South Africa is the preferred destination for various categories of migrants and faces a host of migration-related challenges, including, inter alia: increased prevalence of irregular migration, including women and unaccompanied minors; inadequate migration management policies and border management processes; rising xenophobic sentiments that in some cases turn into actual violence against migrants; high prevalence of communicable diseases such as HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis; and continued brain drain due to the emigration of skilled nationals. The need for enhanced and harmonized migration management policies is therefore a critical priority for the Government of South Africa.

Emergency and Humanitarian Assistance

IOM provides emergency and humanitarian assistance to migrants and displaced people, enhancing preparedness and early warning systems, as well as initiating early recovery for disaster risk reduction and community stabilization in areas affected by natural and unnatural disasters.

IOM in South Africa works to coordinate responses at national, regional and international level with respect to supporting reconstruction efforts, demobilization of former combatants, and reintegration of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the repatriation of refugees.

Movement and Resettlement


  • Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (Switzerland)
  • European Refugee Fund (UK/Ireland)

Organizing the transportation of refugees and migrants for the purpose of resettlement is a core activity of IOM in Southern Africa. Working closely with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), IOM coordinates pre-entry medical assessment and the transport logistics for refugee resettlement cases. Refugees are commonly resettled to the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway. These operations build on IOM's previous experience in the region.

Assisted Returns

IOM is deeply concerned about the plight of irregular migrants in need of assistance to return to their own countries. IOM assists rejected asylum seekers, trafficked migrants, stranded students, labour migrants and qualified nationals to return home on a voluntary basis.

IOM South Africa is implementing a Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP) for South African nationals in the UK and Ireland who are rejected asylum seekers and wish to return home voluntarily. IOM South Africa also runs the Reintegration Assistance (RAS) Programme for South African rejected asylum seekers from Switzerland.

In addition to helping individuals and families with the cost of their flight to South Africa, IOM is able to provide reintegration assistance once they return home with the funding assistance from the European Refugee Fund (UK/Ireland) and The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (Switzerland).

Reintegration assistance includes:

  • Access to education or job training
  • Grant for the establishment of a small business
  • Education or crèches for children
  • General information and advice business opportunities and available training courses.


  • Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP)
  • USRP-US Refugee Programme
  • Canadian Resettlement Programme
  • Australian Resettlement Programme

Migration and Health

Migration and Health initiatives are aimed at addressing the health vulnerabilities and challenges faced by migrants and migration affected communities by responding to their health needs throughout all phases of the migration process. IOM promotes Healthy Migrants in Healthy Communities through: 1) Service Delivery and Capacity Building; 2) Advocacy for Policy Development; 3) Research and Information Dissemination; 4) Regional Coordination; and 5) Governance and Control.

IOM targets labour migrants and mobile workers; forced migrants and irregular migrants; and people affected by mobility. The activities are focused on areas where migrants are present and can be accessed including: cross border communities; "hot spots" or Spaces of Vulnerability along transport corridors; workplaces; migrant communities and urban settlements; migrant sending sites; detention centres; and emergency settlements including camps for refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Current Projects

  • Partnership on Health and Mobility in East and Southern Africa (PHAMESA)
  • Ripfumelo HIV Prevention and Care Programme for Farm Workers in South Africa
  • Research on Health Vulnerabilities of Mobile Populations and Affected Communities in Selected Ports of Southern Africa

Regulating Migration


Irregular Migration has been one of the main areas of activities of the regional office in South Africa. Addressing irregular migration in southern Africa requires an approach that combines different perspectives and countries, considering the particular situation of countries like Zimbabwe where migration push factors are depleting the country of its workforce in critical areas like health and education; South Africa where pull factors are met with the xenophobic reaction of local communities; and, Mozambique where irregular migration from the Horn of Africa is posing a challenge to a government faced with many other priority areas of development.

IOM has over the years remained engaged with governments to seek adequate responses to these individual challenges. With this project, IOM will maximize the impact of each activity, under the overall goal of addressing the consequences of irregular migration in a region where labour mobility dates from early 1940 and yet, frameworks to regularize the labour demand/supply or address push/pull factors are yet to emerge in a coordinated and coherent way.

IOM is addressing these urgent needs related to migration mobility in the region through a wide range of activities aimed at creating mechanisms and synergies, addressing gaps, and developing coherent and sustainable approaches. IOM does so by enhancing the regional dialogue through MIDSA; by building the capacity of governments through training of officials from relevant departments; by providing communities in South Africa with tools to create harmony and peace by creating a network of social mediators; by carrying out cultural diversity training for various stakeholders; and by assisting those migrants who have become vulnerable as a result of their migratory journey, with particular attention to the extreme vulnerability caused by xenophobic violence.

In partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), IOM is implementing a project aimed at supporting the Government of South Africa to strengthen communities of diversities and peace. The project seeks to address the problem of migrants' rights, strengthening the capacity and capability of the South Africa Government, in particular of provinces and municipalities in managing urbanisation, immigration and reintegration of foreign nationals. IOM will:

  • Provide support to the South Africa migration policy whereby South Africa provinces and municipalities will be trained/enabled to better manage migration issues
  • Provide strengthened conflict resolution and mediation capacities with focus on migrants and improved capacity of provinces and municipalities to better manage migrants
  • Improve the inter-governmental/interdepartmental and inter-agency coordination

Building and Strengthening Communities of Diversity and Peace. Through this project, IOM will provide strengthened conflict resolution and mediation capacities with focus on migrants and host communities and improved capacity of municipalities to better manage migrants.  The project aims to increase understanding/tolerance and reduce tension and negative perceptions between locals and foreign migrants through the provision of educational workshops, information campaigns and sports and cultural events.


  • Southern Africa-Addressing Irregular Migration Flows to South Africa
  • Support to the South African Government to strengthen communities of diversities and peace
  • Building and Strengthening Communities of Diversity and Peac

Technical Cooperation on Migration

Swaziland has had a long history of internal and external migration, foremost labour migration. Population movement is therefore nothing new; it began in earnest in the late nineteenth century. Swazi men were traditionally recruited as cheap labour to work the South African mines. Since the retrenchment of mining industry in the 1990s, formal labour migration from Swaziland to South Africa has decreased, although a steady inflow and outflow of migration between the countries still exists. In addition, irregular migration flows have been witnessed and Swaziland is a source, destination and transit country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons – in particular for commercial sexual exploitation, involuntary domestic servitude in the cities of Mbabane and Manzini, and in South Africa and Mozambique.

To this end, IOM is implementing a project aimed at improving migration management thereby contributing to reduced irregular migration and supporting the fight against trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. The project will pilot the installation of a computerized border management system, the Personnel Information and Registration System (PIRS) developed by IOM, and equip and refurbish the two targeted border points. A tailor-made training curriculum corresponding to the contextual specificities for Swaziland will be developed, responding to the assessed needs within the Department of Immigration. Immigration officers will further be provided with training on PIRS, migration management, and passport verification procedures. For project sustainability, training will be provided to a selected number of immigration officers, following the model of "training of trainers" (ToT). This will create a national pool of trainers which will further enhance the capacity of the Department of Immigration. Under the project, the trained trainers will build capacity of an additional number of immigration officers. Through the project, IOM will contribute to enhanced border management capacity and more efficient border processing, supporting Swaziland to manage migration in a humane and orderly manner for the benefit of all


  • Capacity Building for Migration Management In Swaziland

Migration Policy Research and Dialogue

IOM has promoted the need for regional co-ordination on migration management within the Southern Africa region. In the absence of a regional Migration Protocol, there exists no formal mechanism in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to coordinate migration management. As part of globally on-going Regional Consultative Processes on Migration (RCPs), IOM's Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa (MIDSA) aims to fill this gap and foster informal regional dialogue and cooperation on migration-related issues. IOM organizes regular ministerial meetings to address various migration-related issues such as migration and development, migration management, labour migration, forced migration, migration and health, and irregular migration concerns such as trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling.

IOM also supports SADC countries to develop national and regional migration profiles that will serve as a basis for comprehensive, coherent and coordinated policymaking in the field of migration. In addition to the important benefits of migration profiles, the process of preparing these profiles will promote inter-ministerial and inter-country dialogue on migration policy and coordination. In order to leverage the benefits of such a process, encourage information sharing between ministries and secure government ownership, the project will establish national-level technical working groups (TWGs) as well as bring together focal points from each country to foster regional coherence and cooperation. Through these coordination mechanisms, SADC member states will lead the processes of design, implementation and follow-up to the migration profiles. The TWGs will receive training and networking support under the project to strengthen their capacity to analyze the findings of the migration profiles, recommend follow-up actions, and ensure the regular updating of the profiles beyond the lifespan of the project.


  • Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa (MIDSA)
  • Migration Profiles for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region

Last updated:
Main text: July 2011
Facts and figures: August 2014