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IOM Director General Amy Pope © IOM archives

The future of migration
Celebrating International Migrants Day on 18 December with Director General of the International Organization for Migration, Amy Pope
1 Dec 2023

You have started as Director General of IOM at a time when the world is facing a multitude of humanitarian challenges. How do you intend to lead IOM to make it fit for purpose and be able to face these challenges?

For too long, we’ve treated migration as a problem to be solved, when it is an opportunity to be seized. Of course, IOM will continue to be at its strongest as a first responder to the most urgent crises. But responding to crises is expensive in financial and human terms. That’s why we’re focused on strategies that can make us more proactive, using our data and expertise to be even more effective. Our goal is to harness the true power of migration, one that enhances the benefit migration brings to new communities and to countries of origin.

You are the first woman to be elected to this position. We know that women and girls are the most impacted by the consequences of inadequate migration policies. How do you intend to push forward the gender equality agenda through the work of the IOM?

It’s true that the context of migration can often exacerbate already existing gender inequalities. We must consider the impact of those inequalities on men, boys and people with diverse gender identities too, because if we don’t, we risk perpetuating and exacerbating them.

At the IOM, we are launching a new ‘Gender Equality Policy’ to help ensure that our efforts, regardless of the context, are responsive to gender issues. Promoting gender equality in the context of migration is a core function of IOM, and it fits into our broader vision of driving solutions that preserve and promote human dignity and agency.

How do you intend to strengthen the collaboration and partnership with other UN humanitarian agencies such as UNHCR and WFP?

I like to say that we’re all in this together, saving lives and helping the most vulnerable, and that’s how I feel about the work we do with the other UN organizations. For example, we’ve got a two-year joint Work Plan with WFP that identifies areas of collaboration at the strategic and technical level. With UNHCR, we have several areas of collaboration, especially when it comes to data, and we’re involved in a UNHCR-led process for an updated UN Common Pledge that will be presented in the next Global Refugee Forum in December 2023. In fact, here’s a very recent example of our wide-ranging collaborations: we have just announced a new partnership with UN FLEET, the joint initiative between WFP and UNHCR, which is the leading vehicle leasing service provider to UN agencies, to drive up efficiency and further our mission of supporting migrants worldwide.

Before being elected to this position, you were working at IOM and you knew the Organization from within. What would you like to change in the way IOM functions internally?

For 70 years, IOM has been a force for life-saving good throughout the world, and the people who work for IOM have long been dedicated to saving and protecting lives. But the increasingly complex and challenging migration space means we have more work to do. We need to modernize our solutions, harnessing IOM’s extensive data. We need to engage all Member States so they see IOM as their agency. We need to develop talent and invest in merit-based and timely hiring, training and promotion. Though we’re still in our first month, we’re already engaging on all those fronts. We used to be a small agency, a bit like the small shop on a corner somewhere in town. But now we’re a key part of the skyline, and what we do is at the center of so many policies important to our Member States.

What is your message for IOM staff working in dire conflict zones away from Headquarters?

IOM’s core strength is in its field teams working to save and improve the lives of the people we serve. They’re the ones who spend days, weeks and months far from home, devoted to helping people find pathways to a better, more flourishing life. As their Director General, I’ve got their back and I’ve asked them to have each other’s back and be mindful of each other. We’re all in this together.

Finally, if you were to describe Amy Pope, how would you do it?

A person who wants to get things done. Titles and job descriptions matter a lot less to me than what I can get done. As long as I can remember, I’ve been passionate about getting something done for people who are vulnerable, people who have been persecuted, people whose voices deserve amplification. I’ve been drawn to that since I was a young girl, when my family moved into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, with neighbors who were Holocaust survivors. Learning about them and hearing their stories over the years made me think about what I might have done in that era. That passion has stayed with me over my professional career, including as a prosecuting attorney helping to protect the rights of victims of trafficking. At IOM, I’m passionate about putting a human face to the issue of migration, so we lift up the voices which have yet to be fully heard and whose contributions to their communities and the world have yet to be fully realized. I think if we do that, we can change the narrative about migration. 

* Prisca Chaoui is the Editor-in-chief of UN Today.
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