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IOM's Humanitarian Policy - Principles for Humanitarian Action (PHA)

Last updated: 07 Nov 2022


Crises are forcing record numbers to flee their homes and seek relative safety within or across international borders. The growing number, complexity and unpredictability of those crises results in increasingly protracted displacement. In line with the Charter of the United Nations and in the spirit of the humanitarian imperative, IOM is committed to providing humanitarian assistance and protection in accordance with international law and norms, where it is needed and where IOM has an added value.1

The purpose of IOM's humanitarian policy – embedded in the Principles for Humanitarian Action (PHA) – is to strengthen the Organization's migration crisis response and ultimately to save lives, alleviate human suffering and protect the human dignity of the persons affected. The PHA ensure that when the Organization is engaged in humanitarian action, it acts on the basis of robust principles and as part of the humanitarian response system.


Principles for Humanitarian Action (PHA)

The PHA reaffirm IOM's commitment towards the internationally agreed core humanitarian principles in the delivery of its humanitarian response, and the need for all those engaged in humanitarian action to promote and fully respect these principles:2


  • Humanity: The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for the rights and well-being of human beings. Concern to alleviate human suffering and preserve human dignity is the driving force for humanitarian action. In line with this principle, IOM reaffirms the humanitarian imperative and that its priority is the humanitarian duty to save lives and alleviate suffering.
  • Impartiality: Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of needs alone, prioritizing those most in need, without discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, religious belief, class or political opinion. While IOM recognizes the importance of balancing the needs and interests of different stakeholders, it strives to be strictly non-partisan in its humanitarian action. To do so, and in line with the principle of impartiality, IOM's humanitarian response always gives priority to the most vulnerable.
  • Neutrality: Humanitarians must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of an ideological, religious, racial or political nature. IOM assesses the relationship between a policy of neutrality and its advocacy role on a case-by-case basis, without compromising the principle of humanity.
  • Independence: Humanitarians must remain independent of the political, financial or other objectives that any others may have in areas where humanitarian action is being implemented. IOM is committed to the principle of independence where and when it is engaged in humanitarian action and in any other situation in which IOM adheres to the principle of humanity.


The PHA define IOM's responsibility vis-a-vis internationally agreed humanitarian principles and help clarify its role at all levels.

IOM provides assistance based on an assessment of needs that takes into account the diversity of vulnerabilities and threats faced by the persons affected, and on the basis of a "do-no-harm" approach.

IOM engages in appropriate forms of advocacy and clear messaging on principled and effective humanitarian action at the global, regional, national and local levels with all relevant actors and for the protection and provision of assistance to the persons affected, as defined in the PHA.

IOM engages and negotiates with all relevant actors to ensure effective provision of humanitarian assistance and secure humanitarian access to crisis-affected populations and their access to services.

IOM uses the MCOF to provide a comprehensive response to migration crises that takes account of humanitarian needs, peace and transition efforts and sustainable development efforts.

Protection is at the centre of IOM's humanitarian action. Humanitarian protection is defined as: "All activities aimed at ensuring full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the relevant bodies of law."

IOM is committed to protection mainstreaming, within the context of the MCOF, and to conducting activities in ways that seek to do no harm, prioritize safety and dignity, foster empowerment and participation, and are non-discriminatory and needs-based.

Preventing and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse by IOM staff and the Organization's implementing partners are vital protection considerations that IOM integrates into all its operations.

IOM engages in partnerships and cooperates with the stakeholders involved in humanitarian action on the basis of shared principles to promote mutual respect, complementarity, predictability and reliability for a more effective humanitarian response.

IOM requires that its implementing partners commit to respect for humanitarian principles when delivering humanitarian responses. It uses existing standards as a reference during the due diligence process and applies them when monitoring and evaluating implementation. IOM is committed to the transfer of expertise and knowledge to build the capacities of its implementing partners in this regard.

IOM applies a principled approach to humanitarian action in different operating contexts, integrating humanitarian principles into the MCOF - the basis for establishing clear strategic objectives - and supports consistency in professional standards and programme implementation.

Relevance to IOM’s Emergency Operations

IOM's humanitarian mandate is set out in particular in Articles 1.1(a) and (b) of the IOM Constitution, Principle 1 and Objective 2 of the Migration Governance Framework (MiGOF), and the IOM Migration Crisis Operational Framework (MCOF).

IOM supports the efforts of States, at their request and with their consent, to fulfill their responsibilities to protect and assist crisis-affected persons. In dealing with today's simultaneous crises, IOM is guided by its institutional humanitarian policy that ensures clarity on its related role and responsibilities and ultimately helps the Organization be more principled and effective in crisis response.

IOM's Role

IOM is at the heart of the international humanitarian system for delivering humanitarian response to vulnerable migrants, displaced persons and affected communities. This role brings responsibilities that the PHA clarify at all levels but foremost at the field level, where IOM's actions take place.

The humanitarian principles remind us that the humanitarian imperative of saving lives, alleviating suffering and preserving dignity must prevail; and that our actions must not be used or hijacked for political gain. Humanitarian responses must also be predicated on the understanding that the people affected remain at least partly agents, enablers and drivers of their own resilience, recovery and development at household, community and national level before, during and after a crisis, thus reducing the risk of aid dependency.

IOM is a full member of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). In addition to coordinating its action through the existing humanitarian response system, IOM responds to the migration dimensions of a crisis by taking action within other international, regional and national systems addressing peace and security, migration governance and development issues.

In its humanitarian response, IOM is accountable to the persons and States concerned, its Member States, donors, and its partners within the humanitarian response system. IOM is committed to strengthening its accountability mechanisms and to keeping them under continuous review.

The PHA, as well as their accompanying tools, clarify IOM's position on the humanitarian assistance and protection and partnership aspects of crisis response. They bring IOM responses in line with the recognized principles of our key humanitarian partners and further strengthen IOM's own accountability in this regard. Moreover, the PHA help connect the relevant dimensions of other sectors of IOM's work (transition/ development/ migration management) as articulated in the Member States' endorsed MCOF. Above all, they put affected populations at the center of our action in terms of needs, rights and accountability obligations.



If you have further questions on IOM's Humanitarian Policy, please contact the Humanitarian Policy Team: humanitarianpolicy@iom.int.

Key Points

  • As an inter-governmental organization, IOM supports the efforts of the States, at their request and with their consent, to fulfil their responsibilities to protect and assist crisis-affected persons.
  • In line with the Charter of the United Nations and in the spirit of the humanitarian imperative, IOM is committed to providing humanitarian assistance and protection in accordance with international law and norms, where it is needed and where IOM has an added value.
  • IOM's humanitarian operations must abide by IOM's Humanitarian Policy – Principles for Humanitarian Action (PHA).

References and Tools



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