Migration Management and the IOM

I was once asked the question why my criticism of the migration regime is limited to nation states, borders, capitalism, hegemony etc. After all, the “International Organization for Migration” (IOM) is a truly nasty organization that deserves to be the target of resistance as much as the other entities. Obviously there have been, and still are, many people who have grappled with the IOM, collecting information and data and criticizing it. But I felt called out and wanted to research the IOM as another agent who influences how migration policy is being made by states.

I see the racial profiling of people with dark skin by the police as a systematic practice, not because I think all police are Nazis, even though many can be found amongst their ranks, but because of the frequency and the obvious motive to make these peoples’ lives in Switzerland hell. This systematicity gained further significance for me when I read that this practice is part of a concept that has gained in popularity in the last 20 years. This concept is called “migration management” and is now the consensus amongst liberal states of how to deal with migration. The IOM plays an important role in the propagation and realization of the concept which they call a “global strategy”. This article is an attempt for readers to familiarize themselves with the IOM’s concept and to share certain thoughts about it.

Migration Management

“Migrations Management” was developed by the IOM to radically modernize the measure of control over the movement of persons a state can have. They do that by seeking to implement a universal administration in the various countries and the different forms of migration. These forms are divided into three categories (legal, illegal, and forced migration), despite the many personal reasons for leaving a country.

This concept is a reaction to western countries’ perceived loss of control of the state led control mechanisms over migration in the 80s and early 90s. Catalysts for migration which western states felt like they could not handle were the civil wars in Afghanistan or Angola, neoliberal reforms like the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) that were instituted by western states, economic exploitation, political repression or the legitimate wish of finding better or simply different living conditions. Among those who were against a complete isolation from all kinds of immigration was the IOM. Instead they spoke of the opportunities of migration if states managed to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of migration. The implications behind the terms “positive” and “negative” follow neo-liberal logic to a tee. Migrants are split into two groups in respect to their economic exploitability; the “useful” and the “useless”. Those that serve the capitalist mode of production as cheap labor or highly educated specialists are considered useful. Those that find no place in the economy and are consequently criminalized are identified as useless. The latter are at the mercy of the hunting instinct of the cops and border patrol and are jailed or violently deported. Migration is not a danger for the IOM, if anything it can be a lucrative and should therefore be encouraged.
To reap the benefits from the wanted and ward off the unwanted people effectively the IOM stipulates that order must be brought to the subject of migration on an internationally coherent scale. The core of “migration management” is a categorization with which a state can neatly classify human beings:

1.Legal migration that should be supported:

Highly qualified labor, tourists, and students are economically beneficial immigrants and receive visas and further privileges relatively easily.

2. Illegal migration, which should be reduced:

A person not considered a “refugee” in a accord with the Geneva Convention, is criminalized. This person is economically undesirable, has no opportunity for legal work or domicile and has to live in constant fear of incarceration and deportation.

3. Forced migration, which should be protected:

The state should offer help to “refugees” that are officially recognized as such. This way the self-given humanitarian image can be retained by western liberal states.
The IOM is the biggest enforcer of “migration management” on the international playing field and all their programs correspond to this concept. The underlying logic of organizing migration along economical lines is the same in all programs.
The IOM trains border guards for a perfect border regime, conducts “voluntary return programs” – read deportation, helps states in the global mediation of highly qualified migrant labor, and operates scare campaigns with the aim of discouraging potential migrants.

The power and influence of the IOM over the migration policy

The IOM is funded by its member states. However, while all members’ funding goes towards the administrative branch, funding for the operational branch, which is responsible for the execution of the IOM’s migration programs, is optional. According to the list of member states that have funded the operational branch in 2016, the USA is by far the biggest depositor with 533 million US dollars followed by England, Canada, Germany, Australia, Sweden, and the EU, who is not a member. Switzerland contributed 6,699,200 US dollars to IOM programs. These are all states that have a marked interest in reducing migration and would profit the most from the organization’s programs. Welfare states such as these have accumulated their wealth through exploitation, oppression, and the destruction of habitats in other countries whilst having the arrogance to declare their standards and values as universal and forcing them onto others.

An “International Organization” (IO) is supposed to facilitate the cooperation between nations, at least that is often the justification for their existence. This line is parroted by the IOM: “IOM works […] to promote international cooperation on migration issues,[…]”. If this is what cooperation is, then so the wolf negotiating with the sheep over access to the water trough. In my opinion, an IO like the IOM is an instrument used by western states to assert their values and standards. The results of such alleged cooperation reflect the current power relations among nation states. For instance, Western Nations can exert pressure on the migrants’ countries of origin to adjust their migration policy according to the standards of “migration management” without being accused of violating their right to sovereignty. This happens, for example, at the IOM’s “African Capacity Building Centre” (ACBC). The ACBC acts as consultants to African states for questions concerning “migration management”. In effect, they offer training programs to standardize border controls, combatting human trafficking, and passport controls.
There are those who see the IOM as a completely autonomous agent with its own degree of power, independent from the interest of various nations. While I personally do not think that the IOM is purely an instrument, speaking of the IOM as an autonomous agent frees nation states from any responsibility and allows them to delegate migration programs that are in violation of international law or UN conventions to the IOM. This way they can preserve the image of a humanitarian country that upholds human and constitutional rights while simultaneously raising an admonitory finger at others without losing credibility. There are plenty of examples that western states do not give a shit about the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” or international law, but like to hide the fact if the occasion arises.
There are enough men and women in academic circles who are devoted to the question whether IOs are just instruments or autonomous agents. I do not really feel like taking a stand on the issue and subscribing to a theory just to think that I can explain how the world works.

“Voluntary Return”

The more I read about the international level of migrations and its agents the more I see it as a cynical playing field for various agents (statesmen and -women, IOs, NGOs, economical stakeholders). All of this however, have real-world implications on the lives of people who are slowly being erased in this theoretical mess. Maybe they will appear more clearly in relation to the IOM if I introduce one of the IOM’s programs, the “voluntary return”:
Deportation is considered as a state-authorized handling of people who are not citizens but are national territory. It is popular practice in western states because this way they can ban migrants who do not meet the criteria for asylum from state territory. Despite its legitimacy, it is often not the most elegant practice for a humanitarian country such as Switzerland, for it is forced and violent and results in unpleasant stories and pictures.
The IOM offers a much better sounding alternative: “Voluntary return and reintegration”. The basic idea here is that with financial incentives and technical support, migrants will assist in their own deportation. According to the IOM, this way “migrants, who cannot or choose not to remain in the host country, have the opportunity for a humane return to and reintegration into their home country”.
They advertise it as a “win-win situation”: With the financial return assistance migrants have a positive outlook in their country of origin and the state has a cheap alternative to “forced repatriation”.
In Switzerland, migrants receive 500.- for a voluntary return at the “Empfangs- und Verfahrenszentrum» (EVZ). After three months of staying the amount is raised to 1000.-. Additionally, it is possible to receive a 3000.- assistance package for a so called “integration project” in the country of origin. To help set up a bakery or a kiosk, for example.

Instead of conducting these voluntary returns by themselves, the IOM offers their services to states and receives contracts like a business. Switzerland also employs the IOM’s service. For instance, the “Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Program” for Nigeria that exists since 2005 is financed by the “Staatssekretariat für Migration” (SEM) and conducted by the IOM Bern. This program has a lot to offer: Return consultation in Switzerland, preparation of all necessary information and documents for a return, the organization of the return and the reintegration on the country of origin.
Even if the IOM speaks of a “win-win situation”, what Switzerland stands to profit is so big that it is hard to identify what the migrants win exactly. “Voluntary Return” is economically very lucrative for Switzerland. While a migrant costs 4000.- at worst for a “voluntary return”, a level 4 deportation costs between 8,000 and 10,000.-. On top of that, each day of detention pending deportation costs another 140.- and can culminate in 70,000 for the maximum 18 months.

There are countries that do not allow their citizens to be returned by “forceful repatriation”. “Voluntary Returns” are often the only possibility left for a deportation. People who come from such countries are left with no choice but to accept a “voluntary return”. The means to achieve this are manifold: up to 18 months in detention pending deportation, fines (high ones at that), prison sentences due to “illegal immigration”, banning from all kinds of work, around 8.- of emergency relief assistance per day, sleeping quarters in civil protection facilities often subterranean and the list goes on. It is funny how the voluntary and deliberate aspects are so highly praised with this program.
This system so full of freedom of choice even allows for the migrant to be made responsible for their own deportation. After all, Switzerland gives them the opportunity to leave out of their own free will and top it off with some cash. Urs von Arb, state secretary for migration, shows his regret that there are people who do not want to benefit from this offer and force him to make use of “forced repatriation”:

But unfortunately, there are people who do not want to leave voluntarily. So we say, listen, we’ll book you a flight. But they still refuse. They won’t be accompanied to an airplane by the police. So the police says, they must be deported on level four.

Does this mean that a level 4 deportation is voluntary return too? Or does the word voluntary in “voluntary return” refer to the decision to “voluntarily” forgo physical violence or to “voluntarily” give in to the pressure exerted by the authorities and the state apparatus of violence? Either all kinds of deportation are voluntary making the word meaningless, or all deportation is recognized for what it is: violent, forced and inhumane practices decreed by the state against people who have the wrong passport.

Yes, the IOM is a nasty organization

It is important to me that the IOM is included in the list of enemies in the fight against the migration regime. Their migration programs organize deportations, improve border security, produce “deterrent films” about Switzerland and much more absolutely shitty things. My main criticism of the IOM connects to that of nation states, of capitalism, sovereignty etc. One thing is clear to me, the IOM is very useful to western states for increasing their control over another aspect of international politics. They try to achieve this control over the migration policies of other countries not just through developing aid or other power games but also by giving qualifying their way of thinking as universal. With the development and propagation of the concept of “migration management”, the IOM dictates what kinds of migration exist and how they are supposed to be handled. “Migration management” is a concept developed by western states that all states should adhere to. It is offered as the only solution to effective handling of migration to the advantage of all parties. And as this definition of migration becomes more hegemonic in politics and our collective understanding, it becomes more natural to lock people in camps and to kick them to the streets because of some faulty paperwork.

For the author this text is a try to present one more actor of this hated migration regime. But it`s also some kind of revenge against the time spent in lecture and seminar rooms. Through academic papers and university lectures, the author got to know a little bit the game of the international politics. The rules of the game and the existence of the players hardly never got criticized but rather learnt as given.

further information

– Andrijasevic, Rutvica / Walter, William (2010): The International Organization for Migration and the international government of borders. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Vol. 28. Pp. 977-999.
– Ashutosh, Ishan / Mountz, Alison (2011): Migration management for the benefit of whom? Interrogating the work of the International Organization for Migration. Citizenship Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1, Pp. 21-38.
– Geiger, Martin / Pécoud, Antoine (2014): International Organisations and the Politics of Migration. Journal of Ethnics and Migration Studies, Vol. 40, No. 6, pp. 865-887.
– Hanimann, Carlos (2010): Im Grenzgebiet des Rechts. WOZ, Nr. 28/2010.
– IOM Bern: http://www.ch.iom.int/
– IOM: https://www.iom.int/

The try to close the central mediterranean route

In November 2017, ministers from 13 states and representatives of several intergovernmental organisations met in Bern for the third meeting of the Central Mediterranean Contact Group. Sommaruga told the media how this panel apparently had saved 14’000 refugees from drowning and how it had stood up for better conditions of imprisoned migrants in libya. This sounds great but what is behind all of this?

The truth is that the libyan coastguard – financially supported by the participating countries – got 14’000 people off their boats shortly after they had set sail, and then imprisoned them in libyan detention camps. The fact is that the Contact Group is mainly pursuing a strategy that wants to see the issue of migration as far away from europe as possible. The three most important priorities formulated by the Contact Group correspond to their strategy:

1. To strengthen the libyan coast guard.
2. To increase the capacities for the protection of migrants in libya.
3. To control libya’s Southern border.

It is that exact policy that led to the closing of the Balkan route by means of a dubious deal with turkey one year ago. This policy was continued this summer when the central Mediterranean route was partly closed – much less noticed by the public than back in 2016. The partial closure went through mainly thanks to the efforts of italy’s prime minister Mitini who signed numerous official and unofficial deals with various warlords, militias, the libyan coast guard and libyan mayors. It seems that the various libyan players were successfully persuaded by these deals to prevent the refugee boats from sailing off the libyan coast.

The maritime sovereignty zone of libya was extended to 100 kilometres off the coast of the country. It had previously been 12 kilometres. This means that within this strip only boats of the libyan coast guard are allowed to patrol and save other boats from distress. The libyan coast guard fired sharp ammunition at a lifeboat upon its entry into the 100 kilometre zone. And yet, according to Sigmar Gabriel, there are no alternatives for the eu other than financially supporting that same coast guard as well as the libyan unity government who runs the above-mentioned detention camps.

At the same time, the eu forced various charities, active on the Mediterranean, to sign a code. This code includes the duty to take an armed policeman*policewoman on board rescue lifeboats. Furthermore, the code forbids any hand over of rescued people to bigger ships. The latter would have the consequence that smaller ships would have to sail to italy after every rescue and would thus not be able to carry out further rescue operations for several days. Fortunately, there were a couple of organisations who opposed this policy and did not sign the code. Medecins Sans Frontieres, for instance, states, that:

This Code seems to be entrenching the view that states can outsource the life-saving response to NGOs, allowing states to concentrate their efforts on naval and military operations.8

Organisations that did not sign the code were threatened with being banned from using italian ports. In addition, there were several cases of undercover investigators and bugging devices being brought on board of rescue ships. One ship, owned by the organisation Jugend rettet, was even confiscated by the italian police. A media campaign then propagated the cynical assertion that by rescuing people from the Mediterranean NGOs actually work as pull factors and therefore bear the main responsibility for the many casualties. Without any doubt, an attempt to defame the charities’ valuable work.

The strategy chosen by the Central Mediterranean Contact Group made a visible impact. Since July, the numbers of attempted passages from libya to italy are permanently low, while the detention camps are filling up. In libya, people are forced into slavery and prison camps, and exposed to rape and abuse. A quote by Sommaruga illustrates the double benefits of this strategy for european countries. On the one hand, the violent treatment of migrants is successfully moved even further away from pacified europe, on the other hand, the european states can show off their cloak of humanity:

We have to be able to get the weakest quickly out of libyan detention camps. The situation there is absolutely terrible. This also affects all the other migrants such as the numerous migrant workers stranded in libya and who are stuck there now. It is them we have to support so that they return to their countries of origin voluntarily, because it is unlikely they will receive asylum in europe, they only risk their lives when crossing the Mediterranean.

The fact that migrants continue to arrive, despite the strengthened repelling mechanisms, clearly shows that europe’s wealth rests on the three pillars of violence, exploitation and war. This, however, does not fit in the picture of europe’s self-perception. In my opinion, the goal of the strategy is to shield europe from the consequences of war and misery for which it itself is responsible. The fact that in pursuing this strategy, europe is not afraid to resort to military means seems nothing but a logical consequence.
europe is at war with refugees and it is a war waged on several different levels. Yes, you read correctly, war. Because it is war. A war at the borders, against migrants; a war that serves europe as means for exploitation and retention of power but also for the pacification of europe and the preservation of privileges. This is shown by the surveillance of the borders by military forces in libya as well as in europe . This is shown by the detentions camps in which people are imprisoned, both in libya and in europe . And it is shown by the people killed by the border regime, both in libya and in europe.

For the creation of this text the writer did some research online. By writing the states’ names in lowercase letters, he expresses his disgust for national states and their border regimes.

The deportation business

An angry knock at the door of his cell in Bässlergut Prison tells him that they’ve come to deport him. Aren* prepares to resist. The four policemen have to drag him out of the small room when he refuses to leave, kicking and beating him in the process, until he finally submits and is cuffed at his hands and feet, cutting off the blood flow. They put a helmet on his head and bring him to a car waiting in front of the prison. The car takes him from Basel to Geneva Airport where a level-4 special deportation flight to Liberia is waiting for him.

The second deportation

Once he arrives at the capital Monrovia, Aren is taken to an interview with the Liberian department of immigration. In a last-ditch effort to avoid deportation, he says that he is not a Liberian citizen at all. He says he’s actually from Nigeria. The ambiguity of his statements cause confusion in the tiny office, which apart from Aren comprises only one representative from the Liberian department of immigration; the Swiss officers are barred from sitting in on the talks. The representative finally refuses to accept Aren without clear identification. The officers, denied the opportunity of deportation without the necessary documents, fly him back to Switzerland. Once they touch down in Geneva they tell him he’s free to go. He is taken to the refugee center in Sissach where a doctor gives him a checkup. Injuries on ear, leg, knee, and hands lead the doctor to request an examination at the hospital nearby. But that will never happen: Aren is woken once again by a knocking on his cell and they bring him back to Bässlergut Prison. He is told that this time he’ll be deported to Nigeria. A second deportation in such a short time is unrealistic, Aren is sure of that. He is almost past the 18-month deportation time limit. According to Swiss law he’s allowed to go free after this period. And he is sure that no one believes that he really is Nigerian, because when he applied for asylum he clearly stated that he is Liberian. The Swiss department for immigration did not believe him and initiated an inquiry with a Nigerian delegation of experts who stated that they did not believe Aren to have Nigerian citizenship.
Aren’s hopes were disappointed; a week later Aren is deported to Nigeria in a joint flight commissioned by Frontex. There is no further interview with the Nigerian embassy, but replacement documents (Laissez-passer) were issued all the same based on third party statements.

Migration partnerships

According to the asylum statistics by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), Aren is one of 101 persons who were deported to Nigeria in 2016. Compared to other African countries Nigeria ranks highest, followed by Tunisia with 59 deportations.

2011 Switzerland and Nigeria concluded a migration partnership. The contract binds Nigeria through a readmission agreement to accept also involuntary deportations.

2011 Switzerland and Nigeria concluded a migration partnership. The contract binds Nigeria through a readmission agreement to accept also involuntary deportations.
The Swiss Government has already signed similar partnerships with Tunisia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina and last October negotiations have begun with Sri Lanka. The aim of these partnerships is “to improve cooperation in the field of migration as well as to reduce illegal migration and its negative consequences.” (Art. 100 FNA). Accompanying this definition, the Foreign Nationals Act includes potential agreements, border control, deportations and job-related further trainings.
How these agreements are going to be implemented is unclear. Applications for scrutinizing the several thousand documents concerning the migration partnership agreement between Switzerland and Nigeria are still in progress. The few press releases by the Federal Council give scant insight into the partnership.One example is a pilot project aimed at cooperation between police forces which enabled stage-deployments of Nigerian police officers on Swiss soil. Furthermore, the migration partnership between Switzerland and Nigeria is being lauded for facilitating “innovative migration projects” in cooperation with the food company Nestlé. A statement released by the Federal Council on July 2, 2014 says: “The cooperation between the FOM (now called State Secretariat for Migration SEM) should be named as a good example. This private- and public-sector partnership supports the professional education of thirteen young men and women. The best five will be accepted for an internship in Switzerland in the summer of 2013.” When compared to the amount of deportations, that number seems like an absurd nuance with which the migration partnership and it’s cooperation with Nestlé is being legitimized.

Nestlés profit with water

Nigeria’s water resources are dwindling and the droughts caused by climate change make the land less and less arable. The consequences of these developments are growing conflicts surrounding the extant areas and migratory shifts from the countryside to the cities, which often do not have adequate infrastructure or enough work.
It is exactly from this scarcity that Nestlé profits. For years now, the Swiss company has been buying the rights to water supplies in Nigeria. In the official statement for “Pure Life”, a brand of bottled water they produce, it says that with their help jobs are created and access to clean drinking water is made possible. The fact that most people in Nigeria cannot afford to buy bottled water is omitted. The privatization of water supplies does not assist the access to clean drinking water it denies it.
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, former CEO and current president of the board of directors of Nestlé, said in reaction to allegations of profit oriented water productions: “Water is a grocery item. It should have a market value like any other. I personally believe that to appreciate water, it should have a market value so that we aware that it costs something.”
It is significant that the cooperation with Nestlé whose privatization of water supplies in Nigeria is well documented, and who disregards all existential realities, would be mentioned as an example for success of the migration partnership. It’s distinctive of an endemic hypocrisy to give privileges such as free movement, protection, and job opportunities to a select minority while repressing a majority that goes along with it. The migration partnership between Switzerland and Nigeria does not only institutionalize an inhumane deportation policy, much worse it supports the logic of a for-profit economy that endangers the daily lives of a large part of the population, which in turn results in migration.

Art. 28 from the force application law provides the following steps of enforcement:
Level 1: The person to be deported has agreed to return voluntarily. He/she is accompanied by the police to the airplane; the return takes place without accompaniment;
Level 2: The person to be deported has not agreed to a vountary return trip. Generally he/she is accompanied by two plainclothes police officers. If necessary handcuffs are used;
Level 3: It is to be expected that the deported person is going to physically resist, but the transport with a regular flight is possible. The deported person is accompanied by two plainclothes police officers. During the deportation handcuffs and other captivation-resources as well as physical force can be used;
Level 4: It is to be expected that the deported person is going to perform heavy physical resistance; A special flight is necessary for the transport. Each deported person is accompanied by at least two police officers. The same compulsion-resources as in level 3 can be applied.
Level 1 conforms to the colloquial „voluntary departure“, Level 2 to the „controlled deportation“ and Level 3 plus 4 to the „special flight“.


This text was written after an encounter in the deportation-prison with the person mentioned. The author of this text doesn‘t know about the conditions of the person who was being deported: After the deportation all contact got interrupted.

For further information about Nestlés water investments: