De Fabel van de illegaal 59, Summer 2003
Author: Jan Tas
The number of actions and critical documents against the practices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has steadily grown the last couple of years. Mainstream ngo's are also joining these critics now.
In June 2001 Human Right Watch (HRW), the International Catholic Migration Committee and the World Council of Churches together published a document addressed to the United Nations refugee organization UNHCR. In that document they showed their worries about the role of the IOM as an international migration bureau. "We are concerned that given IOM's active involvement in interception programs - often in situations where UNHCR is not present - it does not have an explicit mandate nor the expertise to identify and protect those in need of international protection."
In the same period also the Jesuit Refugee Council (JRC) and the Roma National Congress (RNC) protested. Even UNHCR fieldworkers uttered some criticism. The JRC criticized that the IOM assist the Thai government with controlling and registering the 2.5 million mostly undocumented Burmese migrant workers. By doing so the IOM supports the monthly deportation of about 66.000 workers to Burma. After these workers have been dumped across the border the IOM doesn't show any interest in them anymore, criticizes the JRC.
In December 2002 HRW accused the IOM policy again. This time together with Amnesty International. They came with a statement addressed to a meeting of the IOM member states in Geneva. "As organizations committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, we come to this meeting with concerns about the human rights impact of certain IOM operations. In particular, we are concerned that IOM's work in certain contexts is adversely impacting upon basic human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including for example the right to be free from arbitrary detention and the fundamental right to seek asylum." In this statement no specific examples were given, but this kind of situation occurs for example in the prison camp on the island of Nauru, which is under the guidance of the IOM and where refugees are being kept prisoner until they can ask for asylum in Australia. "IOM's presence should not have the effect of prolonging untenable state policies and practices which themselves fail to comply with international human rights standards. Such policies range from certain border control and deterrent measures, to arbitrary and unlawful detention to encouraging premature return to countries of origin", wrote Amnesty and HRW. The organizations also stated "that the IOM should not provide an alternative agency for states where they prefer to avoid their human rights obligations".
The Roma National Congress from Germany formulated an even stronger criticism on the IOM. "The organization is known to us as a stooge, which for years is handling the deportation of Roma and Sinti, so called returns, which can't be done by individual states, the dirty work in the shadow, in an extra-legal space. It is a mercenary organization." Moreover, the RNC has a court case running against the IOM at the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, because the IOM is dealing irresponsible with the claims for compensation for victims of the Nazi forced labor system. The information which the IOM gathers in relation with these claims is partly processed by private companies, such as the American company AB-Data, which are not officially licensed and because of that do not have to obey existing law concerning the protection of refugees.
In October 2002 the international No Border network organized actions against the IOM in Berlin, Sangatte, Dover, Helsinki, Warsaw, Vienna and elsewhere. That was in the context of an action week "Against global migration management. For freedom of movement". But protests are not limited to such weeks of action. In the Ecuadorian capital Quito recently family members of worker migrants in Spain demonstrated against a "return" treaty designed by the IOM. In Australia Amnesty and the Green Party accuse the IOM of ignoring the Geneva Refugee Convention, whilst in England the Refugee Council criticizes the IOM guided "return" of Afghans. The cherished neutral and humanitarian image of the IOM start to be less positive due to these actions and press releases. That is of great importance, because the organization plays a key role at the international migration control.
This article is based on "Human rights watchdogs condemn International Organization for Migration (IOM)", F. Düvell. In: Statewatch bulletin, May 2003, and: "Im Fadenkreuz der Kritik", F. Düvell. In: AK 470, 21.2.2003.