EU Migration Governance Initiatives: The Involvement of the IOM

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Around the world IOM promotes the implementation of balanced and coherent migration policies, both thematically and geographically


by Bernd Hemingway

As a global, intergovernmental organization on migration, the governance of international migration is central to the work of IOM. The history of IOM can be seen to reflect the changing nature of the migration phenomenon over the last half century, in particular the dramatic increase in human mobility. IOM was established in 1951 as an intergovernmental organization to resettle displaced persons, refugees, and migrants in Europe after the Second World War.

Originally set up as a regional actor in Europe at the initiative of the Governments of the United States and Belgium, the organization started out as the Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe (PICMME) becoming the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) in 1980 and finally the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 1989. This transition over half a century has been shaped by the scale of migration challenges faced by the world and the changing migration trends which have led the organization to extend its scope from a regional primarily operational agency to a global migration agency.

Global Governance of International Migration: Changing Patterns

Growing economic inequalities, changing demographics, extreme poverty, global economic integration, environmental problems, conflicts and wars have contributed to massive and varying patterns of migration which have become more evident in the post Cold War era. The increase in the numbers of migrants is showing a constant trend. The number of people living outside their country of origin which is around 191 million (IOM World Migration Report, 2005; UNO 2006) today is increasing by nearly 3% every year. OECD figures (OECD, Trends in International Migration, 2006)  show that international migration to industrialized countries since the 1990s has increased by 25% compared to previous decades.

Apart from the magnitude of the migration flows, patterns of migration have also considerably changed. Historically, migration used to be a relatively single-directional and permanent, whereas recent patterns are more circular and temporary.

The traditional categorization of migration flows is not accurate and adequate anymore as the flows are highly diversified and mixed. The total flows include both highly- skilled migration, low- and middle- skilled migration, migration for the purposes of study, family migration, internal migration, irregular migration. However, between these mobility categories there are no firmly fixed boundaries. And they are not mutually exclusive; they intersect, overlap and merge in many different ways.

While the majority of international migrants originate from developing countries, it is not exclusively a “South-North phenomenon”. There are also strong migration flows between developing countries, in particular between low- and middle-income countries (IOM World Migration Report, 2003).

Policy-makers have had to adjust and intensify their migration policies to be able to respond to these changing patterns of migration; the response has included increasing regional and global consultation initiatives and bringing the migration and development nexus to the global governance agenda. IOM has been fully engaged in these developments.

From Regional to Global Initiatives

IOM has assumed an increasingly important role in this transformation process of migration policies, including through providing support to Regional Consultative Processes (RCPs) on migration. An increasingly important element of the Organization’s work has been in contributing to better understanding and dialogue at the regional level, through inter-state and inter-regional consultative processes, including in partnership with International Organizations and other stakeholders. IOM’s involvement in promoting, facilitating and contributing to such regional mechanisms has meant that there are now active processes covering virtually the whole world.

RCPs have been set up around the world, such as the Colombo Process1  in Asia, Puebla Process2  in the Americas, Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa3 (MIDSA), and Söderköping Process4  in Europe. Their emergence attests to the importance that States attach to a regional approach to managing migration.

These initiatives are State-owned processes that bring government representatives together, providing a platform for informal dialogue between them on various migration-related issues of common interest and concern, such as migration and development, labour migration, social integration, smuggling and trafficking in persons and the protection of migrants’ rights. Although an RCP is often initiated by a conference on a particular theme, the occurrence of multiple meetings (rather than a one-time event) is an essential characteristic of RCPs. Substantive focus is flexible and responds to the changing needs of the participant States. The migration and development linkage has, for example, increasingly been included on the agenda of various RCPs as this issue has achieved greater prominence in connection with events like the UN High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development and the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

RCPs have served to build confidence in inter-state dialogue, sharing information and best practices, exploring approaches of cooperation on migration matters at a regional and international level and can provide a framework for capacity building and technical assistance on migration. The informal and non-binding nature of RCPs allows participants to express their policy perspective openly and also gives a voice to smaller, less powerful states together with more powerful, larger states. RCPs facilitate networks of individuals working on migration issues by providing a platform for regular meetings between persons (primarily government officials) who generally otherwise would not interact, or would interact only on an ad hoc basis.

In addition, RCPs generally bring together representatives from different ministries and in that way facilitate the coordination and coherence of migration related policy fields. The structure of RCPs has engendered trust and helped build confidence among States and the networks that are developed through participation in RCPs. create an environment conducive to bilateral and regional operational cooperation on migration; such cooperation often takes place outside of, and is sustained independent of the RCP process.

Some RCPs have produced declarations, recommendations, plans of action or guidelines for government action, although none involve binding obligations; some of these have complemented formal processes and had policy impact (e.g. harmonization of policies in granting visas, registration and identification of asylum seekers). In addition, RCPs often facilitate the compilation and sharing of data and statistics on migration flows and stocks, trafficking groups, etc. (e.g. Puebla Process has developed the SIEMMES database for tracking regional migration flows). These initiatives also enhance efforts towards regional policy coherence.

Fruitful inter-state dialogue on migration at regional and inter-regional levels has demonstrated that issues of common interest can be identified among diverse states, helping to overcome skepticism regarding the possibility of productive discussions on migration at the global level due to perceived insurmountable differences in the perspectives and objectives of developed and developing countries. As a result, RCPs have helped elevate migration on the international agenda, as can be seen in the establishment of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). The value and impact of the RCPs on migration management had been carried in to the discussions during the first GFMD. IOM has contributed to the first GFMD and preparations for the second GFMD through providing both substantive and technical input for the preparation, implementation and follow-up phases.

Throughout the GFMD process, IOM has been supportive of the measures that would make migration work for development, such as mainstreaming of migration into development policies and capacity building actions to manage labour migration as a tool for development. During the first GFMD, IOM shared its experience regarding good practices in several areas, including temporary and circular labour migration schemes as tools of development (IOM’s Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) programmes, Return of Qualified Afghans, Temporary Agricultural Workers to Canada), policy coherence (RCPs, PRSP work with Government of Ghana), capacity building in countries of origin (again MIDA programmes, health care workers mobility schemes and engaging diasporas (Diaspora Dialogues)).

The conclusions of the first Forum in general underscore the well-being and welfare of migrants with a series of recommendations to this end. One of the main action proposals has been the development of practical, evidence-based migration initiatives holding promise to enhance the beneficial links between migration and development. IOM has long been an advocate of this approach and hence one of the Organization’s objectives is to undertake policy-oriented research to support and inform such practical initiatives.

This approach has been carried on to the follow-up activities of the first GFMD. For example, IOM has started developing jointly with the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), a Migration and Development Handbook, the principal objective of which is to assist States, particularly developing ones, in their efforts to develop new policy approaches and solutions for better management of migration for development. In another example, at the requests of the Governments of Morocco and Spain, IOM is working with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to produce a “Compendium of good practice policies on bilateral temporary labour arrangements”, which was a recommended follow-up activity to Roundtable 1.2 of the first GFMD on the topic of “Temporary Labour Migration as a Contribution to Development: Sharing Responsibility”.

IOM is planning to organize a two-day consultation among the secretariats and chairing governments of major RCPs in 2009, with funding from the Government of Australia. The consultation will further facilitate and deepen exchanges among RCPs and explore ways to harness future opportunities for greater cross-fertilization. It will also highlight the benefits of RCPs and explore ways that RCPs might be further strengthened. In addition, it will provide an opportunity for RCPs to share information about their respective activities and achievements (including in the area of migration and development). It will explore the participants’ views on what the GFMD could learn from RCPs, particularly in terms of those areas of activity that could have a significant impact on the capacity of migration to achieve positive development outcomes, and consider how opportunities for greater cross-fertilization of ideas between the GFMD and RCPs might be harnessed.

IOM proposes to undertake a systematic analysis of the impacts and outputs of RCPs to better understand their role in the governance of international migration vis-à-vis other regional and global mechanism and to gather effective practices for effective inter-state dialogue and cooperation in migration matters. This assessment would be the first to be done on RCPs and would provide useful information to States and other stakeholders, as international migration continues to rise as a topic on the international agenda and the international community considers existing and potential frameworks for the governance of migration at the national, regional and global levels.

In addition, IOM continues to be involved in RCPs since their inception. As an observer of or partner IOM has participated in most of the major RCPs and made considerable contributions. At the request of the governments, IOM has organized meetings from which new RCPs have developed and advanced (e.g. one of the most important being the Colombo Process). IOM has not only provided substantive contribution but also technical and logistical support to the numerous RCPs through secretariat and coordination services, such as the MIDSA, CIS Conference, Bali Process etc. Additionally, IOM has facilitated consultation among the RCPs through organizing the first-ever consultation workshop bringing together various RCPs in 2005 and creating a centralized source of information on RCPs on the IOM website.

The expertise and experience IOM has gained over the years on RCPs has been conveyed to the first GFMD where IOM contributed to the roundtable on RCPs, and IOM is actively supporting preparations for the roundtable in GFMD 2 in Manila focused on RCPs, including by drafting the working paper both years.

IOM hopes its efforts have provided a further impetus for GFMD II to underscore inter-state and inter-regional cooperation, facilitating the continuing evolution of the migration and development discourse, and the practical development of new ideas and concepts which could be brought back to the regional mechanisms for their consideration and possible integration in their work agendas.

The European Union is one of the most sophisticated examples of regional integration, including in terms of migration, following the establishment of the Schengen Area. However, it is only in the past decade, following the signature of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 (moving from a national EU Member State competence to a Community competence), that international migration has become part of the EU governance framework. Whilst there is still much to be achieved, significant efforts and initiatives have been undertaken by the EU at a global level in partnership with countries worldwide, in order to address both the challenges and the opportunities of international migration.

Migration Management: EU Policy Convergence towards Global and Regional Cooperation

The concept of partnership and cooperation with third countries in the area of migration was acknowledged by the European Council at its meeting in Tampere in 1999, which set out an EU action plan on migration management. As the Tampere’s Presidency Conclusions stated:

The European Union needs a comprehensive approach to migration addressing political, human rights and development issues in countries and regions of origin and transit. This requires combating poverty, improving living conditions and job opportunities, preventing conflicts and consolidating democratic states and ensuring respect for human rights, in particular rights of minorities, women and children.

The Tampere programme was followed by the multi-annual Hague Programme (2004-2009), where the EU acknowledged the importance of managing migration flows in a global manner by establishing relations with the countries of origin or transit and jointly carrying out cooperation projects and activities with them.

The Global Approach to Migration, launched by the European Council in December 2005, enhances the Tampere perspective through an integrated and balanced approach to migration. The Global Approach supports the development of a comprehensive approach to migration to be implemented in close cooperation with countries of origin and transit to the EU and which addresses the main aspects of the migratory phenomenon including prevention of irregular migration, facilitation of regular migration, promotion of the links between migration and development, and the promotion of migrant rights.

This "Global Approach" forms the basis of the numerous policy and legislative initiatives related to migration which have been launched by the European Commission in recent years. Geographically it has been applied to sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean as well as Eastern and /South Eastern Europe. An integral part of the Global Approach is the “migratory route” concept, and the need to address migration issues faced by countries along the same migration route (countries of origin, transit and destination) in a coordinated manner.

Around the world IOM promotes the implementation of balanced and coherent migration policies, both thematically and geographically, and we therefore welcome the EU’s adoption of its “global approach” to migration, and the numerous initiatives at the policy, legislative and programmatic level which the EU has taken to implement such an approach. IOM works closely with the European Union on the various new mechanisms that it has introduced in order to implement the Global Approach, such as migration profiles, mobility partnerships, and the circular migration concept. The Thematic Programme for Cooperation with Third Countries in the Area of Migration and Asylum is an important vehicle for advancing the EU’s migration management approach, and IOM is a strong partner of the EC in this programme.

Looking Ahead: Some Key Considerations for Inter-State Cooperation on Migration Management

Interstate Consultations/Policy Dialogue

IOM considers the role of inter-state and inter-regional consultation an essential component of effective migration management. In recent years, the EU has enhanced its efforts to establish policy dialogues through such consultation mechanisms. One such example is the Söderköping Process where, together with IOM, UNHCR and governments, the EU has established a structured dialogue with the involved states and EU member states to create a regional network for management of migration and asylum which has helped harmonize positions on migration within states acceding to the EU through a series of workshops and meetings.

The Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development in Rabat and the EU-Africa Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development in Tripoli have been important initiatives for bringing the development-migration nexus on the agenda in consultation and cooperation with African states. The declarations and action plans adopted by the participating governments include strong political commitments which were also reiterated during the first meeting of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, a continuing dialogue and clear implementation mechanisms for following through these commitments is needed, in particular in the context of the Global Forum.

Data Management for Evidence-based Policy Making

There is an acute need for improving data and statistics in the migration field. A standardized information flow between governments is needed in order to facilitate evidence-based policy making and maintain effective cooperation and coordination.

Migration Profiles, a tool which is being promoted by the EU to assist in the implementation of the Global Approach, can facilitate the development of policy in the field of migration and provide a basis for sound programming and evaluation in the migration area. Migration profiles can provide the framework for bringing the existing data from different sources together in a structured manner, thus helping to identify data gaps, enhance data collection and data analysis and sharing for governments. IOM is carrying out migration profiling studies in selected countries in Africa, as well as in the Black Sea Region and Western Balkans.

Capacity Building in Countries of Origin and Transit

The concept of capacity building in migration management incorporates the whole spectrum of migration issues which need to be addressed by national governments and regional and international fora if migratory movements are to be managed in an effective orderly and humane manner.

Expert assistance to governments in order to build their capacities and skills in different areas of migration management constitutes an important tool for dealing with migration, and this is where the EU can play an important role in transmitting best practices of EU Member States to third countries. Training of migration officials through technical workshops and increasing bilateral, regional and international dialogue through informal consultations and seminars are good examples of fora for exchange of expertise. IOM has developed The Essentials of Migration Management as a training tool for government policy makers and practitioners.

In light of the EU’s efforts to promote a common immigration policy, assisting source countries of labour migration to the EU to build their capacities can help to promote effective labour migration management. Priority needs in this field are more effective data management, labour market assessments in terms of skills and needs, the development of labour matching schemes, and enhanced capacities of national employment agencies for employment referral and training (including for returnees).

Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) are considered important tools for mainstreaming migration into development policies and improving the policy coherence. To this end, IOM has developed set of adaptable guidelines for integrating migration in PRSPs on a wider scale under the MIDA programme in DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Ghana.

Owing to the lack of mechanisms to support South-south migration, the EU has launched the Intra-ACP Migration Facility under the 9th European Development Fund and which is an extensive programme that aims at capacity building of ACP countries through informing policy makers and general public on migration and development matters. IOM welcomes this initiative.

Environmental Migration – cooperation with countries of origin and transit

Environmentally-induced migration is seen as one of the key threats of climate change by the EU and other international actors. To tackle this phenomena there is need to (I) increase knowledge base on the impacts of climate change; (ii) integrate adaptation into EU external actions, by particularly fostering dialogue and partnership on adaptation with third countries in the aim of preventing and dealing with potential climate change consequences such as forced migration and displacement of persons. EU migration policy should also take the impacts of climate change into account, in particular in migration management.



1 The Colombo Process is formally known as the Ministerial Consultation on Overseas Employment and Contractual Labour for Countries of Origin in Asia, which focuses on promoting regional cooperation for better management of overseas employment and contractual labour.
2 This RCP focuses on migration policy and management, human rights of migrants, and migration and development.
3  MIDSA is a forum for government exchanges on migration issues affecting the region, primarily through workshops. Current topics of focus include counter-trafficking/smuggling, migration management/capacity building, and migration and development.
4 This Process was launched in 2001 by the Swedish Migration Board, UNHCR and IOM to promote dialogue on asylum and irregular migration issues.


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Bernd Hemingway is the Regional Representative for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Brussels.