There’s a major conference occurring in Sydney this week aiming to build a better world for migrants and refugees, and ultimately all of us who will benefit from seeing the full population realise its potential.
Yesterday the International Metropolis Conference was opened by Tolu Olubunmi, an Entrepreneur and Global Migrant Advocate who has a powerful story to tell of how she went from unemployed and undocumented university graduate to working for the National Immigration Law Centre, later the Obama White House and the global stage. As her remarkable bio states, in just fives years she “turned a crisis in her life into a career that empowers thousands.”
Speaking on the topic of a ‘Hopeful future of we‘, Olubunmi shared how advocates can push for a future of ‘we’ rather than ‘us and them’.
“We live in a world where migration without fear, traffickers and smugglers, and without leaky boats and deadly border crossings, is a privilege reserved for a chosen few,” she said.
“A world where leaving your home country to seek safety, shelter, and the opportunity to live your best life and contribute to our world is determined by having the right pieces of paper.”
Olubunmi shared the scope of global migration today, including the 3.4% of the global population that is on the move. There are 244 million international migrants, 64.3 million who have been forced to leave their homes, including 21.3 million refugees.
“I don’t know about you, but it is difficult for me to wrap my head around these numbers. So, I focus my attention on the real lives hidden in the shadows of these numbers, the fathers and mothers, employers and employees, the hurting and the healers, the displaced and the determined,” she said.
“Like them I am a migrant”
Olubunmi migrated from Nigeria to the US as a child and became a global migration advocate after graduating from university with a chemical engineering degree and finding herself unable to work in her field due to limitations in her immigration status. “I had inadvertently become an undocumented immigrant, also called an irregular migrant.”
She consulted with immigration attorneys to realise that her situation, just like millions of other people brought to the US as children, could only be addressed by changing laws.
“Untrained in policy or politics, I had the option of leaving my fate in the hands of people endlessly more powerful than me, people who have never lived my reality.
“But I believe, change makers and policymakers dealing with the challenges faced by migrants and refugees cannot afford to lean solely on statistics and secondhand accounts that allow room for political posturing, which far too often contradict the economic and social realities of people on the move.”
She pushed to change US laws, going from unemployed, undocumented chemical engineer to later introducing president Barack Obama at the White House, when the immigration bill she had been working on was taken up by the US Senate.
“For me, the true test of a change maker is not simply having the roadmap for change, it is knowing how to walk that road with others.”
“The challenges we face are complex, however, as a community of innovators, fortified by resilience, we are determined and destined to succeed,” added Olubunmi.
“We must succeed because our world is endlessly better when all people have the freedom to realize their potential. The world is better, when all people are free from negative perceptions and attitudes that led to ineffective and often inhumane policies. Attitudes and policies that often divide rather than unite and leave our world worse for not protecting the vulnerable.
Asked about some of the unique challenges women migrants face in their migration journeys, Tolu told Women’s Agenda safety is a major concern. “They are at greater risk of exploitation and abuse, including human trafficking.”
As for the particular perspectives or experiences women can bring to the table when it comes to solutions for managing global migration, she said the courage of women migrants can not be overstated. “They are more likely to work in jobs that put them in direct contact with citizens of their host countries,” she said. “Every sixth domestic worker in the world is an international migrant, with women making up 73.4 per cent of international migrant domestic workers.
Also at the Metropolis Conference on Tuesday, Oxford University migration researcher Professor Ian Goldin outlined the impact of migration on economic growth. His research, conducted with Citi, found that globally migrants are:
- 2 to 3 times more likely to start businesses
- 2 to 4 times more likely to start ‘unicorn’ businesses
- 2 to 3 times more likely to win Nobel Prizes
- 2 to 4 times more likely to lodge patents
Meanwhile, CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI) Violet Roumeliotis, said Australia’s conversation around migration and multiculturalism draws a sharp dichotomy.
“On one hand we have generous resettlement programs, and a strong history of welcoming people, however, we’ve also had the White Australia policy and have drawn international criticism for our offshore processing program.
“We live within a complex global environment, and there is no such thing as ‘business as usual’ in migration.
“We have world experts, people with lived experience and policy makers together in this unique think tank here at Metropolis. We want you to come up with new ideas, be challenging and be challenged.”