Principles for Humanitarian Action: A Toolkit for Action

As recent years have shown, a humanitarian crisis can erupt anywhere at any time. Thus the importance of IOM’s Principles for Humanitarian Action cannot be overstated. All staff, whether working in crisis contexts or not, need to be aware of the fundamental principles that underpin IOM’s crisis response. Staff currently in (or wanting to work in humanitarian contexts) obviously need to understand how to apply these principles.

The global landscape is that the humanitarian system is overwhelmed by a series of multiple, complex and protracted crises. In less than two months’ time, world leaders from organizations such as IOM, will come together to discuss how we should grapple with the complex and increasing humanitarian crises being faced. The World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul, in May is happening as a response to the vast scale of the humanitarian crisis being faced. The agenda, as set out by the UN Secretary General, is at the core of our response and amounts to no less than an agenda for humanity.

Meanwhile earnest discussions are taking into consideration recommendations of the High level Panel for Humanitarian Financing. From these the humanitarian community and States, will propose Core Commitments to improve the current response mechanisms and come up with changes to the current global architecture that are fit for purpose

There is also an urgent need to balance a principled humanitarian approach with early investments in development, made timely by the the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030 that frames international aid. The UN General Assembly will also be addressing a potential global compact on human mobility in September which IOM is actively involved in its preparations.

While the global system has woken up to the difficulties, IOM has been undertaking its own transformation to adapt to today’s contextual and institutional changes. As our operational footprint continues to expand, and as the humanitarian structure itself is under the microscope. Thus we are continuously improving the standards and predictability for crisis response and to position IOM as an essential partner within the humanitarian community and beyond.

The Principles, and its accompanying tools, clarify IOM’s position on the humanitarian, assistance, protection, and partnership aspects of crisis response. They bring our responses in line with the recognized principles of our key humanitarian partners and further strengthen our own accountability in this regard. They help connect the relevant dimensions of other sectors of IOM’s work (transition/development/migration management) as clearly articulated in the Member States endorsed MCOF. Above all, they put affected populations at the centre of our action in terms of needs, rights and accountability obligations. They reinforce the need for stronger partnership and IOM’s responsibilities towards its partners. Lastly they describe the operational contexts in which they should be applied and used as a reference.

The Humanitarian Principles were launched at a High-Level Event, entitled: The Future of IOM Crisis Response on 14th March 2016. For the event, IOM gathered key humanitarian, transition, recovery, development and donor partners to reflect on the global humanitarian landscape. In particular, it emphasized the importance of the period that follows the World Humanitarian Summit and debated how to better exploit and operationalize the humanitarian –development nexus. The event produced a thought-provoking and rich discussion, and I encourage you all to watch the live broadcast of the event.

The Humanitarian Policies, the Migration Crisis Operational Framework, the Migrants in Countries of Crisis Initiative and, of course, the Migration Governance Framework, among others, make IOM well-placed to adapt and to thrive in whichever way the humanitarian structure evolves. Most importantly, these instruments, tools and ongoing policy work provide the necessary support, direction and guidance for you, IOM’s most valuable resource, to save-lives, and to assist and protect all vulnerable populations and communities in a manner that is clear, safe, accountable to, and for, all.


Mohammed Abdiker is the Director of IOM's Department of Operations and Emergencies