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Humanitarian Border Management and Services for Citizens Abroad

Last updated: 14 Mar 2023


Humanitarian Border Management (HBM) comprises border management at times of emergency situations arising from natural and/or man-made disasters. HBM aims to improve preparedness for sudden changes in cross border movements, in order to protect the human rights of those who cross international borders, as well as to respect national sovereignty and security at the times of crises. 

Growing out of the IOM’s Migration Crisis Operational Framework (MCOF), the concept of HBM covers border management operations before, during and after humanitarian crises which trigger cross border movements of affected populations. Complex crises produce varied mobility patterns which may involve significant vulnerabilities for individuals and affected communities and generate acute and longer-term migration management challenges. Based on the understanding that States bear the primary responsibility to protect and assist crisis-affected persons residing on their territory in a manner consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law, IOM supports its Member States and partners to better respond to the assistance and protection needs of crisis-affected populations, including displaced persons and migrants stranded in their destination/transit countries. 

Border management agencies (immigration, police, customs, and others) need to be equipped with the appropriate legal and operational systems and mechanisms in order to respond at the border to humanitarian crises and various cross border movements. For example, an efficient needs assessment and referral system (e.g. support network of agencies and individuals) are necessary in order to more effectively assist migrants with a variety of vulnerabilities and protection needs when they are moving in large numbers across international borders. Border authorities can play a crucial role in assessing individual needs for emergency care, and referring individuals in vulnerable situations to appropriate authorities, whether to other national agencies or international humanitarian agencies operating on the ground.  

Relevance to IOM’s Emergency Operations

HBM, sometimes also referred to as 'Crisis Border Management' or 'Emergency Border Management', is a sector of assistance identified within the MCOF and the related Council Resolution. Reducing the vulnerabilities of migrants is an indispensable part of operational efforts during migration crises – as detailed in MCOF. As part of the MCOF sectors of assistance, HBM denotes border management before, during and after a crisis resulting in an increase in cross border movements. HBM directly supports MCOF’s aim to combine humanitarian activities and migration management as a way to assist Member States and partners to better prepare for and respond to migration crises, at the pre-crisis preparedness, emergency, and post-crisis recovery phases. The MCOF complements and reinforces existing international systems, including the cluster system, refugee regime, peace and security actors, as well as development actors. 

HBM differs from traditional border management in that it concentrates on the event of an emergency or a humanitarian crisis – a situation when border posts are confronted with extraordinary, protection-sensitive migration movements. Various types of crises may also result in a sudden influx of relief goods, equipment and personnel, while at the same time people may decide or be forced to flee across the border, and emergencies may threaten to spill-over to neighbouring countries. Officials at the border are usually the first to be confronted with such unusual mobility dynamics. Therefore, the predominant focus of HBM is on improving the capacities of border officials to deal with emergency situations to help reduce uncertainty and provide adequate response mechanisms.  

IOM's Role

IOM is well-positioned to provide on-the-ground, targeted expertise and capacity-building assistance to Member States who wish to establish or improve their response mechanisms to heightened cross-border movements. HBM recognizes the necessity of ensuring that border authorities are prepared to respond appropriately to cross border movements arising from both natural and man-made disasters, in a way that protects crisis affected migrants and guarantees their human rights and interests, while respecting national sovereignty and security. IOM assists Member States in building robust immigration and border management programmes and activities complemented by appropriate policies, laws, procedures, and information systems that assist migrants with a variety of vulnerabilities and protection needs.  

IOM can assist governments in developing their capacities to manage relationships with international agencies active in humanitarian crises relief efforts. For example, standard operating procedures can provide guidance to border officials in the acceptance and delivery of international aid, either of goods (food, medical aid, shelters, construction materials, etc) or experts and their specialized equipment for search and rescue operations. Aid requires simplified and flexible border procedures, in order to be available where it is needed as soon as possible. 

  • Different HBM activities are required depending on the phase of the crisis. Pre-crisis preparedness may include assessments of HBM capacities, development of and training on operational mechanisms. During the crisis, HBM could include rapid assessments and mobile training/assistance on-the-ground, specifically targeted to the emergency at stake, include mechanisms to help third country nationals with transit out of the region, assist with the coordination of referrals of migrants to humanitarian actors or provide equipment and support for search-and-rescue operations. 

  • In the post-crisis period, HBM activities could include assessments of the long and short-term effects of the crisis, repair border infrastructure, and facilitate identity solutions for migrants without identity documents. 


IOM’s HBM programming includes: 

a. Assessments of HBM capacities; 

b. Training on international humanitarian law, human rights law and data protection, maritime law, and specifically international law and standards for the protection of migrants;  

c. Drafting or review of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for natural, man-made or health emergencies, originating internally or in neighboring countries; 

d. Provision of systems and equipment to record cross border movements, including in times of emergencies; 

e. Setting up of an efficient referral system nationally and with international agencies to assist migrants and provide humanitarian relief services; 

f. Training in evaluating migration movements and migration policies related to identity, temporary entry, health requirements, migrant smuggling and human trafficking, and migrants in need of protection; 

g. Provision of legal guidance on legislation or international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights law and data protection;  

h. Creation of interagency, regional or international working groups to ensure collaboration or oversight; and 

i. Creation of border measures to assist in the delivery of aid, including goods and equipment, and entry for humanitarian workers.

Humanitarian Border Management Assessments 

HBM assessments are conducted jointly by national authorities and IOM within the framework of a Humanitarian Border Management Model. This model provides for a comprehensive analysis of the major elements of border management systems including procedures, identity management, interagency and international co-operation, monitoring and reporting. This model breaks down the function of Humanitarian Border Management into four inter-related components, each of which can be further desegregated into a number of distinct elements.

Comprehensive HBM assessments can be undertaken at any time. The assessment model presented below depicts an assessment that is best made during times of regular migration flows (pre- or post-emergency) in order to anticipate efficient capacity building measures to bolster preparedness. Very quick assessments, focused on particular subjects, can also be undertaken during emergencies. The assessment commences with a broad situational context analysis and vulnerability assessment for potential exposure to migration crisis scenarios. This assessment will take account of regional and national political stability, economic and development indicators and exposure to natural disasters.

HBM Assessment Model


For additional support and guidance on humanitarian border management, contact the Immigration and Border Governance (IBG) Division: ibg@iom.int.

Key Points

  • The goal of Humanitarian Border Management (HBM) is to manage borders in a way that protects crisis-affected migrants and guarantees their human rights and interests, while respecting national sovereignty and security.
  • Humanitarian crises produce varied mobility patterns which may generate acute and longer-term migration management challenges.
  • Different HBM activities are required depending on the phase of the crisis: pre-crisis, during the crisis, and the post-crisis period.
  • Well managed crisis response can help prevent the closure of borders and assist national authorities and the international community in responding effectively to mobile populations’ humanitarian needs.