International Organization for Migration to Join United Nations System

After receiving Humanitarian aid, she arrived into her tent, she and her family members looking at items received on January 6, 2014 from IOM.
A displaced family receives aid from IOM
Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

The intergovernmental organization responsible for facilitating and promoting orderly and humane migration management is set to formally join the United Nations system. On July 25, 2016 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution approving a draft agreement to make the International Organization for Migration (IOM) a related organization. [UN News Centre: IOM] The agreement will supersede a previous 1996 cooperation agreement between IOM and the UN and will grant each organization new authority to attend the other’s meetings and have access to the other’s information. See UN General Assembly, Agreement concerning the Relationship between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, UN Doc. A/70/976, 8 July 2016.

IOM’s purpose is to support migrants and States through humanitarian assistance, resettlement, and to promote migration law and policy that respect migrants’ rights and better manage migratory flows. See IOM, Our Work. The move to increase cooperation between the two intergovernmental organizations was hailed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, as beneficial to achieving the migration-related elements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and particularly important to developing successful responses to the movements of large populations. [UN News Centre: IOM] The agreement has already won the approval of the IOM Council and is due to be signed by the Secretary General of the UN and the Director General of IOM at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants scheduled for September 19. [UN News Centre: IOM]

Details of the Agreement

While both the UN and IOM will continue to operate separately and will maintain existing relationships with their 193 and 165 Member States, respectively, the new agreement formalizes and mandates specific collaboration between them. The agreement aims to facilitate more orderly responses to migration issues and to eliminate duplication. See UN General Assembly, Agreement concerning the Relationship between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration. IOM agreed to participate and cooperate with any UN bodies, both presently established and in the future, particularly the UN Systems Chief Executives Board for Coordination, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs, Global Migration Group, and country-level security management teams. See id. at art. 3. Both parties to the agreement are entitled to consult with the other for its expert advice and to receive information and assistance from the other entity upon request, particularly in the field of statistics. See id. Both bodies will make arrangements to share “special studies” with the other upon request to avoid duplication. See id. at art. 7.

The two parties to the agreement are also entitled to some representation within the other. The Secretary General of the UN is entitled to participate in the Council of the IOM‘s meetings without having a vote. The IOM Director General is entitled to participate in the General Assembly plenary meetings, Committees of the General Assembly meetings, and Committee of the Economic and Social Council meetings. See id. at art. 5. The two leaders may also propose agenda items to one another to be brought to the attention of their respective bodies. See id. at art. 6. IOM may also submit reports to the General Assembly via the Secretary-General and attend UN Security Council meetings by invite. See id. at arts. 4 and 5.

The agreement also establishes administrative cooperation, such as sharing services and facilities. See id. at art. 8. Under the agreement, the two bodies will consult on the exchange of personnel and matters relating to staffing. See id. at art. 10. It also affords IOM staff members entitlement to use a UN laissez-passer as a valid travel document. See id. at art. 11.

Although the agreement is a step towards a closer relationship and the elimination of duplicity, it explicitly preserves each entity’s mandate and IOM’s independence. None of the provisions require either party to breech confidentiality, and the agreement seeks to protect confidential information. See id. at art. 13. The agreement will not affect the existing mandates of the UN bodies that also address refugees, internally displaced persons, and migration. See id. at art. 2.

The previous 1996 agreement between the UN and IOM did not grant entitlements to participate in meetings at the other organization and only addressed the sharing of information already in the public domain. See Economic and Social Council, Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, UN Doc. E/1996/90, 18 July 1996. Under the old agreement, the two bodies were only required to invite the other to their meetings at which “intergovernmental organizations have been invited to attend as observers.” See id. at art. 2. Additionally, while the previous document acknowledged that the two bodies could share specialized studies, it did not state that each body “shall, to the extent practicable, furnish” the other with the information requested as the new agreement does. See id. at art. 3; UN General Assembly, Agreement concerning the Relationship between the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, art. 7.

The International Organization for Migration

IOM was first established as a body to handle the operational logistics of resettling displaced persons after World War II, but its work has evolved since then to include educating States and civil society on migration, encouraging economic and social developments through migration, and ensuring the dignity of migrants. See IOM, IOM History. IOM encourages international cooperation on migration, develops solutions for migration problems, and supplies humanitarian aid to migrants. See IOM, About IOM. Migration, according to IOM, is defined as the “movement of a person or a group of persons, either across an international border, or within a State” and includes “migration of refugees, displaced persons, economic migrants, and persons moving for other purposes, including family reunification.” See IOM, Key Migration Terms.

IOM is an intergovernmental organization with Member States. Each Member State has a representative in the IOM Council, a body that sets policies for the organization. See IOM, Constitution and Basic Texts of the Governing Bodies. Today, with the recent addition of China, it has 165 Member States with voting power in the Council and eight States with observer status. See IOM, About IOM.

IOM already has a record of collaborating with other civil society organizations and international bodies. It provides research and technical expertise to civil society organizations; in concert with civil society, holds workshops and seminars on the human rights of migrants; and participates in coordinated humanitarian responses with non-governmental organizations. See IOM, Civil Society & NGOs. IOM has held observer status at the UN since 1992, and the two organizations have increasingly collaborated in recent years, including through the UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, which was first held in 2006. [UN News Centre: IOM]

UN Mechanisms Operating in the Field of Migration

Several bodies and special procedures within the UN address migration issues similar to those under IOM’s mandate. One of the primary bodies concerned with migration is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN agency. Unlike IOM, its focus is limited to asylum seekers, refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless people. See UNHCR, Who We Help.

Three independent expert bodies of the UN  focus on migrants’ human rights but do not provide the same services IOM does. See IOM, Mission. The Committee on Migrant Workers monitors the implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and ensures migrant workers’ human rights. See OHCHR, Committee on Migrant Workers. Two special rapporteurs have mandates that overlap with some facets of IOM’s mission: the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. Special procedures mandate holders report and advise on human rights issues, conduct country visits, and hold dialogues with governments and civil society. See IJRC, Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

Several other bodies within the UN system also address the rights of migrants. These range from treaty bodies that may consider the heightened needs of vulnerable groups on which they focus when in migration, such as the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to those that address economic and social development around labor and migration or are general policy-making bodies. For example, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has an international migration section that publishes yearly reports on migration issues, and the UN General Assembly often issues resolutions related to migration issues. See UNDESA, International Migration. See, e.g., UN General Assembly, Resolution 70/130, Violence against women migrant workers, UN Doc. A/RES/70/130, 8 February 2016.

Developments in Refugee and Migration Issues

There are currently over 65.3 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced, including nearly 21.3 million refugees. The Syrian crisis remains the greatest impetus of forced displacement of refugees at this time. Nearly five million individuals from Syria have been displaced since 2011. See UNHCR, Figures at a Glance. Recent outbreaks of violence in South Sudan have seen the rise of yet another migration emergency. The UN reported that, as of August 2, 60,000 people had fled in the previous three weeks, bringing the total number of South Sudanese refugees in neighboring States to 900,000. [UN News Centre: South Sudan]

The UN system will continue its focus on migration-related issues at its upcoming Summit on Refugees and Migrants on September 19, 2016. The UN General Assembly, which organized the summit, stated that the large movements of refugees and migrations is too large to be handled by individual States and must be addressed through international cooperation. See UN, United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants

Additional Information

For more information on refugee law or the UN system, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.