From one mix up to another. In trying to set right his mistake in calling the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) an agency of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has got his facts wrong again. IOM is not “effectively a well-respected international NGO”.

IOM was set up as an inter-governmental rather than a non-governmental organisation. Its current membership of 120 states includes Australia. The history of the organisation is that it emerged in 1951 from a battle between the US and the key international institutions dealing with the movement of people, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the UN, the ILO having been mandated in the inter-war period to assist the development of the international movement of people.

The US won. The IOM was its baby, originally known as the Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe (PICMME). Unlike the UN, membership excluded Communist countries. Migration and, derivatively, refugee policies were to be seen as a matter for individual states, rather than international cooperation.

Today, Australia is one of IOM’s best clients, funding it to do work that Australia doesn’t want to do directly on Nauru and elsewhere.

The problem is, unlike UNHCR, IOM has no protection mandate, a point often made by well-respected international NGOs. It is getting more practised at using human rights as a rhetorical device.

However, even though there is much controversy around the human rights implications of the Nauru project, and despite being asked to do so on a number of occasions, IOM has failed to elaborate on where it stands on human rights in its Nauru program delivery.

In a report marking the first anniversary of the Tampa incident – all those years ago – Amnesty International called on the IOM to:

  • Make public its official position or policies regarding the scope and content of the organisation’s obligation to comply with international human rights and refugee law standards, in particular with regard to:
  • Arbitrary detention;
  • Unlawful detention;
  • Conditions of detention, including the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners;
  • Safeguarding the principle of non-refoulement.
  • Make public its position or policy regarding whether it will accept funding and/or undertake projects which may, directly or indirectly, be giving effect to government policies or practices which do not comply with international human rights and refugee law standards;

As far as I know, IOM is yet to go on the public record with any such position.

The only good thing that can be said about the less polished performance of Kevin Andrews than that of his predecessors, is that it exposes how little has actually changed and can change (despite what certainly appears to be a genuine shakeup in DIAC) while the crude Howard government policy directives remain firmly in place.

Cold comfort for those banished to Nauru, though.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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