Poetry and policy - Interview with Wies Maas, 2017 GFMD Civil Society Chair


Wies Maas is Chair of this year's GFMD Civil Society Days, alongside Co-Chair Berenice Valdez Rivera. We caught up with Wies in the week before the GFMD, to find out what is most important to our 2017 GFMD Civil Society Chair during this extraordinary year in the area of migration and development. 

Since 2011 I have co-organized civil society movements around the Global Forum on Migration and Development, and the 2016 UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. After 7 years abroad, I am now finding my bearings as a returnee in the city I grew up. I am currently working freelance on a project with Oxfam Novib on human development responses to displacement across the world.

I am thrilled to be back at this year’s GFMD, as it “celebrates” its 10th anniversary at a pivotal moment in its history, with governments starting to negotiate the Global Compact for Migration. In a world where the theme of migration draws deeply divisive lines across societies and countries, the task is upon us to break down walls and barriers so that people can connect and truly chose to move or not to move, “regularly” and “orderly”, but above all with safety, dignity and rights. I cannot think of a better place to continue this task, than in Berlin, a city that teaches us Walls can come down…

1. What is a favourite moment of your professional career?

Generally, having been part of a global civil society movement in the making, co-organizing local and global campaigns for the inclusion and rights of refugees and migrants has been a rewarding experience, in particular by meeting so many passionate organizers and thinkers across the world; many of whom will be in Berlin. I in particular liked the coordination of the NGOs around the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in 2016. Even though the results of the Summit were not up to par with what we had hoped for, and what is needed, it was inspiring that many local and international NGOs rallied around a unified agenda and the New Deal for Refugees, Migrants and Societies.   

One of my favorite moments of the GFMD was the performance by spoken word artist Holly McNish of Mathematics and Ocean Floor during the opening of the Civil Society Days in Istanbul 2015, and witnessing the emotional response of so many in the audience. 

2. The GFMD 2017 Civil Society Days fall at a very important time; just a few months after the adoption of the New York Declaration, and as the process to develop a Global Compact on migration gathers momentum. What is your message for the CSD participants before they begin these days of discussions on civil society recommendations to governments and civil society commitments during the next busy year?

An important moment indeed! But not only because of the adoption of New York Declaration, and the Global Compacts momentum. Also, because migration unfortunately seems to be coming a more, not less, divisive force in countries across the world, and people and societies are suffering because of it. Too many migrants still dying en route, families are separated, borders are closing, even to those forced to flee, children are held in detention for lack of the required documents, and groups in societies feel anxious, threatened and are left behind. There is no reason to wait. Governments can and should do more already to solve these issues, and civil society can work alongside them, and hold them accountable.

We do need a global framework, and the right global principled institutions, grounded in regional realities, so I hope participants will come with energy, purpose and local knowledge to work towards a strong Global Compact for migration and migrants, as well as for refugees. But, we also need implementation now. To borrow the words of a wise man “we are over-principled, and underperforming; it is time for the era of implementation” (Gibril Faal). So let’s continue to ask ourselves: how will our work, and the Global Compact, change the realities on the ground faced by refugees, migrants and societies? And what will I do when I go home after Berlin?

3. What excites you most about the GFMD Civil Society Days this year?

I am excited about the sense of purpose the Global Compact and the New York Declaration bring to the GFMD. Even though borne out of necessity, this year’s model of having Common Space at the end of the government days, and in between the Civil Society Days, could create a stronger and more connected dialogue with governments (on Friday 30 June), and stronger commitments of civil society what we ourselves take forward (on Saturday 1 July).

4. In the context of migration and development: In what way do you hope that 2018 will be different to 2017? And what do you hope will remain the same?

I hope 2018, or really already the second half of 2017, will see the world coming together on an agenda for implementation that protects and includes migrants, and normalizes migration, while investing much more purposefully in the negative drivers that force people to move. I guess many of us realize these are difficult times for such an agenda to arise in many part of the world, and I can only hope that more leaders in all spheres of life will stand up and speak out, whether politicians, artists, teachers, faith leaders or youth movements. What I hope will remain the same, are the growing international movements of civil society to collaborate, connect, and learn from each other.

5. The Global Conference on Children on the Move takes place in Berlin a few weeks before the GFMD. Any shout-out to all the youth participants at the CSDs this year, and to the next generations who will be shaping the migration and development debate in the years to come?

Not only are youth the “next generation”, they are the “now” too; I am so glad to see that the participation of youth participants, and organizing, has been on the rise in the GFMD and beyond, with the Global Conference on Children on the Move being an inspiring example. Young people can help the world to see things we take for granted differently, and I hope we will be seeing many out-of-the-box thinking in the years to come, and new ways of communicating about diversity and the complexity and humanity in human mobility. Here’s one youth lead that inspired me lately – The Refugees, by Jason Fotso.