Normative Approach

The normative approach to migration can be seen mainly from two different, but complementary angles:

  • The principles and standards deriving from State sovereignty. These include the right to protect borders, to confer nationality, to admit and expel foreigners, to combat trafficking and smuggling and to safeguard national security.
  • The human rights of the persons involved in migration. Many relevant conventions exist at the universal and regional levels, although most of them do not explicitly refer to migrants or recognize them as a specific group, they are applicable to any individual under the State’s jurisdiction, including non-nationals. These instruments are spread across various branches of law, such as human rights law, humanitarian law, refugee law, criminal law and labour law; the norms relevant to migrants’ rights are therefore dispersed throughout a wide range of texts. 

This disparity or dispersion of norms contributes to the widespread belief that there are gaps in the set of norms protecting migrants and/or regulating migration. More generally, there is sometimes uncertainty about the exact content or intent of the relevant instruments and about the relationship of each of these instruments to the others.


IOM's Role

Over the years, the International Organization for Migration has accumulated an important amount of material and knowledge on the international legal norms and principles that protect the rights of migrants and regulate migration. Both sets of norms are jointly referred to as international migration law (IML). In view of the lack of appropriate information on IML, also because there was no central source where all information was easily accessible, IOM expanded its existing legal capacity within the Organization to consolidate and streamline its involvement in the field of IML.

The overall objective of IOM is to strengthen its capacity to assist States in the orderly and humane governance of migration, a role attributed to IOM by the Council in 1995 (Council Resolution No. 923 (LXXI) of 29 November 1995).

In 2004, the International Migration Law Unit was established to:

  • Compile the migration-related legal instruments at international, regional and national levels and make them easily accessible;
  • Disseminate this information and thus enhance the understanding of IML;
  • Organize training seminars and capacity building activities in the field of migration law; and
  • Promote IML as essential component of comprehensive migration management frameworks.

Since then, the International Migration Law Unit has acquired rich experience in supporting states in the development, review and implementation of migration legislation. The Unit created an online database on migration law, jurisprudence and good legal practices, organized a number of trainings for government officials and other stakeholders in migration, and carried out research and participated in various capacity development activities all over the world. 

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