On September 19, the United Nations (UN) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) might sign a new relationship agreement. There are several scenarios regarding the content of this agreement, ranging from the IOM becoming a “UN-related organization” such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the World Trade Organization (WTO) up to full inclusion into the UN system as a specialized agency such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Obviously, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is already an UN agency with a long-established profile on the labor-related aspects of migration, and the future mandate of and relationship between the two organizations would be, let’s say, interesting to observe. The driving force behind this development seems to be
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been seeking the approval of the General Assembly to enter into substantive negotiations over a new legal relationship and asked that this item will be included in the agenda of the seventieth session of the General Assembly taking place in September this year. In addition, in November 2015 the IOM Council had asked its Director-General William Lacy Swing to “investigate how the legal relationship between the UN and IOM could be improved”.
On April 18, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson gave a briefing to the General Assembly on UN-IOM relations and praised the IOM as “at least a cousin” of the UN family, higlighting the very close relationship between the headquarters but also the field operations of the two organizations. Pointing out current challenges such as the record number of persons on the move and the inclusion of migration in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Eliasson came to a “clear conclusion: a closer working relationship between the UN and IOM is not only natural and desirable, it is also needed for achieving our new development goals for 2030”. (Source: DSG/SM/958-SAG/479).
How does migration fit into the UN system, what role does it play on the agenda of the organization? These questions have been at the center of much debate for more than a decade. Already back in 2005, the report of the Kofi Annan-appointed Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM) recommended that IOM should become a part of the UN system as a “global agency for economic migration”. This scenario would necessitate significant changes for the organization that was founded as the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) in 1951. The rivalry with the ILO, which was aiming to become the central multilateral institution for mobility at the same time, can be traced back to these years of rising cold war tensions – and the USA clearly favored the IOM predecessor (see http://www.dandc.eu/en/article/lack-consensus-concerning-definition-refugee-has-serious-consequences-millions-people ).
These turf wars continue to the present day (see https://gfmd2010.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/iom-vs-ilo-the-battle-for-the-leading-organisation-in-migration-hld2013/ )with the IOM receiving regular endorsements in particular by the US and the EU. The resulting confidence became apparent in a recent speech by Swing, a former US ambassador, where he introduced himself as “the Director General of the only agency with a global footprint that works on migration”. Moving into the UN system might thus seem like a victory, but it would come at quite a price – the price of rights. Unlike the ILO, the IOM has no formal mandate for the protection of migrants and acts, as laid out in its constitution, mostly as a service provider to its member states and donors. It is hard to imagine that IOM would be willing to give up this operational autonomy, so the status of a “related agency” seems more likely.
If the parties involved can agree upon a new relationship agreement, this could be signed during the “High-Level Plenary Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees & Migrants” on September 19 as part of the UN General Assembly.
(for more info see here: https://gfmd2010.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/global-migration-and-refugee-governance-outlook-2016/ )
Why the sudden rush after years of talk about a “Bretton Woods system for migration”? There are the obvious policy challenges (refugee crisis) and potential opportunities (SDGs), of course. But 2017 will also see a major change of the personal involved: The term of Ban Ki-moon will come to an end, and as I understand it, this will also mark the end of the work of Peter Sutherland as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration. In addition, Barack Obama will move out of the White House – and with the possibility of a certain Republican candidate becoming his successor looming over the debate, speeding up the development towards a more institutionalized global migration governance might seem like a good idea indeed…