The Man Who Saved 30,000 Political Prisoners

Forty years ago, Roberto Kozak, an official with IOM (or the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration [ICEM] as it was known then), was instrumental in the release and relocation of more than 30,000 political prisoners from Chile.

Fast forward to January 2010, when Roberto and his son, Nikolai, had just arrived in front of Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights, which was being inaugurated that day. Suddenly, his father’s attention was placed firmly on this individual in the large crowd that had gathered for the ceremony. This individual was also looking directly at Roberto.

“I felt a very strong connection. They walked towards each other and embraced,” recalled Nikolai, then 20, “and the tears began to fall. I had never seen him like this.”

The man in the crowd was Dr. Patricio Bustos. The first time Roberto had seen him was in the mid-70s, when he was heading ICEM in Chile. In one of the many visits to the political prisoners’ detention center in Tres Alamos, Patricio caught Roberto’s attention. Despite the torture, Patricio was doing gymnastics. "I was tremendously impressed," recalled Roberto, who ended up helping Patricio leave the country.

“There, in Tres Alamos, I saw Robert Kozak as a person who exuded solidarity and humanity," recalled Patricio. Not only did Roberto prepare the paperwork to get him out of the detention center, but he also helped him reunite with his wife in Italy.

“To meet with Roberto, as a free man, in my own country, meant a lot to me,” said Patricio.

Roberto Kozak passed away in September 2015.

Read more (in Spanish)

Roberto Kozak speaking about IOM’s role in saving thousands of Chilean political prisoners (Spanish)


Roberto Kozak, an Argentinian national, first joined IOM, the then Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) in 1972 as Operations Officer and then later Chief of Mission in Chile.  During his career in IOM he was also Director of the Department of Latin American Programmes at Headquarters, and later Executive Officer of the Director General and Regional Representative in Costa Rica. 

Early on in his career, Mr. Kozak played a key role helping thousands of Chileans and foreign nationals to be evacuated following detention. According to the Asociacion de ex trabajadores de la Vicaria de la Solidaridad y Comite Pro Paz, a Chilean NGO, his diplomatic skills, strong human rights commitment and personal courage, enabled him to play a key role in helping detainees leave the country for resettlement abroad.  This work was carried out with local churches and UNHCR.

In 2011 Mr. Kozak was awarded the Bicentenary Medal of the Chilean Congress for his outstanding contribution to the cause of human rights of migrants during so many years.

In addition, in recognition for his work, the Chilean Government granted Roberto Kozak Chilean citizenship.