By Antonio Polosa, Chief of Mission International Organization for Migration in the Netherlands
The year 2021 marked the 70th anniversary of our Organization. On December 5th, 1951, an International Migration Conference was convened in Brussels where a group of 19 countries, including The Netherlands, decided to establish the Organization, which is today IOM, under the name of Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe (PICMME). Mandated to help European governments to identify resettlement countries for the estimated 11 million people uprooted by the Second World War, it arranged safe transport for nearly a million migrants during the 1950s.
Still, IOM’s origins were quite modest in scope and its future quite uncertain: PICMME was in fact a provisional body. A Committee with a temporary mandate and operations limited to a single continent. Yet, its importance to the lives of those who benefited from these early international transportation services, safe and dignified transport of migrants is an activity which remains a key feature of our work, to this day.
The following year, in 1952, the first of several name and mandate changes took place, as PICCME became the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), which was no longer provisional but was still limited to operations in Europe.
28 years later, in 1980, the Organization’s name changed to the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM), in recognition of the Organization’s increasingly global role, in particular in Latin America and South-East Asia. By this time, the Organization had already assisted over 3 million migrants with transport and provided other support services in numerous other areas.
Finally, in 1989, ICM became the International Organization for Migration (IOM), having expanded still further its reach and programme range of services. The status of the Organization has further evolved since then, featuring constant growth in its scope of work and size of operations. In September 2016, IOM fully joined the UN family as a UN related organization with a nearly universal membership. Today, IOM is indeed a global organization, with a global footprint and a presence at some 450 locations in nearly 160 countries.
In The Netherlands IOM opened an office in 1991 and thus we have also marked its 30th anniversary in one of the Organization founding Member States. Since then, at the request of the Dutch government, IOM has been facilitating the voluntary return of migrants under the ‘Return and Emigration Assistance from the Netherlands’ – or REAN – programme. In the past 30 years, more than 68,000 migrants in the Netherlands have returned to more than 100 different countries with the support of IOM. This could not have been achieved without the close cooperation with government agencies, embassies, municipalities, non-governmental organizations, migrant organizations, etc….
Indeed, IOM’s network today is as broad as the number of migration topics IOM is involved in the world. In The Netherlands, besides return migration, a whole range of projects within different themes have been developed by IOM over the years and cooperate with, such as in resettlement, family reunification, integration, labour migration and involving the diaspora in the development of their countries of origin through temporary work assignments. Establishing relationships with the private sector have become increasingly important as well.
In the last decade, IOM has continued to grow at a steady pace, with an increase from 146 Member States to 174. The IOM budget on a global level has also increased by another 50%, with annual expenditure now exceeding USD 2 billion. The Organization’s workforce has doubled, to over 20,000 staff members, working around the globe, mostly in the field.
Over time, IOM’s role and responsibilities have expanded considerably, in line with the growing importance of migration and displacement (be man-made or nature/climate disaster related) as key issues which require support, solidarity and dialogue within the international community. In that respect, the adoption of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in 2018 has been a watershed moment in this regard.
Then, as today, IOM stands side by side with its Member States and the global international community in contributing to achieve its goals, and to do so with flexibility and responsiveness, while remaining as close to the migrant it serves as possible, on the ground, in the field. Even more so, as the challenges posed by global pandemic and tragic conflicts keep testing all of us in endurance and resolve to fulfil our mandate with care and dignity.
This occasion should make us all reflect on the crucial role that migration had and still has in the socio-economic growth of societies in peace, tolerance, and respect of everyone human rights!
Allow me now to remark that this incredible and exciting journey has been possible thanks to the longstanding dedication, commitment, and professionalism of our staff worldwide, including our team of almost 80 people here in The Netherlands.
To conclude, it has been indeed my great honour and pride to be part of IOM for good 28 years and to lead its mission here in The Netherlands since late 2018, continuing the invaluable work done along with several thousands of IOM staff over the past seventy years, worldwide.