Through its Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants (AVM) Unit, IOM provides protection and assistance to migrants vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse, including victims of trafficking.

IOM’s approach to migrant vulnerability is rooted in the belief that the human rights of all persons, including migrants, should be upheld and promoted and that all migrants who are vulnerable, regardless of their membership in any particular category or holding of any particular status, should be afforded the protection and assistance services they require.

We use the definition of migrants in vulnerable situations put forth by the GMG Principles and Practical Guidance on the Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations: Migrants in vulnerable situations are migrants who are unable effectively to enjoy their human rights, are at increased risk of violations and abuse and who, accordingly, are entitled to call on a duty bearer’s heightened duty of care.

The Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants Unit is specifically concerned with a sub-set of migrants in vulnerable situations: those vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse. This reflects the Unit’s role and position within the Organization, as the Unit that has traditionally had oversight of IOM’s counter-trafficking programmes. But we also believe it reflects greater recognition within the international community that many migrants face predations during the migration process and require protection and assistance, even if their experiences do not make them eligible for protections under specific regimes, such as those available for trafficked persons and refugees.

Protecting and assisting migrants vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse

Over the past 20 years, IOM has provided protection and assistance to thousands of trafficked and other vulnerable migrants. IOM has also implemented a large number of structural or upstream initiatives, including capacity-development and technical assistance to governments, civil society, and businesses on the development and implementation of counter-trafficking, anti-smuggling, and migration management laws, policies, and programmes.

Based on its unique experience, IOM has developed a ‘determinants of migrant vulnerability’ model (or DoMV), which features in the Handbook on Protection and Assistance to Migrants Vulnerable to Violence, Exploitation and Abuse. The model is an innovative tool to holistically assess migrants’ vulnerabilities and capabilities. It is specifically designed to address the protection and assistance needs of a specific subset of migrants: those who have experienced or are vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse before, during or after the migration process. 

The DoMV model analyses factors at the individual, household/family, community and structural levels that contribute to vulnerability or, conversely, those that contribute to resilience, mitigate vulnerability, reduce harm and can inform comprehensive and sustainable solutions.


IOM’s model and the associated programmatic framework aim to assist all parties involved in migration planning and programming, protection and assistance, and sustainable development to integrate and/or improve migrant protection within their work.



The Handbook includes four assessment toolkits, each related to a specific level of analysis:

  • An individual factors assessment toolkit;
  • A household/family factors assessment toolkit;
  • A community factors assessment toolkit;
  • A structural factors assessment toolkit:

The toolkits provide a common definitions, standards and questionnaires to better understand, identify and respond to migrant vulnerabilities. Based on programmatic needs, they can be used and adapted by a range of practitioners including case managers, researchers, and government officials.

Additionally, IOM has published two guides to complement the Handbook on Protection and Assistance to Migrants Vulnerable to Violence, Exploitation and Abuse:

  • The IOM Guidance on Response planning provides practical information on how to determine the need for a response to vulnerable migrants, and on how to plan for, finance, monitor and evaluating such response, accordingly. 
  • The IOM Guidance on Referral Mechanisms provides guidance on how to develop and implement referral mechanisms for the protection and assistance of vulnerable migrants. The objective is to strengthen operational responses and thereby improve protection and assistance at the local, national and transnational levels.