The International Organization for Migration (IOM): gaining power in the forced migration regime.

Author:Bradley, Megan
 
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Introduction (1)

The work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in responding to forced migration has been extensively analyzed, (2) yet the role of another major intergovernmental organization, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), remains understudied. Established in 1951 as the Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe (PICMME), IOM is not a UN agency, but became "part of the UN family" in September 2016 as a "related organization" of the UN. (3) The lack of in-depth analysis of IOM is striking, given the agency's dramatic expansion since the 1990s: its pool of member states has grown from 67 in 1998 to 165 in 2015, while its budget increased five-fold from $242.2 million in 1998 to $1.4 billion in 2014. (4) With some 10,000 staff in 500 offices and duty stations, IOM is now by some measures as large as UNHCR, with its approximately 10,100 staff in 471 locations. (5)

This article examines key factors explaining IOM's dramatic growth over the past twenty years, and the implications for the forced migration regime. Recognizing that the vast majority of IOM's expansion is attributable to its increased involvement in humanitarian contexts, I suggest that despite its lack of a formal humanitarian protection mandate, IOM has thrived by acting as an entrepreneur, capitalizing on its malleability and reputation for efficiency. In particular, it has carved out distinctive roles for itself in activities including post-disaster camp management, data collection, and assistance for migrant workers in crises, while it continues to navigate controversies linked to some of its "migration management" work. Drawing on Barnett, Finnemore, and Duvall's influential scholarship on power, authority, and international organizations, I reflect on the extent to which IOM is accruing increased power and influence in the forced migration regime, and suggest that understanding IOM's humanitarian engagements is now essential to understanding the organization and, increasingly, the regime itself. I begin by briefly summarizing IOM's organizational development, and its increased humanitarian involvement. I then explore key factors underpinning IOM's growth, before discussing iom's evolving power and influence, and its potential implications.

This article is a preliminary reflection that is part of a broader project on the evolution of IOM in the humanitarian sphere. My aim in this exploratory piece is largely to raise questions about the shifting roles and power of IOM, rather than to offer definitive answers to them. While the present article does not aspire to offer policy prescriptions, my hope is that ultimately this work helps to advance the conversation amongst scholars, policymakers, and practitioners on iom's current and potential future roles, and the ways in which more systematic, protection-oriented responses may be ensured for displaced persons who fall outside UNHCRs traditional mandate.

While focusing on IOM's work with displaced populations, I recognize the impossibility of drawing a bright line between voluntary and forced migration, and the need to maintain careful awareness of the tensions between humanitarian and human rights principles, and programs in areas such as "assisted voluntary returns." (6) I also recognize that there is some debate over whether IOM can rightfully be considered a humanitarian agency. Although IOM characterizes itself as a humanitarian organization, (7) some counter that "this language effaces the coercive practices inherent" in IOM's involvement in the "ordering of movement" and activities such as detention. (8) In considering IOM's evolution as a humanitarian actor, my intention is not to minimize such ethical concerns, but to accurately position it amongst the growing ranks of institutions (including corporations) with multiple "hats," mandates, and interests that engage in humanitarian work, generating new possibilities, tensions, and challenges for the forced migration regime.

To this end, I use the term humanitarian engagement to refer broadly to efforts to respond to emergencies and their aftermath; normatively, these efforts are to focus on saving lives, reducing suffering, and protecting rights. I use the term forced migration regime to refer to the interconnected norms and institutions that inform and facilitate cooperation in response to displacement across borders as well as internally. Scholarly attention has typically focused on the more discrete refugee regime, in which the 1951 Refugee Convention encapsulates the cardinal norms, and UNHCR is the primary institution. Analyzing the broader global forced migration regime has the advantage of underscoring the links between different "categories" of displaced persons, and the ways in which the norms and institutions developed to respond to refugees have, since the early 1990s, been reconsidered, adapted, and assigned to advance more coordinated responses to refugee-related populations such as internally displaced persons (IDPS) and labour migrants uprooted in conflict situations.

IOM's Expanding Humanitarian Engagement: Background

PICMME was established in 1951, transformed in 1952 into the International Committee for European Migration (icem), rebranded in 1980 as the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration, and finally emerged in 1989 as the International Organization for Migration. (9) Over this period, the body evolved from a regionally focused logistics agency to a global organization working in a wide range of voluntary and forced migration scenarios and dedicated--in theory, if not always in practice--to managed migration "for the benefit of all." Migration management serves as a loose "umbrella" concept under which diverse activities are clustered, from refugee resettlement, evacuations, camp management, policy development, and counter-trafficking training to the implementation of detention programs and "assisted voluntary return" schemes for unsuccessful asylum seekers. (10) (Importantly, IOM uses the term migration to include both cross-border and internal movements.) The agency divides its work into four general areas: (1) migration and development; (2) facilitating migration; (3) regulating migration; and (4) addressing forced migration. (11) To a certain extent the iom's work with forced migrants crosscuts these four areas, but has come to occupy the lion's share of IOM's operational budget and staff resources.

IOM and its precursors were mandated to facilitate orderly migration flows generally, including the "migration of refugees" (ICEM Constitution, Article 1.3). Notably, IOM does not have an explicit mandate to protect the rights of migrants, including refugees and IDPS. Many of IOM's member states see the agency's lack of a formal protection mandate as a key strength; for its part, "IOM has come to see protection falling within its mandate, although others might contest the extent of the agency's commitment to protection principles." (12) The agency's constitution indicates that member states must have a "demonstrated interest in the principle of free movement of persons." (13) While minimalistic, for decades this expression of normative commitment served the important political function of precluding the membership of Communist states that prevented citizens from leaving their territories. Like UNHCR, the organization's work was initially limited to Europe, but this restriction was eventually lifted in light of the need for coordinated international responses to forced migration further afield. As Elie points out, both UNHCR and PICMME were "offsprings of the IRO [International Refugee Organization], but neither were its true successor." (14) UNHCR was delegated to take on IRO's legal protection work, but the United States, which dominated negotiations over the establishment of both UNHCR and PICMME, opposed the creation of an operational UN agency with responsibility for (forced) migrants. Indeed, the US Congress decreed in 1951 that no American funding for responding to displacement and population challenges in Europe could be "allocated to any international organization which has in its membership any Communist-dominated or Communist-controlled country." (15) This initially precluded a strong operational role for UNHCR.

Although IOM (and its precursors) has long represented itself as a migration agency with a broad interest in the movement of people, in the contemporary context and at various points in its history, the organization has in fact worked predominantly with displaced persons, whether refugees or IDPS. For instance, by 1974 some 90 per cent of those supported by ICEM were refugees. (16) Despite the agency's long history of engagement with displaced populations, it has often "been dismissed by scholars as a significant international actor in its own right. Throughout its existence, in fact, it frequently has been derided as a 'travel agency,' booking passages for all kinds of migrants." (17) When the IOM Constitution was adopted in 1989, several of its objectives pertained directly to the organization's work with forced migrants, and in the humanitarian sector generally, providing a foundation for more recent expanded humanitarian engagement. According to Perruchoud, the objectives guiding the development of the IOM Constitution included fortifying the organization's "basic humanitarian character and orientation" and underscoring the importance of cooperation among states and international agencies on refugee issues, and migration more broadly. (18)

IOM's sometimes contradictory and controversial activities reflect not only its lack of an explicit legal protection mandate, but also its governance structure, and its status as an intergovernmental organization outside--but now closely related to--the un. IOM has adopted human rights discourse, but views on its roles and responsibilities vary...

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