The short-term aim of the recent EU-Turkey agreement is to curb the flow of refugees and unauthorized migrants toward Europe. Since its entry into effect on March 20th, 2016, people landing in Greece from Turkey are being gradually returned. For each ‘returnee’, a Syrian refugee in Turkey is then resettled in the EU, albeit at a slower rate.
The organization known as the IOM today was founded in 1951 as the ‘Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe’ (PICMME). It was first thought of as a logistics agency tasked with organizing the emigration and forced displacement brought on by World War II and later the Eastern Bloc’s collapse. As PICMME underwent a series of name changes, so did its mandate and the scope of its operations. Today, under the IOM name, this intergovernmental organization counts 162 member states, with an additional nine states and 118 international and non-governmental organizations enjoying observer status. The evolution, expansion and growing global role of the IOM is also reflected in the organization’s financial situation: the IOM’s annual budget increased from USD 242.2 million in 1998 to over USD 1.4 billion for 2015. It operates from more than 400 field locations and relies on approximately 9,000 staff members working on roughly 2,400 projects across the globe. At the executive helm stands a Director General, who is elected by the IOM Council. Each member state is represented by an equally weighted vote on the Council, which shapes the organization’s overall policies.
The concept of ‘migration management’ lies at the heart of the IOM’s strategy. Its aim is to maximize the benefits that migration may bring to countries of origin, countries of destination and migrants themselves. The IOM pursues this ‘triple-win’ through numerous activities, which fall under four broad categories: forced migration, migration facilitation, migration regulation, and development.
The IOM’s ambitions, however, go beyond logistical aspects. Occasionally, it operates more like a development agency, pursuing a stronger role in labour markets. Its MAGNET II project, for instance, targets rejected asylum seekers and irregular migrants returning from Europe to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Here, the aim is not purely return-related. Prior to their departure, returnees receive information on the Iraqi labour market, its key sectors as well as their training and job opportunities. Upon arrival, they are actively matched by the IOM with potential employers. Between 2014 and 2016, the project assisted 170 returnees, with 86 finding employment and 63 receiving vocational, IT and language training.
Yet despite its expansion in size and its evolution from a logistics to a migration agency, the IOM still operates outside of the United Nations (UN) system. There have been repeated calls to strengthen the relationship between the two organizations. The IOM Council has asked the Director General to investigate options for improvement and the UN Secretary-General is seeking the approval of the General Assembly to enter into negotiations over a new legal relationship.