With a storied past, an institution looks to see the future through a fresh lens…
When the iom was first formed in 1951 (as the intergovernmental committee for european migration), its focus was, understandably, on the needs of a war-ravaged europe. First formed in 1951, the IOM’s focus was, understandably, on the needs of a war ravaged Europe.
Displaced populations across the continent wrestled with not only the devastation of their homelands and the uneasy adaptation to new lands and uncertain futures, but also the division of Europe in two and the convoluted politics of the Cold War. The agency’s work grew to encompass much more than just the needs of the European immigrant and the trans-Atlantic émigré. In 1989, as change swept the continent and the world, the organization adopted its current name, the International Organization for Migration.
Wars and other human tragedies never cease to displace humanity, regardless of the politics of the day, and so the IOM has continued, helping some 11 million migrants, refugees and asylumees find better lives worldwide. The organization assisted some 180,000 Hungarians who fled after the 1956 uprising, but Hungary itself would not be a member for 35 years. In 1992, diplomatic status was conferred on a newly established Budapest mission, making it in essence the embassy for those seeking assistance while displaced or in transit.
The Budapest mission currently serves (since 2000) as a regional mission, overseeing projects and coordinating support, resources and policy formation throughout Central Europe and the Balkans. Peering into the scope of the mission’s work reveals a kaleidoscopic melange of projects affecting polities, ethnicity, economic upheavals and immigration policies. They range from the mundane, such as training of immigration officials, supporting or organizing conferences, research projects and exchange programs, and directly assisting voluntary returnees in returning and reintegrating in their countries of origin, to the exotic, assisting organizations in the fight against human trafficking and other abuses of the vulnerable.
In a Europe where multiculturalism is increasingly eyed skeptically, and yet the number of culturally diverse immigrants is growing, it can be a daunting mission. But, like immigrants and refugees themselves, the IOM can be said to have a focus on a better future.
Rather than simply react, shaping the future of immigration and its politics may be what the IOM has in mind.
Their newest project, "Migrants in the Spotlight," or MITS (www.mits-eu.org), was funded mainly by the European Commission. It aims "to contribute to improved understanding, awareness and reporting on migration issues, third country nationals, integration and related topics among media and students of journalism." The goal is, “to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of reporting on immigration.”
In partnership with Hungary’s Ministry of the Interior, the IOM is aiming squarely at youth. Students in Hungary, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia between the ages of 18 and 28 submitted English-language entries, either film or print, and won some pretty nice prizes that were up for grabs, but the real purpose is to draw the focus of emergent journalists, documentarians and social scientists to the issues migrants face.
The partnership for the competition seems a good fit to the outside observer. Orban, while EU president, tacitly set the goal of developing an EU-wide strategy for integration of the Roma. The contest is innovative, and by itself it may well be enough impetus to generate the change the IOM wants. But the real mission will likely never end: that of easing the suffering of those in international transit through no fault of their own.