Why We Do What We Do: Defining Our Humanitarian Policy

Evacuated from Central African Republic, a girl arrives on a military convoy at Doyaba Transit Centre in Sarh, Chad. © IOM 2014 (Photo by Craig Murphy)

By William Lacy Swing, IOM Director General

Is IOM a humanitarian organization?

Yes, is the resounding answer. That’s certainly the way you, the staff, see us. The proof came as recently as 19 August, World Humanitarian Day, when IOM supplied more “humanitarian hero” profiles to the global WHD website than any other organization.

I am immensely proud of you.

You show every day that you are humanitarians – be it by assessing the needs in a displaced persons’ camp during natural or man-made disasters, bringing health services to migrant populations in the middle of a conflict zone , preparing a family for emergency resettlement in a new country, rescuing trafficked victims from exploitation during displacement,  or intervening in cases of gender-based violence. These are true humanitarian acts.

And yet many people, both inside and outside our Organization, still ask “why is IOM on the front line? Why is IOM the one bringing in tents and blankets, rebuilding houses, doing health surveillance, coordinating evacuations from battle zones?”

Our capacity to mount an effective and skilled response is widely understood across the whole IOM as well as among partners, but, can we explain the principles that underpin our activities?

Are we able to provide an irrefutable argument as to how we make decisions and why we should be entrusted with donor funds to mount a humanitarian response?

If we look at the current and recent crises in Central African Republic, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Philippines, and South Sudan, to name but a few, we know that IOM is very much engaged in the service of affected populations. We are a key partner of the UN, IOM Member States and civil society in delivering humanitarian response in difficult settings.

Now we need to situate the amazing work you all do inside a clear framework and institutional humanitarian position. We need to gather up all the strands that make us one of the most respected global humanitarian actors and ensure that what we do not only coheres with existing norms, but that we all understand why we do what we do.

It is my pleasure to announce that IOM has embarked on a process of developing and implementing an institutional Humanitarian Policy, which will be embodied in a set of Principles for Humanitarian Action (PHA).

These Principles will be consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law, practices and protection standards. They will support IOM’s Migration Crisis Operational Framework (MCOF), and will guide our decision making and field operations crisis situations.

They will improve and systematize our response to migration crises and how we assist crisis-affected persons, with a spotlight on our specific role in upholding human rights and reinforcing humanitarian principles.

I count on you to contribute to this process through the global survey we are launching with this edition, online and via other fora which will be announced.  I thank you and look forward to progress in this initiative, which will enhance our reputation and concomitant our ability to serve vulnerable migrants and mobile populations.