Created in 1951 and, in alliance with the United Nations since 2016, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the main intergovernmental organization in the field of migration; it provides services and advice on migration to governments and migrants.

One of its two Administrative Centers worldwide is located at the City of Knowledge in Panama, from where they provide basic support to the network of IOM offices in matters of information technology and administrative services. The IOM’s vision in Panama is to constitute a service center of excellence; providing timely advice and support in the area of ​​resource management and operations and collaborating as a strategic associate to the Panamanian Government in the protection of the rights of migrants

Recently, the IOM organized the First School Championship of Debate Clubs in collaboration with the National Commission against Trafficking in Persons, the Ministry of Education of Panama (MEDUCA) and the Interamerican University of Panama: a contest to raise awareness among young Panamanians on the importance of orderly, regular and safe migration, especially on issues such as human trafficking, xenophobia, non-discrimination, the sustainable development goals and human rights.

We sat down with Santiago Paz, Head of the Administrative Center of Panama (PAC) and Head of Mission of the IOM in Panama to talk about this initiative, learn more about the organization’s work from Panama and what the recent signing of the Global Compact for Migrations means for the country.

Please tell us a bit more about this initiative and the organizations behind it.

The 1st Debate Club School Championship is a joint initiative aimed at young people – one of the most susceptible and vulnerable populations.  It is organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Panama and the National Commission against Human Trafficking, chaired by the Ministry of Security, and it is conformed by 16 institutions among which is the Ministry of Education, with which we have formed an alliance for this championship.

The activity was financed by the Regional Security Initiative for Central America (CARSI), through the United States Embassy.

Why do you think it is important to promote the debate on topics such as xenophobia, trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, SDGs and human rights?

The debate is a very relevant communication tool for current democracies, which we have wanted to use with the aim of linking social issues to youth in a more attractive way, also complying with the development of the national plan of the National Commission Against Human Trafficking. the quinquennium 2017-2022, and this time specifically in its axis 1, which includes everything related to prevention in the area of ​​human trafficking.

The format of the competition is the World Schools Debating Championship, which is used in the World School of Debate, which allows for a top-notch discussion, in a very academic format made up of three participant benches. This is an innovation in debate since it is a format that has not been used in our country frequently.

The relevance of issues related to human rights provided an opportunity to obtain several opinions on the same subject; with respect and tolerance. In addition, the debate provides an opportunity for students to research various topics, acquiring knowledge, which they put on the table.

Part of the dynamic is that nobody has the absolute truth: sometimes truth is formed by different opinions of several people.

What are the results of this first initiative with the students?

81 students from 27 schools participated, the winner was the Instituto Athena. In addition, a series of trainings on the topics to be discussed such as Human Trafficking, peaceful coexistence, xenophobia, prevention of discrimination, gender equality, among others, were carried out, conducive to technical strengthening on the debate format.  In addition, we had the participation of Sebastian Dasso, university professor and specialist in World Schools Debating Championship, brought as a keynote speaker from Peru. The impact and the result of this tournament goes beyond the participating teams, since there was a large team consisting of more than 50 volunteers, including tabulators, advisors, members of the academic committee and the award committee that mobilized to support this initiative. With this activity we also seek to sensitize different officials of the participating institutions on these issues, involving them as judges of the different rooms.

What was the main challenge and the main achievement in organizing this contest?

All activities re full of challenges. Being able to obtain various permits, participation of schools in record time, were some of the challenges we faced:  especially in a month in which all students are in final exams and closing school season activities, since the activity was carried out in the commemorative frame of the International Day of the Migrant, whose theme for this year is “Migration with Dignity”  and celebrated on Tuesday, December 18th.

This activity fills us with many satisfactions and one of the achievements is to have brought together such talented young people and their debate clubs in a contest whose main focus was the high-level debate on social issues that many people do not want to talk about.The International Day of Migrants is the occasion to reaffirm that migration is a driving force for progress, development and we emphasize the importance of governments cooperating to ensure that migration is safe, orderly, regular and dignified.

What was the most gratifying thing to organize the first edition of this contest?

All parties involved in the realization of this activity assumed a commitment that made us join forces to be able to carry it out on the indicated date. In addition, it is important to highlight the impact it had on so many people for whom it was possibly the first time they heard about many of the issues that were being debated.

This is precisely the cornerstone of our work: the ability to bring content, key concepts and accurate information to a population in constant exposure, raise awareness about the issues and that through this learning tool, the message can reach the general public, especially in young people in a more lasting way over time.

What are the OIM’s objectives for 2019 in Panama and what balance can you make of last year?

During 2018, the IOM has directed its efforts to position itself as the international organization for migrations.

IOM works closely with its governmental partners, private enterprise, civil society, academia, media, to comply with the principle that migration in an orderly manner and in humane conditions benefits migrants and society.

For 2019 we will continue to promote what we achieved during 2018.

What does the signing of the Global Migration Pact in Morocco mean for Panama?

The Global Compact for Secure, Ordered and Regular Migration is the first negotiated intergovernmental agreement on a common approach to international migration in all its dimensions. It provides a platform for cooperation on migration issues.

It is important to note that the PGM is not legally binding. Therefore, no new legal obligations arise under national or international law for participating States. The text is an agreed result of the intergovernmental negotiations and it is up to each State to determine its next steps.

The text of the WMP was agreed upon after an 18-month consultation and negotiation process, led by the member states, and including the participation of a wide range of actors: civil society; parliaments; mayors; the private sector; unions and others.

What does it imply exactly?

The PGM defines 23 objectives that cover all aspects of migration. Each objective comprises a general goal and a catalog of possible actions, drawn from best practices, that States may choose to use to implement their national migration priorities.

There are two central elements that run throughout the text. First, that national sovereignty must be respected: the most appropriate migratory policies for a country are not necessarily the same for others; subject to existing international laws and regulations, states are still totally free to determine their migration policies.

And second, that the most effective means to implement a national migration policy is through international cooperation.

What makes the PGM so significant?

Firstly, it is truly global in perspective, recognizing that migration is universal and has obtained the support of the vast majority of Member States.

Secondly, it is important to point out that its objective is not to stop or promote migration, but to facilitate well-managed mobility. In this regard, the member states commit themselves to periodically review the progress made in their shared migration agenda, bringing migration for the first time to the United Nations.

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