As he did with so many others, John stormed into my life as some of us began to prepare for the first-ever Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in 2007. Having recently come on board as Policy Director at the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), John immediately took the reins as a global civil society leader, fighting for civil society engagement in what was initially planned as a primarily States event, and he was our first non-State representative to push his way into the GFMD’s preparatory meetings and bring our collective advocacy there. I was initially taken aback and then in awe by his focus and drive, fully committed to action and getting results. His legacy thereon would show that John accomplished so much for migrants and civil society with this passion, beyond what many of us imagined possible in those early days. But I have no doubt that John himself would have envisioned it already.
John K. Bingham, lawyer and migrant, served as Head of Policy of ICMC in Geneva from 2005 to 2018. Before joining ICMC in 2005, John worked for eight years for Catholic Charities in New York, where he was director of the departments of Immigrant and Refugee Services and later Capital Projects and Law. He served as Chair of the Board of the New York Immigration Coalition, and on the migration advisory group of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Prior to that, he spent eight years teaching human rights and criminal justice in a refugee camp of 240,000 Cambodians in Thailand, and later business law at the university in Phnom Penh, where he co-authored two books, Free Market Contract Law and an English-Cambodian Law Dictionary. A graduate of Fordham Law School and St. John’s University in New York, John worked for eight years in the legal department of a major Wall Street investment bank, where he was Vice President.
After his departure from ICMC in 2018, he continued as an independent consultant and expert on global migration policy and governance, advising the Ecuador and UAE Chairs of the GFMD in 2018-2020, and as a consultant with the International Organization of Employers (IOE) in 2021 and others, while also serving as the Geneva Representative of the NGO Committee on Migration.
John’s passion and dedication were an inspiration to all who worked to improve the lives and the rights of migrants everywhere, and they were only matched by the focus and drive he had to advance the global civil society movement on migration. All major advances in our movement over the past decade and more had John’s fingerprints on them, and most were primarily driven by him. This included the current civil society self-organized formations such as the GFMD’s Civil Society Mechanism and Coordinating Office, the Civil Society Action Committee, the NGO Committee on Migration, and countless other civil society networks and formations. He also founded the Migration and Development (MADE) Civil Society Network, the predecessor to the Action Committee, which coordinated regional and thematic civil society initiatives and projects between each GFMD summit. Through these initiatives and many others, he helped shape global migration governance, and created spaces for dialogue where concrete solutions for the well-being of migrants and societies could be found.
John tirelessly shaped and advanced ICMC’s Policy Department to become a very significant team player among global civil society forces, and he commanded respect and acknowledgement from many States and non-State stakeholders alike. These efforts by John didn’t end upon his leaving ICMC. He continued to bring his unwavering energy and visionary focus to shape global civil society work and contributions to global migration governance, with his ability to see beyond processes and politics, and to remind us of the need to seek concrete solutions to improve migrants’ lives. He was recently one of the initial co-authors of the Civil Society Action Committee’s 12 Key Ways advocacy paper for the first International Migration Review Forum, and was often a featured panelist at the People’s Migration Challenge webinars. In all that, he never ceased to support the work of the Action Committee’s secretariat housed and staffed by ICMC, and that of its members.
More than anything, however, John left a personal touch on everyone he met and worked with. His genuine care and generosity for all, especially for the most humble and vulnerable, radiated around him. His commitment to migrants’ rights and lives stemmed from his deep personal commitment to the good of all. This was tangible for all who knew him. Thanks to his constant support, leadership and trust, those who had the privilege of working with him were able to learn and grow. His reaching out and directly supporting, especially in times of need and crises, will be cherished and held in high regard by all of us. He never hesitated to be the first to lend a hand, or an ear to listen to anyone who needed to talk about the personal challenges they faced.
Upon hearing of John’s death while on a mission to Canada, ICMC’s Secretary General, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, said, “John had my deepest respect since the time I first met him while he served at Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, New York. It was a privilege to later serve with him at ICMC. May the angels lead him into Paradise since he has ‘fought the good fight,’ as St. Paul so eloquently wrote. And may those same angels bring comfort and peace to his wife, his sons, and all his family, as they mourn his loss on this earth and look forward to meeting him again in heaven, where all tears are wiped away.”
We have lost a champion and steadfast leader for migrants’ rights and global civil society. But we have also lost a mentor, counselor, guide, and a good friend. We extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to John’s entire family, especially his wife Agnès, his sons John, Thomas, Jérémy, Matthias, his sister Mary, as well as his other siblings. We hold them in our hearts and in our prayers as we grieve with them.
Rest in Power, John.
Colin Rajah, On behalf of ICMC
Colin Rajah is the Coordinator of the Civil Society Action Committee, whose secretariat is housed and staffed by ICMC