The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) is an international non-governmental organization working in the area of migration and refugee assistance. ICMC was founded in 1951, in the wake of the massive human displacement caused by the Second World War.

Creation of ICMC

Third ICMC Congress in Assisi, Italy, 1957Third ICMC Congress, Italy, 1957 Initiated by the joint efforts of Pope Pius XII, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini (Vatican Secretary for Relations with States and future Pope Paul VI) and layman James J. Norris, ICMC was precisely created to support Catholic organizations in responding to the needs of the displaced persons and refugees. Following the conflict, the efforts of Monsignor Montini and James Norris for the displaced victims of war assumed an even greater urgency with the growing exodus of refugees fleeing to the West from the Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe.

Shortly after its creation, the ICMC Secretariat was established in Geneva, Switzerland, with the aim of collaborating closely with the newly created United Nations bodies on migration and refugee issues. In 1952, ICMC was granted consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In its early years, the work of ICMC focused on the administration of migrant travel loan funds. ICMC soon gained comprehensive expertise in assisting the migrants and increased its network of member organizations and local partners, thus becoming a worldwide movement.


Refugees from South-East Asia assisted by ICMC in the 1970'sRefugees assisted through the Orderly Departure Program, 1979

By the 1970's, the migration phenomenon had become more complex and international.

In 1975, James Norris – who had by then been President of ICMC for over 20 years – won the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, the highest UNHCR recognition for "extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced".

In 1979, after "boat people" fleeing Vietnam perished at sea, ICMC played a major role in providing legal and safe means of emigration, mainly by resettling refugees from Vietnam to the United States through the Orderly Departure Program. ICMC also began resettlement work with new refugee groups from South-East Asia, the Near East, Africa, and Latin America.

During the program's nearly twenty years of operation, over 500,000 people were resettled, mainly to the United States.

1980's and 1990's

In the early 1980's, ICMC began to serve as the processing entity of refugees from Turkey to the United States, in partnership with the United States Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM). Today, the Resettlement Support Center for Turkey and Middle East based in Istanbul, Turkey, is one of ICMC's largest operations. Caseworkers in Istanbul and Beirut conduct interviews of refugees referred by UNHCR to the United States and process the application files for their resettlement to the US.

ICMC's project in the Philippines, 1985ICMC's project in the Philippines, 1985 While continuing operations in the Soviet Union between the 1980's and the 1990's, ICMC also played a lead role during the war in Yugoslavia: as violence continued to escalate in the Balkans, the ICMC office in Zagreb processed thousands of resettlement applications, mainly by Bosnian Muslims seeking support to emigrate towards the United States. In 1997, ICMC also opened three microcredit institutions (in Serbia-Montenegro and Kosovo) providing business loans, training and counseling to the uprooted people wishing to start a new activity.

In 1998, ICMC initiated a partnership with UNHCR through the ICMC-UNHCR Resettlement Deployment Scheme. The Scheme consists of a pool of experts from diverse backgrounds, who are ready to be deployed on short notice to UNHCR's field operations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America whenever crucial support is needed. Managed by ICMC, these experts play a key role in identifying and assessing the eligibility for resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees. Today, the Deployment Scheme deploys more than 170 experts annually to UNHCR's field offices worldwide.

2000's to nowadays

In 2001, the events of 11 September in the United States caused a major change in world politics. As the United States entered Afghanistan, large numbers of Afghani refugees began returning home after many years in neighbouring countries. ICMC took immediate action and started in Afghanistan its largest-ever operation assistance: over 70,000 people returning from Pakistan and Iran were sheltered in camps.

ICMC's main focus shifted again towards South-East Asia in 2004, as the world rushed to respond to the devastating tsunami which hit the Indonesian coasts. ICMC had been granted access in Aceh in 2001. Thus, it was already present in Indonesia when the tsunami struck and was able to respond immediately to the devastation caused, both at the community and individual levels.

In 2008, ICMC was officially granted public juridical status by the Holy See. In 2011, ICMC was selected as the leading organization in charge of coordinating the civil society network of the Global Forum for Migration and Development, which gathers more than 700 organizations globally; it has maintained this role to date.

Distribution of winter items in JordanDistribution of winter items to Syrian refugees and Jordanian families, Jordan, 2015 Political instability in the Middle East since the beginning of 2011 – notably the Syrian civil war – has caused mass displacements in the region. ICMC, active in the Greater Damascus area since 2006, started a number of projects focusing on Iraqi refugees settled in Syria, displaced people fleeing the conflict into Jordan and vulnerable people within the host Jordanian communities.

In 2014, ICMC initiated a large public-private partnership to assist elderly people and protect labor migrants in Eastern Europe. The partnership includes the collaboration with public administrations, employment services, academic institutes, and private hospitals in Eastern Europe, and aims to expand to other European countries.

Today ICMC continues to respond to the needs of uprooted people and their communities by implementing and advocating for rights-based policies and sustainable solutions through its worldwide membership of Catholic Bishops' Conferences, and alongside governmental and non-governmental partners.

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, ICMC has affiliated entities in Brussels (ICMC Europe), Washington D.C. and Boston (ICMC Inc.), and operational offices in Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan.