Migration is on the rise. Great numbers are moving away from home, finding opportunities elsewhere – or fleeing violence and conflict. The number of international migrants worldwide hit 244 million in 2015 – up from 173 million in 2000, according to the United Nation’s International Migration Report 2015.

“We are living in a world on the move,” Donato Colucci, Senior Regional Immigration and Border Management Specialist at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), tells GovInsider on the sidelines of Interpol World 2017. IOM, the UN’s migration agency, assists countries in understanding and managing issues surrounding migration.

When it comes to securing borders, Colucci notes that the very first challenge facing countries worldwide is “the magnitude of the phenomenon of migration”. He shares how governments can better manage the huge flow of people in and out of countries; the drivers of this phenomenon; and the importance of international cooperation.

Biometric data superhighway

There are individuals that are migrating irregularly – that is, outside of national legal frameworks – making it a trans-border problem, Colucci says. He is currently working on introducing the Regional Biometric Data Exchange Solution (RBDES) to countries around the world. This policy framework will help countries to address irregular migration, which can take the form of human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and other transnational crimes.

Law enforcement agencies will be able to exchange biometrics data in a fast and secure way to verify the identities of travellers at borders, Colucci says. He describes RBDES as “a network of people working in their own countries and interconnected through a web-based platform”. However, it does not store biometrics data – it merely allows the exchange of said data, he emphasises.

“[RBDES] is not the final solution to the problem, but definitely will support and facilitate exchange of information between countries,” he says. According to a briefing on this framework, there are no solutions currently that allow for the secure exchange of biometric data specifically for migration and border management purposes.

This framework could help governments in Southeast Asia, in particular, to address “the numbers of identity and travel document fraud that happen in this region”, according to Colucci. “Maybe the responses of the agencies [in this region] are not effective, so they may have addressed only some parts of the border management systems without addressing comprehensively,” he explains. “We may have a lot of technology but not capacity, or we may have capacity without technology.”


“We may have a lot of technology but not capacity, or we may have capacity without technology.”

IOM is currently in bilateral discussions with seven countries to implement RBDES, Colucci shares. At the time of this writing, these countries remain confidential.

Cooperation beyond borders

International cooperation such as this is essential if countries want to improve their national migration and border management systems, says Colucci. There are four other areas they should boost: firstly, laws and procedures within the countries have to allow for a “whole-of-government” approach to international cooperation. “Today, countries want to speak to each other, but the legal framework does not allow them to do it easily and directly,” Colucci explains.

Next, countries should build the capabilities, knowledge and skills of border officers – which is closely related to the third area of using technology to support border management agencies. Because of the sheer volume of people migrating to any given country, Colucci believes that technology can help in “quickly confirming the identity of someone that had their passport stolen”, for example. And for this technology to work, the fourth area that governments should look at is boosting infrastructure, Colucci explains.

International cooperation is also essential for innovations such as digital passports and stamps to work, and be implemented on a large scale. “We are still far away from achieving this goal,” remarks Colucci. “Countries are not yet cooperating each other at a certain level in order to exchange these kinds of information.”

The misconception around migration

Migration “cannot and should not stop”, Colucci says, as it is beneficial to countries in terms of “labour exchange” and “demographic rebalance”, for example. “Migration can bring only positive aspects if well-managed,” he explains. “What needs to be changed is the way migration happens today.”


“Migration can bring only positive aspects if well-managed.”

Here, it is important that countries understand the drivers of irregular migration, which include demand for labour, civil wars, transnational organised crime, and natural and manmade disasters. Then, they can manage, minimise or control the effects, Colucci explains. “The more the countries cannot manage migration, the more the people and the nation start having a fear of migrants.”

A fear of migrants among citizens can lead to “the vast majority of the people [that] may say that within these irregular migrants, some terrorists may also be found”. Colucci shares that his personal experience has shown how “this is very unlikely, or almost not true”. “There are a lot of negative narratives today because countries are not able to cope quickly and effectively to migration challenges,” he remarks.

Climate change is one driver that Colucci feels will be a challenge for governments in the next five years. “75 million people [around the world] are living a metre above sea level. If the sea level increases a few centimetres, most of these people have to migrate,” Colucci notes.

To tackle these and other challenges, Colucci believes that “a comprehensive, coordinated answer is required”, as every country in the world is facing the same problems. “The systems that the countries have to develop should be dynamic, comprehensive and supported by not only technology, but also capacities and skills of the border agencies,” he says.

There will always be migrants seeking better lives and greener pastures. The right response from countries, through infrastructure, skills and cooperation, can help make this process smoother for all.

Border agency leaders will be in Singapore at Innovation Labs World on 26 September 2017 to share lessons on border security and management. Register today.

Image from Interpol World 2017