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UN migration chief voices concern over Mediterranean deaths, pledges new solutions

2023-10-02T11:42:51Z

Amy Pope, the new director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland October 2, 2023.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The new head of the UN migration agency on Monday voiced concern that the deaths of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean were being “normalised” and vowed to work with governments to provide options for economic migration to address the crisis.

U.S. former White House adviser Amy Pope started as head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Oct. 1 at a time of record forced displacement around the world and high political tensions over irregular immigration.

In recent days, an Italian minister and billionaire Elon Musk have criticised Germany for backing charities helping distressed migrants on the world’s most dangerous route, the Mediterranean, where 22,000 people have died or gone missing since 2014. Germany’s foreign ministry defended its policies.

Asked to comment on the debate, Amy Pope said: “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.”

“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 Musk’s remarks.

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 U.N. agency since it was created in 1951. IOM seeks to ensure humane and orderly migration and intervenes where needed.

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.

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

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