Message of the IOM International Organization for Migration


The humanitarian impulse is as old as humankind. Wherever people have suffered pain, poverty, degradation or loss of hope, others have been moved to provide assistance, guidance, comfort and moral support. The new millennium will not differ from the old in this respect, nor should it.

For me, the basis of all humanitarian action is one person reaching out to another in an instinctive gesture of sympathy. Humanitarian institutions should be judged by their ability to bring sufferers and succourers together in the most effective fashion.

Humanitarian action rewards the giver as much as the recipient. For the world's more prosperous citizens, exposed as they are to the temptations of materialism, constant cheap stimulation and frenetic consumerism, the human gesture can provide deep satisfaction.

Young people especially can learn through association with a humanitarian organization the nobility of hard work, the pleasures of altruism, the rewards of self-sacrifice and the complexity of the human dilemma. Leaders have a strong obligation to recruit, train and stimulate the new generation of humanitarian workers

Groups that work in the international arena need to reach out all nationalities in filling their ranks. Every society produces individuals in whom the humanitarian urge runs strong. Their incorporation into our ranks contributes to our own effectiveness and to a sense of human solidarity.

Women are well represented at the political and grass roots levels of humanitarian organizations but are still sadly underrepresented among senior and middle managers. The sooner we can make up this deficit, the more effective we shall all become.

Humanitarian action must grow from the ground up. Only by close contact with the people caught up in suffering can we discover their real needs. Only by seeking to address those needs directly can we be sure we are working for them and not for ourselves

Too often humanitarian organizations grow top-heavy over time. We must fight the tendency to remove our more senior people from direct contact with the suffering they are meant to relieve. Field operations are where human beings make the human gesture, feel the human touch.

By the same token, we should avoid creating layered hierarchies that separate headquarters planners from the direct human contact that constitutes our reason for being. The centre needs to set standards and provide support. The more directly it engages our teams in the field, the more relevant it will be. Distance dilutes the humanitarian act.

While respecting each other's expertise and history, we must fight the tendency toward a diversionary focus on mandates. A need is no less real because there exists no international convention addressing it. We still need faster, more flexible mechanisms for rapid and responsible division of labour.

In fact, in humanitarian action there is always work enough to go around. We value our partnerships with international and non-governmental organizations and especially with grassroots activists and representatives of the group we seek to help. We are citizens of the same humanitarian world.

In coming to grips with the real needs of persons in distress, agenerous measure of empathy is called for. The act of imagination by which we put ourselves in the place of the sufferer is the key to identifying the assistance and services that they want and require.

The international Organization for Migration has a calling to enhance the dignity of migrants and help them to a better life. Millions have moved with our assistance to escape danger, to find a new job, to rejoin their families and to set up homes in countries old or new. This is our function and responsibility.

Our files are also rich in examples of creative humanitarian action. We have trained ex-guerrilla fighter in civilian occupations, documented the property rights of displaced persons, distributed ballot papers to refugees in the diaspora and flown home the victims of hijackers.

The post-conflict or post-emergency setting is crucial to effective humanitarian action. Here we have an opportunity not only to heal wounds, but also to restart the activities work, study, worship, and play that define our human existence. IOM has a particular vocation for helping people resume their lives after a disaster

In sum, my vision of humanitarian action in the new century is not a new idea, but a return to a very old one. Our challenge is to respond quickly to real needs as we find them and wherever we find them, to recruit, motivate and reward the most enthusiastic and dedicated field workers, to encourage them to roll up their sleeves and reach out their hands, and never to look away from the suffering and the opportunities for service to which the humanitarian impulse responds.

Reproduced from
The IOM Journal
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Last Updated : 23 Mar,2014