IOM Releases Glossary on Migration to Foster Correct Use of Migration Terminology

IOM has released the third edition of its Glossary on Migration.

Geneva – Languages evolve, and the way professionals use language matters – perhaps nowhere as crucially as language pertaining to human movement. 

Is a ‘detention’ centre the same as a ‘holding’ centre? Who is, or isn’t, a ‘highly-skilled migrant worker’?  Do we know what is ‘climate migration’, or why the term ‘climate refugee’ should not be used?  

Chronicling the correct use of words and migration terms also is an evolving process. This week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is releasing the third edition of its Glossary on Migration, a process IOM began in 2004 and which was most recently updated in 2011. 

At a time when discussions around migration have become particularly toxic, it is important to consider how terminology can shape – and, sometimes, distort – reality.  

As António Vitorino, IOM Director General has said: “Usage of often wrong, or alarmist, terms around the world has negatively impacted the way migrants are perceived. Accurate terminology is not only for the sake of political correctness but can shape perceptions of migration.” 

Creating uniformity in language is pivotal to ensure an accurate understanding and coherent exchange of information among actors working in the field of migration. It is also a fundamental step towards a collective, more humane, yet efficient, response to migration challenges. 

The IOM Glossary on Migration is the result of a lengthy process of consultation within the Organization and with external academic and partner organizations and institutions. It is meant to reflect the way IOM understands a wide range of terms relevant to migration and to clarify how migration-related terms are legally defined or commonly used. 

The latest online volume opens with the words “Welcome to the IOM Glossary on Migration.”  

Explained Kristina Touzenis, head of IOM’s International Migration Law unit: “Put like that, it sounds as if this document would solve all issues related to how we speak about migration. It will not. What this document aims to do is to give definitions for commonly (and, on occasion, not so commonly) used terms when speaking of migration.” 

The new Glossary reflects recent developments in the use of migration-related terms arising from discussions of issues that have come under international scrutiny only in recent years. For example, new terms include ‘climate migration’, ‘disaster-induced migration’, and the various meanings of the term ‘relocation’, as well as terms that have recently become of common use, such as ‘human mobility’.  

Whether a reader is a policy maker, a practitioner, a journalist, a scholar, a student or simply someone who is interested in migration issues, the Glossary can provide some useful insights on migration terms, as well as on the underlying realities. 

To access the IOM International Migration Law Glossary, please use the following link: 

For more information, please contact Alice Sironi, IML at IOM Geneva, Email: