Global Migration Champion, Peter Sutherland Dies

  Date Published: 01/08/2018

By: Frank Laczko

Peter Sutherland, who died yesterday aged 71, was a giant on the international stage and a powerful advocate for migration as key to global cooperation, international dialogue and economic well-being.

An Irish citizen, he distinguished himself as a leading United Nations diplomat and advocate for migration, EU Commissioner and global trade negotiator. But if known as “the father of globalization,” for his work founding the World Trade Organization, Sutherland was most passionate about migration.

He was key to the convening of the first-ever UN summit on migrants and refugees in September 2016 – at which IOM formally entered the UN system as the UN Migration Agency.

Sutherland witnessed the shocking conditions of migrants and refugees seeking safety and never shied from speaking out in their defense. He was indignant and sharply critical of the failure of many rich countries to welcome those who were fleeing violence or to put sufficient resources into rescuing those drowning in the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

He became the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on migration issues in 2006 speaking out about migration with great passion. He served as steward for the convening of the first General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, and pioneered the creation of the state-led Global Forum on Migration and Development which has been convened every year since and has grown from strength to strength.

“I am truly saddened by the passing of Peter Sutherland, a believer in the institutions that have held our world together since the Second World War — the United Nations and the European Union above all,” said IOM Director General Lacy William Swing.

“He was a great man, yet one who understood that progress hinges on our collective efforts, embodied by institutions, not by our individual actions. Peter was also key to IOM’s entry into the UN in 2016 to ensure that the global system has a dedicated agency to support migrants and governments in managing migration worldwide.”

“IOM had no stronger advocate than Peter Sutherland, and his loss is incalculable both to us and to the migration world. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and his worldwide network of friends and admirers. May his soul rest in peace," he added.

In a statement the UN Secretary General António Guterres said that in his role as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration for more than a decade starting in 2006, Peter Sutherland rendered indispensable service to the United Nations. 

“He was fearless and forceful in his advocacy for some of the world's most vulnerable people. He also was a pioneer in bringing international migration into the UN. His efforts were crucial in establishing the Global Forum on Migration and Development, in ensuring that migrants and refugees were represented in the Sustainable Development Goals, in the convening of the first-ever UN summit on migrants and refugees in September 2016, and in the inclusion of the International Organization for Migration in the UN family.”

Peter Sutherland worked closely with IOM over many years and was a member of IOM´s Migration Advisory Board.  He argued that it “was fundamentally important for states to cooperate on migration policy rather than developing their own policies in isolation”.

He was the critical force in setting up the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in 2007 which ten years later, continues to meet annually providing a unique space for global dialogue on international migration.

Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president said “Peter Sutherland was convinced that by working together, great things can be achieved”.

Leading tributes to Mr. Sutherland, Ireland´s President Michael D Higgins commended his efforts in tirelessly campaigning on behalf of migrants around the world. In his final years, Peter Sutherland produced a landmark report on migration which is known simply as the “Sutherland Report”.

In this influential report he set out a vision for how to better manage migration through international cooperation. The report is a key contribution to the on going negotiations for the Global Compact for Migration. Sutherland argued that migration is an essential and positive aspect of human development, which is bound to intensify in the decades ahead.

The report also presents an “Agenda for Action”, to ensure that migrants, especially the most vulnerable, are protected; that they have the opportunity to fill jobs legally and that they can become full, law-abiding and productive members of the societies they have joined.

Greater predictability among States would mean that migration is handled safely when there is a crisis; that frameworks exist to favour and support regular migration geared towards responding to labour and skills shortages; that migration is orderly, so that migrants who do not have a legal right to remain in a country return, and that migration is managed responsibly.

Kathleen Newland, Senior Fellow and Co-Founder of the Migration Policy Institute, explained that one of the most important contributions of the “Sutherland Report” is the call to strengthen the governance of international migration especially when crises occur, and migrants can find themselves in very vulnerable situations. 


Frank Laczko is IOM's director of the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC).


Originally published by IOM, here.