Managing Migration in Indonesia: The Role of IOM and Australia


This post forms part of our series in showcasing abstracts of presentations featured at our annual postgraduate interdisciplinary conference on refugee and forced migration research, hosted in October 2017 at The University of Melbourne.


Asher Hirsch

Cameron Doig


While the International Organization for Migration (IOM) portrays an image of itself as a humanitarian actor, many of its activities in Indonesia have compromised regional refugee protection.

The absence of any rights-based protection mandate underpinning IOM operations means that IOM has faced criticism for carrying out migration control projects on behalf of donor states of the global north, such as Australia.

Our research has highlighted the extent of Australian funding for IOM, and the impact that this has had for the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees stranded in Indonesia. In 2000, IOM, Indonesia and Australia formed the trilateral Regional Cooperation Agreement (RCA). From 2001 to 2016, Australia has provided $238 million to IOM to conduct migration control activities in Indonesia. In 2016, Australia spent as much on funding IOM in Indonesia than it donated to UNHCR globally.

IOM Indonesia’s “migration management” projects include the detention of irregular migrants, the return of asylum seekers and refugees to their countries of origin, the strengthening of Indonesia’s border controls, and public information campaigns to dissuade people from taking boats to Australia to seek asylum.

This paper will argue that IOM’s activities undertake the sovereign function of deterrence, processing, and exclusion which have traditionally been the domain of states. In doing so, we argue that Australian support for IOM serves Australia’s geopolitical deterrence agenda, rather than prioritising the protection of asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia.


The full research paper can be found here.


Asher Hirsch is a Senior Policy Officer at the Refugee Council of Australia, and a PhD candidate at Monash University, Faculty of Law.

Cameron Doig is a Juris Doctor candidate at Melbourne Law School, and a paralegal at Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

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