Academic journal article Global Governance

The Historical Roots of Cooperation between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Historical Roots of Cooperation between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration

Article excerpt

When studying the institutional aspects of the global governance of refugee issues, scholars almost exclusively put the emphasis on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, largely ignoring other organizations and the relationships established with these institutions. The aim of this article is to help fill this gap in the analysis by focusing on the historical roots of cooperation between UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Despite the fact that this relationship has been at times charged with competition and suspicion, it has also been a vital factor in the refugee arena over the past sixty years. KEYWORDS: UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), International Organization for Migration (IOM), cooperation, migrants, refugees, history.

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THE INTERACTION BETWEEN THE UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an important aspect of the current institutional architecture responsible for providing protection and assistance to refugees and migrants worldwide. This multifaceted relationship extends to various decisionmaking and operational levels and it has long been central to a number of important issue areas such as repatriation schemes and operations for internally displaced people. Moreover, the relatively recent "mixed migration" concept has led the two agencies to strengthen their cooperation in discussing and tackling assistance and protection challenges linked to mixed flows of refugees and migrants. (1) Such interactions build on a complex and often unappreciated history of cooperation, which needs to be better understood to comprehend the full potential for contemporary cooperation between the two agencies.

After World War II, two successive UN agencies were created to tackle the problems resulting from the displacement of people in Europe. The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), set up in 1943, was replaced in 1947 by the International Refugee Organization (IRO). When the IRO reached the end of its three-year term, many uprooted persons remained in Europe, and the related problems largely remained unresolved. The need to create another institutional mechanism was clear. The context for institution building had, however, changed radically with the onset of the Cold War. In this new setting, international negotiations led to the creation of two new and temporary institutions designed to deal with the challenges associated with refugees and "surplus" populations: a new UN agency, the UNHCR; and an intergovernmental organization, the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), the forerunner organization of the IOM. (2)

On the whole the mandates of the two institutions were designed to be complementary, creating potential grounds for cooperation. The UNHCR was created as a nonoperational agency, with a broad mandate mainly geared toward the protection of refugees. The ICEM was intended to be an operational organization charged with the task of facilitating the international migration of surplus populations in Europe, including refugees. But the organizations' mandates also overlapped in certain respects, rapidly generating tensions and competition, especially as both institutions sought to expand their activities and life span. The relationship between these two institutions has therefore evolved and been multifaceted, and represents a valuable case study of global governance.

Yet the relationship between the UNHCR and the ICEM and subsequently the IOM has received little scholarly attention. When studying the institutional aspects of the global governance of refugee issues, scholars have almost exclusively focused on the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, largely overlooking the UNHCR's operating procedures that rely heavily on cooperation with other UN agencies as well as international, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental organizations. …

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