Tributes to MPI President Emeritus Demetrios G. Papademetriou
It is with deep sadness that I have learned of the passing of my dear friend Demetri Papademetriou.
Demetri was a pioneer in the study of migration, and a leading architect of the modern immigration system. Not only did he shine light on the complexities and contradictions of migration policy but, as founding President of the Migration Policy Institute and Convenor of the Transatlantic Council on Migration, he influenced successive generations of politicians and policymakers—while consistently challenging their long-held assumptions.
I relied on Demetri’s wisdom and counsel for more than 20 years and deeply valued his friendship, one of many he forged around the world. He was a mentor to young and old, advisor to leaders and learners alike. He was patient and generous in sharing his knowledge, which was unrivalled.
I join a large and esteemed community of researchers, practitioners and politicians who will profoundly feel his loss as a source of guidance and as a friend of immense warmth and good humor. My thoughts are with his wife and his family.
On Wednesday, 26 January 2022, Demetrios Papademetriou, former U.S. delegate and Chair of the OECD Working Party on Migration (1991-1996), passed away. The OECD remembers Dr. Papademetriou for his inspiring and visionary contributions on migration policies. Highlights from the decades of engagement with the OECD include his interventions in 1991 in Rome (The Changing Course of International Migration), in 1993 in Madrid (Migration and Development: New Partnerships for Cooperation), in 2000 in Lisbon (Globalization, Migration, and Development) and most recently in 2020 in Paris (at the OECD High-Level Policy Forum on Migration and Integration).
Dr. Papademetriou was a formidable advocate for development of migration policy and a pioneer in advancing new forms of multilateral collaboration on migration. Throughout his career, he provided pragmatic and sound policy advice to many OECD member countries and leaves the international community with an impressive legacy of knowledge and analysis on migration policy. Among his numerous accomplishments, Dr. Papademetriou is also widely known as the co-founder in 2001 of the internationally recognized Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and founder of MPI Europe in 2011.
Dr. Papademetriou leaves the global policy discussion on migration and integration vastly transformed. Anyone working on international migration owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Papademetriou for his tireless and effective advocacy for more efficient and human migration and integration policies. Anyone who has met Dr. Papademetriou will remember him as a person of great humanity. He will be truly missed.
It is with great sadness that the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) mourns the passing of Dr. Demetrios G. Papademetriou last week.
Dr. Papademetriou was a giant in the world of migration and asylum research. He devoted his long and illustrious career to working with international organisations, academia, national governments, and civil society, with the aim of developing policies and practices which protect the world’s most vulnerable. He was a larger-than-life figure who ardently advocated for the international community to seek practical and effective solutions to the challenges of migration management.
Universally recognised as one of the international community’s most influential migration policy leaders, Dr. Papademetriou was also a strong advocate and ally of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and vocal supporter of its transformation into the EUAA. He was a frequent speaker at events of the Agency, most recently at its 10-year anniversary event last October.
Working with, and advising, numerous national governments and international organisations, he believed that multilateralism was the key to ensuring that the rights of migrants and asylum seekers were safeguarded and indeed enhanced. In this spirit of multilateralism, he was the founding President of the Migration Policy Institute from 2001-2014, following which he became President Emeritus and Distinguished Transatlantic Fellow. His academic and policy advocacy for a strong and effective Common European Asylum System, as well as transatlantic cooperation on migration management, likewise highlight this philosophy.
Dr. Papademetriou will always be remembered by all at the EUAA for invoking new ideas and for never shying away from holding institutional partners and authorities to account—all in the name of protecting those seeking protection and human decency.
Statement from MPI Board of Trustees Chair Lidia Soto-Harmon
The loss of Demetri Papademetriou, founder of the Migration Policy Institute, is devastating to me. I worked with Demetri at the Department of Labor in the late 1980s when we were negotiating NAFTA and worked on immigration issues worldwide. I felt fortunate to learn from him. All these years later, I am honored to chair the Board of Trustees of the Institute he created 20 years ago. He was a brilliant man and a wonderful friend. I will miss him every day.
Statement from James W. Ziglar, Former Chair of the MPI Board of Trustees
Every generation produces people who soar above the rest of us. They are human, foibles and all, but they are giants among us because of the legacies and lasting contributions they make to the commonweal. We lost one of those giants in the early hours of January 26, 2022 with the passing of Demetrios Papademetriou.
Demetri was so many things to so many people—friend, mentor, confidant, teacher, trusted advisor, and, when necessary, critic. He was all of those things to me and there is a hole in my heart that can only be filled by the warm memories of this complex and brilliant man whose sometimes gruff exterior was only a cover for a warm, compassionate, giving, and forgiving friend who was there whenever you needed him. My wife, Linda, once described him as a “big Teddy Bear.” And so he was.
But that is only the beginning of the story. Demetri soared above the rest of us in his brilliance and in his understanding of, and his passion and empathy for, the challenges faced by migrants throughout the world. An immigrant himself, Demetri was a clear-eyed realist about the human and geopolitical implications of migration, as well as the sometimes narrow national interests in the cross-border movement of people. His realism, however, was not based on his instincts but on his careful and objective study of migration and migrants. While the landscape is peppered with advocacy groups that often operate from their hearts, Demetri saw the need for an organization populated by researchers and scholars who were independent, nonpartisan, and dedicated to providing evidence-based research and analysis that would inform the immigration debate and provide unbiased information to policymakers. He wanted to provide practical and workable ideas that would bring order and fairness to immigration and migration policies. As a result, he was the driving force behind the founding of the Migration Policy Institute in 2001. MPI, in its 20 short years, most under his direct leadership, has established itself as the leading think tank on migration and immigration policy. Its influence now spans the globe.
Even though he stepped down from the presidency of MPI several years ago, Demetri continued to be deeply involved in MPI’s international program. Two days before he died, we talked about his decision to spend more time writing and teaching. He was looking forward to being the full-time scholar that always was his dream.
Those of us who had the privilege of being friends and colleagues of Demetri grieve his loss deeply. The rest of the world may never hear his name, but he has put a lasting imprint on the future. Godspeed Demetri.
Statement from the Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop Emeritus of Brooklyn and Former Chair of the MPI Board of Trustees
I have known Demetrios Papademetriou for over 40 years as friend, co-author, co-worker, scholar, and humanitarian. It is certainly a time when we mourn his passing, but also remember his accomplishments, which will last well into the future.
I first met Demetri when he was working at the Center for Migration Studies in Staten Island in 1980 when I was beginning work on my doctoral dissertation. Eventually, after my Ph.D. dissertation, we co-authored a book on undocumented migration in the New York metropolitan area. The social profiling which we had done was amazingly accurate.
When I went to work at the U.S. Bishops’ Conference in Washington, DC as director of their refugee and migration services in 1985, Demetri followed afterwards working as policy director for several years. The scholarship of Demetri is one of the legacies in his work, his books, his articles, his thoughts. All of these had clear motivation in helping people to understand the phenomenon that would never pass away, as he has said in many of his works. This was the question we had to deal with, certainly in our time. Demetri worked for the good of people, especially the most marginalized refugees and immigrants. His work was marked by fairness, understanding the rule of law, enlightened science on migration which he pioneered as a social scientist. Demetri has left his mark on migration scholarship and also on the work of the migration community.
The founding the Migration Policy Institute and afterwards the European counterpart shows the vision of Demetri for assisting policymakers with the facts regarding migration so that good decisions can be made for the betterment of all people. The good we do in this world follows us into the next life. And for that, Demetri will not be forgotten, but always remembered.
Statement from Mary McClymont, the First Chair of the MPI Board of Trustees
The passing of Demetri Papademetriou is an incomparable loss to the world of global migration policy and scholarship and to all those who admired and were guided by this brilliant, charismatic, and larger-than-life man. He leaves an unparalleled imprint on the field he loved so much and the people he influenced so greatly.
We all have our personal stories of the meaningful impact Demetri had on our lives and our work. I was most fortunate to have experienced him as colleague, teacher, and dear friend for some 35 years.
I met Demetri during our days working on the 1986 IRCA legalization program at the U.S. Catholic Conference under our boss, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. Soon thereafter I had the great privilege, as a Ford Foundation program officer running the immigration portfolio, to benefit from Demetri’s wise counsel from his perch at the Carnegie Endowment program he led for over a decade. Demetri was one of those leaders who it was impossible not to fund, given his extensive knowledge of the migration field combined, notably, with the nonideological and practical advice he could render. I turned to him frequently and gratefully for his sound judgment.
Demetri somehow always found the time to share his thinking with me when I asked, probably because he was surely among the hardest working people I have ever encountered. I learned so much from Demetri, not least by observing his mastery in guiding and influencing high-level policymakers, whether on the right or left, and doing so often completely behind the scenes. Would that all policy analysts and advocates, whatever their field, could have witnessed Demetri in action.
It was no surprise when Demetri decided to create a freestanding organization that became the Migration Policy Institute. It is a risky proposition to start up a whole new 501(c)3 organization, but Demetri simply never had the word “failure” in his vocabulary. He understood what was needed in the immigration infrastructure landscape and was someone who could be counted on not only to make his vision a reality but make it the best. It was later my honor when, as president of MPI, Demetri asked me to serve as the first chair of MPI’s board. How could I say no to this truly visionary leader who had the ability and good judgment to assemble such a top-flight group of policy analysts and researchers to join him in his mission?
As I have said before, if MPI did not exist now, we would have to create it, given the superb in-depth research and policy analysis it brings to our country and globally. Such an extraordinary legacy that Demetri has left us. I am so grateful to have experienced his magnanimity and generosity of spirit. My heartfelt thanks, dear friend.
Statement from MPI President Andrew Selee
I first met Demetri Papademetriou because of Mexico. It was one of the many countries, beyond the United States and Greece, that he loved and where he set down deep roots. He also understood that there was a different way to approach migration between the United States and Mexico, a way that did not cede sovereignty but required cooperation. Working with researchers, policymakers, activists, and business leaders on both sides of the border, he helped craft the idea of a bilateral migration agreement and then, amazingly, get it on the top of the agenda of both incoming U.S. and Mexican presidents at the start of the millennium.
The agreement was one of the casualties of 9/11, but it left a powerful imprint on how both countries thought of migration, and got attention around the world. And its elements would reappear in U.S. immigration debates for years to come: that cooperation in managing migration makes sense, that smart migration management requires enforcement but also legal pathways to provide an alternative to irregular migration, and that countries have a vested interest in regularizing the status of unauthorized immigrants already living within their borders and investing in overall immigrant integration. And that all of these efforts require solid data, credible information, and clear-eyed analysis. These ideas would echo in the comprehensive immigration reform efforts of the following years, in which Demetri also played an important guiding role, and then in subsequent U.S. debates. And they were no less present around the world, especially in Europe, Canada, and Australia, where Demetri also had long engagement.
Meeting Demetri two decades ago was a revelation for me. Here was someone who could peer around corners and see solutions others could not yet imagine. He could redefine problem sets and see future trends before they were in the headlines. And he believed that researchers had to understand politics—both political constraints and political moments—and put research at the service of the possibilities of change. Research should not always be detached; sometimes it had to dive into the murky depths of debates that were already raging and help people find a way forward in the confusing, conflicted, contradictory real world we live in. He spoke to something I vaguely knew to be true, but could not yet express, and it help shape what I thought to be possible. And over the next two decades we would end up working together, in one way or another, first from different organizations and later together at MPI, and I would try to learn from the special magic that he had which allowed him to anticipate trends and to put the lofty world of ideas and the difficult terrain of tough decisions together.
It is hard to imagine a world without Demetri—the visionary and the contrarian, the optimist and the realist, the scholar and the strategist, the mentor and the friend. But I suspect that his special magic lives on inside all of us who knew him, worked with him, and spent time with him, and that the best tribute to his life is how we carry on what he taught us and tend to that special magic alive inside us.
Statement from MPI Senior Fellow and Former President Michael Fix
Much has been written and said about my dear friend Demetri Papademetriou’s place in the field and in policy research: what a visionary, what a force of nature, and what a thinker he was. All true. But I would like to share briefly what I saw from my vantage point over the past 17 years: Demetri as an institution builder and the traits that enabled him, along with others of course, to create and sustain the world-class think tank that the Migration Policy Institute has become.
Of course, it did take vision: to see the need for a policy research organization that brings the lessons of how to manage—and not manage—migration from the world to the United States, and vice versa. When Demetri set out on this mission, it is safe to say that most of us and most governments were only beginning to see how widely the challenges of migration would be felt and how much there would be to learn.
Demetri also had the vision—as few other did—to understand that the success of a nation’s immigration policies is in large part determined by its immigrant integration policies, and along with Margie McHugh to carve out a new dedicated center dedicated to working the hard issues of integration.
But as all who knew him can testify, the success of MPI took more than vision. It took years and years of hard, draining 14-hour (or more) days, bone-wearying travel, less sleep than anyone would want, and a constant attention to the unglamorous work of budgeting, fund-raising, and finding and hiring the right people. I doubt there are many public policy research organizations whose president participates in the selection of each intern: a selection process that takes place—for better or worse—three times a year. But Demetri was immensely proud of the internship program, correctly recognizing that it would be MPI’s comet’s tail.
And MPI’s creation and success would not have been possible without his generosity of spirit and mind—a generosity that led to assembling the wide and influential networks of scholars, officials, members of civil society, and others that Demetri painstakingly created and nurtured, all while successfully playing a major international role as a public intellectual.
MPI, then, is in many ways the reflection of the man: smart, hardworking, broad-gauged, and nimble. For me, it has been a great opportunity to work beside him for many years of this shared journey.
Statement from Prof. Dr. Rita Süssmuth, former President of the German Bundestag and member of MPI's Transatlantic Council on Migration
You cannot find a person like Demetri again: a unique friend, a unique personality with outstanding talents and international competence in all questions—what can be done for refugees and for migration policy coming to better outcomes than we have had for decades, not only in America but also in Europe.
His first priority was to establish trust between individuals, between nations, among states with different cultures, as well as acceptance of democracy. He was able to overcome barriers, skepticism, and resistance to look for new ideas, initiatives, and coming together.
He brought people from all over the world together in order to show: Yes, we are not the same, but not so different that we could not work together.
Demetri developed memorable, unforgettable conferences. It was such an open-minded mentality, nobody was afraid to be blamed. Respectfully we listened to each other, just with the hope to travel home with new perspectives.
He behaved as an American and a European at the same time.
I will stay in strong contact with his words and thoughts, not forgetting the best analysis I have ever heard, but also the encouragement. That’s my hope for tomorrow.
I hope to feel the deep connection with Demetri as long as I live, no longer together but thankful for everything we got from him. It’s extraordinary.
We will belong together like a family, perhaps as a rare one, Demetri Papademetriou.
Statement from Elizabeth Collett, Founding Director of MPI Europe
It is hard to pay just tribute to a man with such huge presence, magisterial yet mischievous, and the legacy he leaves behind.
Demetri was a tour de force. He dissected issues so insightfully, so vividly, his audiences—from students to ministers—would question how they might ever have understood them differently. He sounded dire warnings in a way that inspired, rather than paralyzed, decisionmakers, because he was not just interested in being right, he was committed to building solutions to help societies, to help migrants, navigate the future.
I had the privilege to work for Demetri for nearly a decade, with many more years happily spinning in his orbit. He took a chance on founding MPI Europe in 2011 (and, by association, on me) and never wavered in his leadership and guidance. He pushed us all to unpack problems and challenge assumptions; to be suspicious of people with neat answers and clean data, and plunge into the messy realities. In a few short years, we built an institution that has become an essential source of advice, drawing deeply on his knowledge, experience, and willingness to say, in his words, “the hard things.”
Demetri advised us all to “grow your tail”: invest in those seeking guidance and bring them with you. Demetri’s tail was wide and long, almost too heavy at times to lift. It spanned continents and stretched decades. And yet each filament—each of us—felt individually connected, not just to his wisdom, but because we had forged with him a common story.
I saw, time and again, Demetri’s impact on all those he met: charmed, then awestruck. But for all his statesmanship, the memories that I will cherish took place outside the meeting room, without agenda. We discussed life and happiness in hotel cafés and made grand plans in airport lounges. We giggled and gossiped over pastéis de nata, reflecting on the world around.
He was my boss, my mentor, but above all my friend. I will miss him more than these words can convey but remember him with limitless gratitude. And beg for one last edit.