The International Organization for Migration (IOM)
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was founded in 1951 to deal with the displaced populations in Europe following World War II. Originally founded as the "Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe," the organization underwent a series of name changes during the last 50 plus years, finally settling on the International Organization for Migration as the best embodiment of the work it now performs.
||Keywords: migration, refugees, internally displaced persons (IDP), disaster relief, voluntary return
When first founded, the IOM's work was often most concerned with the logistics of "moving people," rather than strictly humanitarian concerns. While the organization did help to re-settle nearly one million European migrants during the 1950s, it was also involved in practical pursuits to facilitate labor migration, such as chartering boats to send bricklayers to Australia.
Overtime, the IOM has expanded its mission to be involved in nearly all aspects of the "migration question," including the voluntary assisted return of migrants to their countries of origin, evaluating the migration-development link, combating human trafficking, and providing humanitarian assistance to displaced populations after human or man-made disasters. While not ignorant of the controversies surrounding modern migration, the IOM does not weigh in on the debate about regular versus irregular migration, and operates by the credo that "humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society." The IOM's work is not limited to refugees or asylum seekers - it deals with "migrants" in the broadest sense of the word. Some migrants may be refugees, but the determination of such is not within the IOM's purview.
The IOM is not affiliated with the United Nations, although by necessity the two international organizations work closely together on migration-related issues. It is a separate international organization with 125 Member states, and 16 observers, and operates based on a constitution that has status as an international legal instrument.
The IOM's constitutive organs are the Council, the Executive Committee and the Administration. In the Council, which determines IOM policies, each Member State has one representative and one vote. The Executive Committee is made up of 33 Member States elected for two-year periods, which examine and review the policies, operations and administration of the Organization. The Administration is comprised of a Director General, a Deputy Director General and other staff and is responsible for administering and managing the Organization. The Director General, who is the Organization's highest executive official is independently elected by the Council for a period of five years. Although nothing in the IOM founding documents mandates that an American must be the head of the IOM, eight of the nine IOM Director Generals have been Americans.
Recent Developments in International Migration Law
Unlike the terms "refugee" or "asylum seeker" or "internally displaced person," the word "migrant" has never been defined under international law. In its publication the Glossary on Migration, the IOM-while noting that "no universally accepted definition of migrant exists"-suggests the following definition:
[M]igrant is usually understood to cover all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned for reasons of 'personal convenience' and without intervention of an external compelling factor. This term therefore applies to person, and family members, moving to another country or region to better their material or social conditions and improve the prospect for themselves or their family.
Given its status outside of the UN System, the IOM does not have the responsibility to draft international legal instruments dealing with migration. However, the organization monitors developments in the migration law field closely. In general, migration law must encompass two-at time competing-normative standards. The first is the rights and obligations of states deriving from the cherished principle of state sovereignty. These include the right to protect borders, to confer nationality, to admit and expel foreigners, to combat trafficking and smuggling and to safeguard national security. The second is the human rights of the persons involved in migration, which are not enshrined in any one document that has compelling legal authority. Rather, these norms can be found in various international law instruments, some regional, some global, and are drawn from varied traditions, such as human rights law, humanitarian law, refugee law, criminal law, labor law, law of the sea. This "diffusion" of rights can make enforcement problematic.
Given that the IOM's primary objective to assist States in the orderly and humane management of migration, the IOM strives to implement its work in conjunction with relevant international law. A non-exhaustive list of legal instruments that impact migration law includes:
- The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (especially Article 12, which deals with freedom of movement)
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (especially Article 6, which deals with States obligations to suppress trafficking)
- The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (especially Article 3, which contains an absolute prohibition on returning persons to a state where or he or she might be tortured)
- The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (especially Article 7, which recognizes the right of everyone to fair and just working conditions)
- International Labor Organization Conventions, Nos. 97 & 143 (both of which deal with migration for employment purposes)
- The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the supplementary Protocols Against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea
- The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
- The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
- The Convention on International Civil Aviation (especially Annex 9, which deals with the Custody and Care of Passengers)
As it is not an organ of the UN, the IOM does not have the "protection" mandate that UN agencies (such as the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees) have; thus, the organization can focus on the more practical details of migration management. Interestingly, the IOM's constitution expressly grants the IOM the power to deal with "internally displaced persons," those persons who may be uprooted for a variety of reasons (such as man-made or humanitarian disasters), but have crossed no international border and therefore cannot qualify as refugees. This is an example of where the IOM's sphere of concern explicitly exceeds that of the United Nations.
In addition to migrant and refugee re-settlement and humanitarian assistance missions, the IOM is also involved in logistical projects such as helping to draft protocols regarding migrant worker health standards between a country of origin and the receiving state. The IOM also helps countries establish employment schemes for the legal migration of foreign workers from developing countries to the developed world. Other projects include the voluntary repatriation of irregular migrants back to their countries of origin (although it is important to note that the IOM will not aid in the deportation of migrants), as well as the facilitation of the Holocaust Victims Assets Program (dealing with the settlement of Holocaust forced laborers and Swiss Banks). In recent years, the IOM has taken a leading role in counter-trafficking efforts, working with other international organizations and NGOs to help combat this abuse.
Ms. Hilary Stauffer
Adviser, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs
Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva
1 December 2008
IOM History, http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/lang/en/pid/11
IOM Constitution and Governance, http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/lang/en/pid/10
About Migration Law, http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/lang/en/pid/1692
Available at http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b66c2aa10.pdf
Available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm
Available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cedaw.htm
Available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm
Available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cmw/cmw.htm
Available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
Available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CTOC/index.html
Available at http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/9_2_1963.pdf
Available at http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/9_1_1961.pdf
Available at http://www.unhcr.org/publ/PUBL/455c72b912.pdf
IOM Constitution, Chapter I(1)(b), available at http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/pid/225
IOM Activities, http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/lang/en/pid/7
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