In 2018, 164 states adopted the ‘Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration’ (GCM) to strengthen cooperation, facilitate migration, safeguard migrant rights, and prevent ‘irregular’ migration.
What does IOM do?
Each year, IOM carries out thousands of projects worldwide
On behalf of Germany, IOM currently assists United Kingdom (UK) nationals stranded in Germany following ‘Brexit’, with a focus on people who need special support, for example in dealing with authorities or in obtaining relevant documents. IOM also supports Syrian family reunifications with visa support and pre-departure integration courses. Since 1979, IOM’s main projects for Germany have been the ‘Government Assisted Repatriation Program’ (GARP), and ‘Reintegration and Emigration Program for Asylum-Seekers in Germany’ (REAG); people mandated to leave Germany receive cash incentives, tickets, counselling, and reintegration assistance.
IOM, a Global North organization?
IOM currently has 174 member states; its 15,311 staff members work mostly outside headquarters (Geneva), at one of 590 offices worldwide.
IOM in the GCM, IOM in the UN. No turning point in global migration politics
The GCM negotiations came with the hope that states would find and agree on enhanced, rights-based approaches to migration. However, the GCM that was ultimately adopted as a non-binding document did not go much farther than listing optional policy measures. IOM’s role in the GCM is also problematic: Quite a few of IOM’s founding and top donor states (e.g., the US, several EU states, Australia) actively opposed the GCM. As lead agency, IOM is tasked to oversee the GCM’s implementation progress; however, it is likely also becoming the GCM’s main implementer of envisaged policy measures, which presents a serious conflict of interest and puts the GCM at risk of serving mainly as an IOM funding tool. Moreover, the fact that IOM’s project catalogue and the measures suggested by the GCM neatly match, may prevent states from considering and adopting genuinely different and enhanced approaches, contravening the spirit of the GCM.
In 2016, IOM asked to join the UN as a ‘related organization’. This was accepted by the UN despite far-reaching negative consequences: Unlike ‘system organizations’ (e.g., United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR) or ‘special agencies’ (e.g., International Labour Organization, ILO), IOM as a ‘related organization’ is exempted from mandatory reporting to the UN’s General Secretariate, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council. This prevents any effective monitoring of IOM, including its role as the GCM’s lead agency. IOM has also kept its own member states, and the autonomy over their contributions. This will potentially affect how the GCM is implemented. More crucially, as a ‘related organization’, IOM is not formally obliged to safeguard and monitor states’ compliance with a set convention, unlike the UNHCR which was created in 1950 to represent and protect the Geneva Refugee Convention.
The lack of any genuine monitoring of IOM, and effective safeguards for the protection of human and migrants’ rights in the delivery of IOM projects are detrimental – for migrants and other people on the move, the GCM, and the future of global migration governance. IOM was made the ‘UN Migration Agency’ which means that IOM’s services can be regarded as the UN’s immediate migration-related responses. Tolerated by the UN, the GCM facilitates policy outsourcing by letting states ‘click & choose’ the measures they wish to pursue, but later likely delegate to IOM and others. This enables states and the UN to easily ignore their rights obligations. Meanwhile, IOM and other providers can claim that they are solely carrying out measures which states have authorized and funded, and for which they are not responsible. Global migration politics following the GCM and IOM’s merger with the UN resemble the past, casting doubts on the international community’s will to adopt and pursue enhanced and rights-centered responses to migration.