Keynote Speech by Morten Kjaerum Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights at the 60th anniversary of International Organisation for Migration on 29 September, Vienna.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by congratulating IOM for its 60 years anniversary and the astonishing work
carried out through all these years.
In 1951 the International Organisation for Migration was created. The world was reeling
from two world wars. This aftermath had left families shattered, houses destroyed, industries
collapsed and economies stricken. Millions of men, women and children were on the move,
seeking a new and hopefully better life. That was 60 years ago. But as we all know, history
repeats itself. Today migrants move, in essence, for the same reasons as before.
Today we talk about migration for the benefit of all. But unfortunately when many of
today’s migrants hold a mirror up to the world, they see the cold face of reality: hazardous
journeys across unfamiliar territory that can leave them adrift, vulnerable to extreme
exploitation and abuse.
Often thanks to the important work of the IOM many migrants arrive and settle safely and
legally in the EU. However, representing the Fundamental Rights Agency, I will focus today
on those migrants who face the biggest challenges, who are of great concern to IOM:
• victims of trafficking and
• migrants who are in the EU without permission.
Figures suggest that several hundred thousands people are trafficked annually into the
EU. This leads to exploitation. It can even lead to slavery-like situations. However, today’s
slavery is not as recognizable as before. Today’s slavery is hidden from the public gaze or
maybe we just choose not to see it. But it exists, mostly affecting women and children.
For example, the young girl Dayo aged 15 she was brought from Nigeria into a EU country.
She looked after 3 children, did all the domestic tasks and was beaten daily. When she finally
contacted a help group, the trafficker tried to return her to Nigeria. She refused to get on to
the plane and was taken to the immigration services. The immigration officers did not believe
her. They let the trafficker go and kept Dayo in a centre. After 5 days they took her to the
airport, but she managed to contact an Asylum Aid group that prevented her deportation,
claiming that she was an unaccompanied minor seeking asylum.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not an isolated case: Every year thousands of people
experience similar stories throughout the EU. And all these cases of trafficking remain
unknown, unreported, and unpunished.
Dayo’s story typifies the impossible choice facing trafficked children: to remain living in
slave-like conditions, or to try to seek help and risk prosecution or deportation.
Migrants who are living in a EU Member State without permission face similar difficulties.
The exact number of irregular migrants in the EU is unknown, but the EU-funded
CLANDESTINO project estimated the number to be around 2 to 4 million. Those who have
arrived here illegally or who have outstayed their visas are open to exploitation, particularly
from unscrupulous employers. And with the current economic crisis such exploitation only
Take the example disclosed last week of migrants working at an asparagus farm in an EU
Member State. The details so far surfacing are not part of a Charles Dickens story situated in
19th century; this is happening in the European Union in the 21st century: dangerous,
unhealthy and dirty living conditions, food shortages, warm water being cut off, 13 hours
working days- seven days a week, systematic underpayment or no payment whatsoever and
work regulations being ignored.
In this particular case the asparagus farmer is being brought to justice for the extreme labour
exploitation and maltreatment of her employees. However, in most of these cases where
migrants do experience exploitation or unfair treatment, there are several barriers for them in
getting access to justice. Principally irregular migrants are put off going to court for fear of
being reported and then deported. And because possible deportation is the price of access to
justice, often those who grossly violate these fundamental rights go unpunished.
This may happen in our neighbourhood and yet we do not see it.
So ladies and gentlemen, I ask you:
How can we make fundamental rights a reality for migrants in the EU today?
Every day migration is in the news, somehow or another. Every national election debates the
issue of migration, some way or another. In order to lead a qualified debate and in order to
ensure evidence-based policymaking we need a constant flow of data on the issues that I
have mentioned and all the other concerns related to migration. Otherwise we will not see
them and understand them.
Here IOM is a rich vein of knowledge with its global reach and deep understanding of the
people it is all about. The Fundamental Rights Agency have had the pleasure to collaborate
with IOM on many occasions and most recently when IOM helped interviewing more than
300 separated asylum seeking children from different countries – mainly from Afghanistan,
Morocco, Somalia and Iraq – as well as 300 adults who assist or work with these children.
This wealth of data enabled us to determine what are the migration challenges that children
actually face? What hardships do children encounter when they arrive in the EU? What are
some of the promising practices we can suggest to governments? For me this is not only a
good example of how data can make change but also how complementarity between the
work of different organisations can be optimized for the benefit of those in need of
In conclusion, today we are gathered here to celebrate the IOM’s many accomplishments
over the past 60 years, and to discuss migration policies for the benefit of all. As part of that
discussion respect for human rights should not be seen as an obstacle to effective policies,
but rather as a quality indicator of modern migration management. After all human rights are
granted to all - irrespective of citizenship or residence status – they are granted simply
because we are human beings.
IOM will be a key actor for this to materialize the next 60 years. Congratulations.
Thank you for your attention.