International Organization for Migration

International Organization for Migration (IOM)


Established in 1951, the International Organization for Migration is the leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration. With 157 member states, an additional 10 states holding observer status, and offices in over 100 countries, the IOM promotes humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. It does so by providing services and advice to migrants and governments, while working in close cooperation with governmental, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental partners. The IOM has observer status at the United Nations.

The Organization works with its partners in the following areas: meeting the operational challenges of migration management, increasing understanding of migration issues, encouraging social and economic development through migration, and upholding the human dignity and well-being of migrants.

The Organization has been at the forefront of emergency response to ensure assistance and protection to stranded migrants and displaced persons. It has a lead role under the UN Cluster Approach in camp coordination and management in natural disasters and is a key partner in emergency shelter, logistics, health, protection, and early recovery.

The International Organization for Migration expertise and services support the following activities: secure, reliable, and cost-effective assistance for migrating persons; humane and orderly management of migration and the effective respect for migrants’ human rights; technical cooperation and operational assistance for building national capacities and facilitating cooperation on issues relevant to migration; helping states to integrate migrants into their new environment and to engage diasporas as development partners; advising states in the development and delivery of programs and technical expertise to combat migrant smuggling and human trafficking; working with national health systems to reduce mortality, morbidity, and disabilities and to enhance access to rights-based health and well-being services throughout the migration cycle; and partnering with states to address labor migration.


The International Organization for Migration, or as it was first known, the Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe (PICMME), was born in 1951 out of the chaos and displacement of Western Europe following the Second World War.

Mandated to help European governments to identify resettlement countries for the estimated 11 million people uprooted by the war, it arranged transport for nearly a million migrants during the 1950s.

A succession of name changes from PICMME to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) in 1952, to the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) in 1980 to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 1989, reflects the organization’s transition over half a century from logistics agency to migration agency.

While the International Organization for Migration’s history tracks the man-made and natural disasters of the past half century – Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Chile 1973, the Vietnamese Boat People 1975, Kuwait 1990, Kosovo and Timor 1999, and the Asian tsunami and Pakistan earthquake of 2004/2005 – its credo that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society has steadily gained international acceptance.

From its roots as an operational logistics agency, it has broadened its scope to become the leading international agency working with governments and civil society to advance the understanding of migration issues, encourage social and economic development through migration, and uphold the human dignity and well-being of migrants.

The broader scope of activities has been matched by rapid expansion from a relatively small agency into one with an annual operating budget of an estimated $1.4 billion and some 9,000 staff working in over 150 countries worldwide. IOM currently has 165 Member States and a further 8 states holding Observer status.

As “The Migration Agency”, the International Organization for Migration has become the point of reference in the heated global debate on the social, economic and political implications of migration in the 21st century.


The International Organization for Migration works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people.

The International Organization for Migration Constitution recognizes the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development, as well as to the right of freedom of movement.

The International Organization for Migration works in the four broad areas of migration management:

Migration and development
Facilitating migration
Regulating migration
Forced migration.

The International Organization for Migration activities that cut across these areas include the promotion of international migration law, policy debate and guidance, protection of migrants’ rights, migration health and the gender dimension of migration.

Members and Observers

The International Organization for Migration currently counts 165 member states. A further 8 states hold observer status, as do numerous international and nongovernmental organizations.


Partnerships exist in several key areas between IOM and governments in Africa, Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. The total number of active IOM projects in various countries across the world was over 2,400 in 2014.

The International Organization for Migration works closely with governments to enhance international cooperation in the following fora:

International Dialogue on Migration (IDM)
Regional Consultative Processes on Migration (RCPs)
Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD)

Member States

Observer States
<h3<Intergovernmental Organizations

There are three formal elements on which IOM’s overall relationship with the United Nations is based.

The first is the observer status in the UN General Assembly, which the International Organization for Migration obtained in 1992 (GA resolution A/RES/47/4).
The second is the International Organization for Migration’s inclusion by the General Assembly as a “standing invitee” in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) which also started in 1992.
The third element is the Cooperation Agreement between the International Organization for Migration and the UN, which was signed in 1996 and provides a formal basis for a closer collaboration between the two secretariats.

In practical terms, the increasing operational collaboration that has evolved over the past decade and a half between the International Organization for Migration and a broad range of UN entities has also resulted in more frequent ad hoc inclusion of IOM in relevant UN working groups. This has especially been the case in emergency and/or post-conflict rehabilitation situations, but also extends to a number of ongoing consultative processes, e.g., on women and gender equality.

Observer Mission to the United Nations

In addition, the International Organization for Migration’s Permanent Observer Office in New York maintains ongoing active liaison with the United Nations Secretariat, notably the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO) and the UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS), in order to provide information about IOM’s policies and activities, and to advise on substantive matters related to the Organization’s fields of expertise.

The Office of the Permanent Observer also fosters the exchange of information with New York-based United Nations bodies, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on matters of mutual concern. Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) have been signed with many of them which govern the particular fields and details of the cooperation. The Office also represents IOM at various working groups set up by the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and OCHA.

United Nations Country Teams

The International Organization for Migration Chiefs of Mission are frequently invited by Resident Coordinators (RCs) to participate in UN Country Teams (UNCTs), sometimes as a full partner despite IOM’s non-United Nations status. Field missions maintain close working relationships with UN partners; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP); the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) being some of the most prominent among them. Cooperation includes joint organization and execution of programmes and activities, close coordination and the provision of complementary services.

Inter-Agency Standing Committee

The introduction of the “cluster approach” has incorporated IOM even more firmly in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). It presents an opportunity for the humanitarian community to highlight the unique characteristics of each organization and capitalize on their strengths. IOM has taken on the lead role for the Camp Co-ordination/Camp Management Cluster (CCCM) in natural disasters and also plays a critical role in various other clusters including shelter and logistics.

Global Migration Group

The International Organization for Migration’s collaboration with the UN system and its agencies is further strengthened by its membership in the Global Migration Group (GMG), an inter-agency group, meeting at both the working level as well as at the level of heads of agencies. The GMG aims to promote the wider application of all relevant international and regional instruments and norms relating to migration, and the provision of more coherent and stronger leadership to improve the overall effectiveness of the international community’s and United Nation’s policy and operational response to the opportunities and challenges presented by international migration.

The GMG grew out of an existing inter-agency group, the Geneva Migration Group, which was established in April 2003 by the heads of IOM, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In early 2006 membership in the Geneva Migration Group was expanded to include United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank. The Geneva Migration Group’s Terms of Reference were updated, and it was renamed the “Global Migration Group”. In November 2007 the GMG admitted a further four members – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Regional Commissions and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) were admitted as members, bringing the total GMG membership to 16 agencies.

Several have Observer Status.

Non-governmental Organizations

Several have Observer Status.

IOM’s collaboration with NGOs is defined in Article 1(2) of its constitution, according to which the Organization “shall cooperate closely with international organizations, governmental and non-governmental, concerned with migration, refugees and human resources in order, inter alia, to facilitate the co-ordination of international activities in these fields. Such cooperation shall be carried out in the mutual respect of the competencies of the organizations concerned.”

Over 60 NGOs currently hold Observer status with the Organization. The International Organization for Migration is actively encouraging NGO participation at its Council and the International Dialogue on Migration and hopes that the trend towards increased NGO participation in migration policy dialogue will continue. Also at Headquarters level, the International Organization for Migration convenes regular annual consultations and briefings for a wider NGO audience. Most of the programmatic cooperation between NGOs and IOM, however, takes place at field level.

Cooperation between IOM and NGOs occurs in various contexts and reflects the diverse relationships between the two actors. NGOs might be collaborators with IOM, service providers or project implementers, donors, beneficiaries of IOM technical cooperation, grant recipients, or service recipients. The International Organization for Migration and NGOs may act as equal partners, or complement each otherÂ’s activities.

International Organization for Migration

Embracing mainstream international law, this section on international organization for migration explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.


See Also

  • International Organization
  • Foreign Relations
  • Intergovernmental Organization
  • Regional Organization
  • Regional Integration


Further Reading

  • The entry “international organization for migration” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press