IOM Director Shuns Backway Crisis

Jo-Lind Roberts
Jo-Lind Roberts

As African youths continue to risk everything to reach European citadel, journalist Abdoulie JOHN caught up with Jo-Lind Roberts, Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Dakar, Senegal. In this exclusive interview, IOM top official speaks about the dangerous journey that has turned the Mediterranean Sea into the largest mass grave in the world. She also discusses about other important issues, including the possibility of indicting peoples smugglers etc.

Barely two weeks after 700 people were reported dead while crossing to Europe, what do you make of this unimaginable drama?

The rising toll of deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean is a tragedy. The urgency right now is to save lives, for a search and rescue operation with a clear mission to save the lives of migrants. IOM is urging EU states to adopt a holistic approach and action plan that centres on the respect of human lives and human rights.

Gambians are amongst those African youths that continue to generate headlines in the migration drama taking place in Mediterranean Sea. Could lack of democracy and jobs opportunities in some African countries be seen as the main causes of this human tragedy?

There is also a large number of Senegalese arriving on Italy coasts in the numbers that have been shared for January-March 2015. Lack of job opportunities and skills-building seems to be one of the reasons both Gambians and Senegalese are attempting the trip to Europe by land, through Niger and Libya.

The European Commission, which prepares a new strategy on the immigration, underlined that “human lives are at stake, and the European Union in general is under a moral obligation to act in order to protect immigrants”. Do you share this opinion? What do you make of the resounding silence of African governments?

I believe we are all under a moral obligation to save the lives that are at stake, and to protect these migrants in view of their vulnerability. Safer channels for regular migration need to be set-up, in particular for low-skilled migrant workers. A commitment need to be taken by EU member states to receive a higher number of refugees, in view of the number of people attempting to enter Italy coming from Sudan, Syria and other conflict-affected areas.

What are the efforts carried out by IOM to help highlight and curb illegal migration phenomenon?

IOM’s mandate is to promote human migration for the benefit of all. In the case of irregular migration, migrants are a vulnerable population, especially in the case of women and unaccompanied minors, who can become victims of trafficking. In the West and central Africa region, IOM is involved in different thematic areas that aim to better manage
migration, such as:
– support to border management (capacity building of border officials, improved surveillance systems, rehabilitation/construction of border posts, etc)
– counter-trafficking with a focus on the protection of vulnerable migrants/victims of trafficking, with psycho-social support, and opportunities for return and reintegration (when possible)
– Support to labour and circular migration, both low and high skilled;
– at policy level, support to the elaboration of policies and laws on migration management, and specifically in the framework of the Free Movement Migration project (FMM Support to free movement of persons in West Africa, working closely with ECOWAS on capacity building and the
development of regional dialogues in order to address these issues

Human traffickers have been accused of risking people’s life in exchange of huge amount of money. Do you think the act they posed may tantamount to crime against humanity?

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which entered into force in 2002, specifically refers to “trafficking in persons” as a crime against humanity under the Statute’s enslavement provision. No cases have been brought to date before the International Criminal
Court, however.

In the case of many of the migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, the issue is related to smuggling, as trafficking necessarily involves recruitment for the purpose of exploitation (definition of the Palermo Protocol). Globally, the transnational crime of migrant smuggling (i.e. the remunerated facilitation of irregular migration) has been increasing over recent years, costing thousands of lives and contributing to irregular migration into the EU and Schengen countries.

Criminal networks prey on desperate individuals and employ highly flexible and ever-changing modi operandi, rendering a comprehensive and global response all the more difficult. IOM’s approach to combat migrant smuggling is focusing on building capacity for law enforcement actors, supporting an effective criminal justice response, strengthening cooperation amongst key actors, while at the same time ensuring due protection of migrants´ rights.

The lack of systematic risk analysis in the region, of operational and strategic cooperation and information exchange has lead to little knowledge being acquired on the routes and methods utilized by smugglers.


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