Managing Migrants’ Mobility in Central and Eastern Europe:
A Policy Analysis of International Organization for Migration’s Practices

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“Managing Migrants’ Mobility in Central and Eastern Europe” 
– A Policy Analysis of International Organization for Migration’s Practices

The Schengen Agreements abolished internal borders between Schengen member states and allowed for the free circulation of goods, capital, services and its citizens. Simultaneously, the Agreements reinforced European Union’s (EU) external borders and set out to harmonize its immigration and asylum policies. Policies and practices of the EU on matters of migration created, in Balibar’s terms, a ‘double regime of the circulation of people’, i.e. a regime that facilitates and encourages the (labour) mobility of the EU citizens while simultaneously restricting the mobility of ‘Third Country’ nationals. Moreover, the recent process of EU enlargement and especially the strict application required from the Candidate states of the Schengen acquis in the matters of border control and visa regimes, transformed this double regime into ‘multiple regimes’ of differentiated mobility among the EU, the Candidate and the non-Candidate states.

This new migration regime requires the EU Candidate states to apply Schengen-type border and visa regulations towards the non-Candidates. Hence, the Czech Republic included Ukraine, Russia and Belarus in their proposal for new visa policies. Other measures, such as the ‘Safe Third Country’ rule, further restrict migrants’ mobility. For example, Safe Third Countries such as Poland introduced EU-like asylum regulations that enable Polish authorities to deport undocumented migrants from Polish territory to the detention camps in Ukraine and Belarus. Additionally, Candidate states are also expected to sign re-admission agreements, amend their Aliens’ Law and the strengthen (or introduce) laws against human trafficking.

These operations shift the responsibility for border protection and interception of undocumented migration from the EU to EU Candidates, and turn the latter into a kind of ‘buffer zone’ or into the EU’s new migration ‘gatekeepers’. Critical scholars and policy makers have pointed out that the above listed practices seriously endanger the stability of geo-political relations in Eastern Europe, and might yield detrimental results to the EU as a whole since the strict application of the Schengen border and visa regimes not only undermines the freedom of movement of persons between CEE and fSU achieved in the post-1989 period, but also creates new power-hierarchies within the region.[1]

Project’s Objective:
While it is certainly true that the EU policies have a crucial say on the matter of migration, the recent years have seen an ever stronger presence and impact in the region of an intergovernmental agency, namely International Organization for Migration (IOM). This research project scrutinizes the legitimacy and objectives of IOM in the ‘management’ of migratory movements in(to) Europe.

So far, scholars have started researching the impact of EU policies on individual Candidate states as well as on the region as a whole; however no one has yet reflected on the position IOM occupies and the role it plays in regulating migratory movements. Nevertheless, to say that IOM did not yet come under scholarly scrutiny means underestimating the work done until now by various NGO’s and groups concerned with migrants’ rights. Groups as various as British Refugee Council (England), Agista, Noborder (Germany), de Fabel van de illegaal (The Netherlands), and La Strada (Poland) have initiated a debate about IOM, and argued that IOM pursues a control approach instead of rights-based approach to migration. The most comprehensive criticism of IOM activities so far has come from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They have documented the involvement of various IOM field missions in activities that violate the basic rights of migrants such as managing arbitrary detention programmes[2] and impinging on migrants’ right to seek asylum. My current Ph.D. research on ‘trafficking’ in women has brought to the fore a number of other similar IOM activities, especially relevant for the region: intercepting of ‘irregular’ migrants,[3] discouraging of ‘irregular’ migration,[4] encouraging of (premature) ‘voluntary’ returns,[5] and implementing EU border-regimes.[6]

The IOM’s self-stated objectives are “to help migrants with all their needs and to assist governments in managing migration for the good of all”.[7] With regard to the geo-political stability of the region, the research project questions the content and implementations of these objectives, specifically its relationship to EU’s policies of immigration control. In order to do so, this project aims at producing a comprehensive and detailed picture of Programmes IOM is running across the region. The project will not focus on IOM activities that concern the health of migrants or war compensations, but will center exclusively on those Programmes that impact migrants’ mobility whether in curbing ‘irregular’ migration by discouraging it (e.g. counter-trafficking campaigns), channeling it into state sanctioned forms of ‘legal’ migration (e.g. interception, deportation), or ‘containing’ it (e.g. arbitrary detention, border-regimes). The produced map will be intersected with the EU admission requirements and their effects on Candidates and non-Candidates in the matter of migration. The aim of this comparison is to test the hypothesis whether IOM’s activities can be interpreted as sustaining and implementing Schengen’s migration- and border-regimes in CEE.  

Expected Impact:
The project aims at offering immediate and country-specific tools and introducing a debate about IOM’s practices in the region centering on matters of human rights compliance as well as transparency and accountability of IOM’s projects in general. The target groups for the debate are twofold: one, the local and international civil society organizations promoting migrants’ rights; and two, IOM’s national field offices, its headquarters, UNHCR and CEE Governments. In case my research proves that IOM is indeed impinging on a number of migrants’ rights, the policy implication would be that IOM ends its border control approach and adopt instead a right-based one which puts the well-being of migrants at the center of its interventions.

Project Plan:
The data will be collected initially through reports, articles, and websites on IOM or run by IOM itself. Subsequently, I will visit the IOM headquarters in Geneva and undertake there a fieldwork of four weeks. During that period, I will carry out extensive interviews with IOM officials responsible for the region. While in Geneva, I also intend to undertake a research on IOM itself, namely its history, organizational structure, finances and decisional procedures. These aspects are fundamental in better understanding the status of IOM and its relationship to the EU as well as to individual States in the region. While these data will help me to understand IOM’s position and obligations towards the EU, they will be crucial in developing recommendations compatible with national immigration policies in various CEE States.

Once I have collected the initial data and completed the fieldwork in Geneva, I intend to establish contacts with a number of national IOM offices in the region. In order to understand better how various Programmes are decided upon, financed and carried out, I will undertake a selected number of short research trips (one week long) to the locations of differential types of IOM projects.

Finally, this project will result in one research and two policy papers: a research paper and one policy paper will target civil society organizations protecting migrants’ rights, and the second policy paper will address UNHCR, the Governing Council of the IOM, and CEE Governments.  

Project’s added value:
Even though the realization of this proposal is designed to be achieved within one year, the project is also future oriented. It aims at laying the ground for a new research project developing an analytical framework to understand fully the scope of IOM’s work. If IOM plays a crucial role in the ‘management’ of borders, an operation that pertains traditionally to the nation-state, it is important to investigate whether IOM could be seen as one of ‘new global power actors’[8] which has emerged out of the modification of the global economy, and is playing a crucial role in processes of its transformation through the systematic management of migratory movements, as  Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International’s concerns underline. How to achieve effective rights-based policy interventions in this changed political landscape will depend on development of appropriate frameworks able to adequately grasp the current transformations of sovereign power in Europe

[1] Apap (Ed.) (2001), Reshaping Europe’s Borders: Challenges for EU Internal and External Policy. Report & Policy Recommendations from the Conference on New European Borders and Security Cooperation. Centre for European Policy Studies: Brussels.

[2] The most famous case is the one known as ‘The Pacific Solution’. In collaboration with private security firms, IOM runs a detention camp on Nauru island, one of Australia’s off-shore locations where intercepted asylum-seekers are detained for an undetermined period of time.

[3] See two upcoming IOM projects in Romania

[4] As I have documented in my dissertation, this is one of the main aims of IOM’s counter-trafficking campaigns in the Region.

[5] As in case of REAN Programme developed to return migrants from South Caucasian states, the Russian Federation, the Ukraine and Belarus who have been refused entry into the Netherlands or had their claim for asylum rejected.

[6] This is of special concern to FYROM and Ukraine.

[8] Sassen (1996), Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization, New York: Columbia UP. 


This research project is funded by International Policy Fellowship, Open Society Institute, Budapest
and supported by Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Bruxelles

updated 8 April 2005 located at

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