Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
A quick scan of the vast leaflet selection of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is an essential activist lesson in that old saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’. The IOM styles itself as a humanitarian project, claiming to have ‘helped over 13 million migrants, in the belief that migration – if dignified, orderly and voluntary – is of benefit to the individuals concerned and society as a whole’.
The organisation says its mission is to ‘ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people’.
But the experience of migrants in the UK – and across the European Union – most readily translates the acronym IOM into ‘International Organisation against Migrants’ (a slogan now adorning the banners of the many groups currently protesting against the institution).
Established in 1951, the IOM has 125 member states and offices in more than 100 countries, including the UK. It takes pains to stress that it is not part of the government, yet it is 80 per cent state funded and undoubtedly plays the good cop to the Home Office’s bad cop.
While the Home Office brandishes the sticks of detention, destitution, and deportation, the organisation serves up the carrot of monetary incentives for return, a pleasingly value-for-money strategy compared with the costly appeals process. The IOM is essentially the shinier side of the same anti-migrant coin. It is the invisible – but no less solid for it – wall of Fortress Europe.
IOM UK runs two ‘voluntary’ return programmes – the Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP) for asylum seekers, and another for irregular migrants (those who have overstayed their visas or were smuggled or trafficked into the country). It arranges transport ‘to the home doorstep’, as well as offering ‘reintegration assistance’ in the case of asylum seekers.
Denise McDowell of Greater Manchester’s Immigration Aid Unit (IAU) – a charity that provides independent legal advice on immigration and asylum issues – is adamant in her refusal to refer her clients to the IOM. ‘Our view is that it is too closely tied to government funding and the Home Office. It has no credibility as an independent organisation,’ she says.
‘They want to return people as much as possible, but most of the people we work with cannot be and do not want to be returned. They tempt vulnerable people with a huge amount of money, but the price people may end up paying is their life or their health when they go back to a dangerous place.
‘People get given IOM literature in letters from the Home Office, and when they go to sign on for their benefits. They are not simply waiting for people to come to them; they promote themselves directly to the most vulnerable people. It is coercion.’
These problematic practices are starkly evident in the case of Iraqi refugees, as explained by the No Borders network, who have been at the forefront of the IOM counter-propaganda campaign.
‘The claim that the system they operate is voluntary in nature is undermined by the UK’s policy of withdrawing even minimum financial support from those Iraqis who fail to
sign up for voluntary return,’ says No Borders. ‘Faced with the alternative of destitution, several thousand Iraqis have returned.’
In Iraq, the IOM’s own representative states: ‘The situation for those returning is grim and isn’t necessarily an improvement from when they were displaced.’ Despite this, the IOM in the UK still encourages Iraqis to return home. Worst of all, those who volunteer to return are required to sign a waiver that reads: ‘The IOM has no responsibility for me and my dependants once I return to Iraqi territory, and I hereby release IOM from any liability in this respect.’ This shields the UK government from any responsibility for what happens to those who return.
In spite of its proclamations that it exists to serve society, the IOM’s practices – which include migration warning systems, the advocacy of migration-hostile policies, the training of border police and troops, and the operation of detention camps, including Australia’s notorious Nauru camp – are an exercise in global migration management in the service of governments and the wider neoliberal project.
Indeed, for all the shiny, happy, repatriated faces gleaming out of its glossy pamphlets, the IOM is a baleful manifestation of an ethno-nationalistic, profit-over-people ideology that dichotomises ‘foreigners’ and ‘the indigenous population’, holds national identities to be static, and assumes people ‘belong’ in their land of origin – unless of course it serves certain economic interests.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones