanka at the time, IOM became heavily involved in post-tsunami recovery. We managed camps for the displaced, constructed shelters, provided emergency water and sanitation facilities, health care, built many new housing units and provided a number of livelihood opportunities. We rebuilt many schools and community buildings. We still remain very active in the East implementing livelihoods and reconstruction projects and hope to continue doing so for some time. We also work in the Central Province providing support to families who have been relocated from landslide prone areas.
With the end of the war in 2009 we had a central role in providing emergency support to the more than 300,000 displaced in the north. This took the form of transport, shelter; water and sanitation and health care and to this day we continue to provide support to the Ministry of Health both inside Menik Farm and in the surrounding areas
of IDP return.
Of course, while all this humanitarian and reconstruction activity was going on, we continued to work closely with the government in Colombo in core areas of cross-border migration management developing manuals for immigration and consular personnel, upgrading technical systems and so forth. One of our most recent areas of support has been in advising on overseas worker recruitment monitoring mechanisms. After all, improved protection for Sri Lankan workers begins at home before they arrive in their country of destination. IOM is also assisting aninter-ministerial taskforce in the development of a National Policy for Migration Health as well as a Ministry of Justice-led Task Force
on Human Trafficking.
5) What are IOM’s contributions to migration management in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka has shown itself to be highly engaged in the area of migration management. This engagement has enabled IOM to develop partnerships with different ministries and agencies and make a considerable contribution to strengthening migration management in a number of critical areas such as upgrading systems and processes, building human resource capacity and strengthening migrant protection.
6) What was your message be on the occasion of International Migrants Day late last year?
Migration plays an important role in the Sri Lankan economy and has enormous impact on society as a whole. There are some 2 million Sri Lankans abroad. That is almost 10 percent of the population. Many ofthese perhaps as much as thirty percent – have a tertiary education. The total amount of money remitted to Sri Lanka will likely be over 3.5 billion US dollars this year.
These Sri Lanka migrants are providing benefit to both their home country and their countries of employment or residency and their contributions should be fully recognized. But while it is important to maximize their contribution to society through, for example, trying to ensure their fair treatment and full enjoyment of their rights, it is equally essential that we try to mitigate some of the negative consequences that can occur such as neglect of children from families where one parent – often a mother — is away.
IOM is committed to the idea that migration benefits both society and the migrants themselves. Fulfilling this vision requires the active engagement of governments and civil society. With 2011 being the 60th anniversary of the founding of IOM, and issues of migration and mobility ever more central in the global debate on development, we are more committed than ever to upholding the human dignity and well-being of migrants and assisting governments in managing migration for the benefit of all.