International Organization for Migration (IOM)

UN General Assembly has unanimously adopted a resolution to make the International Organization for Migration (IOM) a Related Organization of the UN. Making IOM as a related organization to the UN is expected to play a vital role in protecting the rights of the migrants.

To give effect to the resolution, an agreement was signed between the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon and IOM Director General William Lacy Swing at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants which was held on 19 September 2016. At the summit, the member states also adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants to protect the rights of the refugees.

Questions & Answers

  • What is IOM? What are its functions?
  • Is India a member state of IOM?
  • Why IOM has been chosen to be made as a related organization?
  • What are the criticisms levelled against IOM?
What is IOM? What are its functions?

IOM is an intergovernmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental entities to promote humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. It has a worldwide presence with 100 offices throughout the world. Its headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland.

The organization was established in 1951 in the wake of World War II to resettle refugees from Europe. It has 165 member states and 8 more states holding observer status. It offers services and advice to governments and migrants and provides humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced persons. It primarily works in the following four broad areas of migration management:

  • Migration and development
  • Facilitating migration
  • Regulating migration
  • Forced migration

IOM was granted Permanent Observer status to the UN General Assembly in 1992. In 1996, a cooperation agreement between IOM and the UN was signed. IOM’s funding model is wholly project driven and depends upon the voluntary contributions from its 165 member states.

Is India a member state of IOM?

Yes, India is one among the 165 member states of IOM. India became a member state of IOM in 2008. Previously, it had obtained an Observer status in 1991. During Iraqi invasion of IOM helped to airlift 27,000 Indian nationals out of Kuwait. In the last 15 years, IOM has helped in the repatriation of over 30,000 Indian nationals stranded abroad. India was appointed as the External Auditor of IOM between 2010 and 2012.

Why IOM has been chosen to be made as a related organization?

The agreement has been forged at a time when the world is grappling with the more or less unprecedented refugee crisis. With this, UN recognizes IOM to be crucial actor in the field of human mobility.

Although UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR has presence in 150 countries and has been in existence since 1950, it has a much lower profile. Instead of pursuing human-rights framed mandate, it is primarily tasked with ensuring orderly flow of migration movements around the world. On the other hand, IOM has evolved into a successful leading organisation working on issues related to migration with an annual budget of more than US $1.4 billion. But the organization is grappling with a lingering identity crisis. So, the agreement strives to give it an identity.

IOM has a funding model which is entirely project driven. It has the flexibility to respond in circumstances where other organizations like UNHCR cannot. For example, in 2011 IOM was able to evacuate thousands of migrant workers who became stranded during the uprising in Libya. But UNHCR could not do anything as these workers were not refugees. Similarly, IOM is also actively engaged in providing humanitarian aid to people displaced by natural disasters. This work is not fully covered by UNHCR.

Thus, UN considers IOM as an indispensable actor in the protection of migrants and displaced people and in areas of refugee resettlement and voluntary returns.

What is the significance of the move?
  • IOM has been made as a part of the UN system.
  • Becoming part of the UN family, IOM can advocate for the migrants and their rights worldwide.
  • The support provided by the UN to the member states in implementing migration-related elements of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development would get strengthened with the involvement of IOM.
What are the criticisms levelled against IOM?

Vague mandate of IOM and absence of core funding has made IOM to invite criticisms from various quarters. It is accused that the IOM’s choice of projects is driven by the priorities of donor countries instead of the best interests of the migrants. For instance, Julien Brachet of Oxford University’s International Migration Institute has criticized the projects of IOM in Libya and the Sahara. As a part of the project, IOM was running awareness campaigns about the dangers involved in migration. This according to him is to implement the Europe’s policy of deterring migrants to enter its territory.