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International Catholic Migration Commission

INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC MIGRATION COMMISSION

In response to the need for coordination of Catholic migration and refugee services on a worldwide basis, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) was established in 1951 with headquarters in Geneva. The lessons of the Second World War with respect to displaced persons and later the mass migrations in Eastern Europe beginning in 1949, prompted Catholic laity and clergy from Germany, Italy, and the United States to form the ICMC. Then Substitute Secretary of State, Archbishop Montini (the future Pope Paul VI), and Cardinal Joseph Frings of Germany, were instrumental in the foundation. The following year, Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Exsul familia, focused the attention of Catholics on the needs of migrants and refugees, and formally introduced the ICMC to the world. The first president of the ICMC was Mr. James J. Norris (1907 to 1976) of the National Catholic Welfare Conference's office of War Relief Services. He served as president for 23 years and retired in 1976.

Throughout the 1960s, the ICMC worked primarily in Europe, but by mid-decade their presence could be found in 42 countries worldwide. Much of this work involved the dispensing of loans to facilitate the movement of immigrants. These funds benefited over 40,000 from 1952 to 1962. By the early 1970s, the migration phenomenon had become more complex and international, where warring parties often made national borders arbitrary and aid to the displaced that much more difficult. The end of the war in Vietnam, the attempted genocide in Cambodia, and other hot spots forced the ICMC to begin resettlement work in Southeast Asia, among other places. With forced migration come the related problems of health, hunger, human smuggling, and often the peculiar horror of "ethnic cleansing." By the end of 1977, the ICMC had granted travel loans in the amount of approximately 50 million dollars, helping hundreds of thousands to find a country of permanent resettlement.

In 1999, the ICMC provided services to over 100,000 people, including protection for 63,000 of the most vulnerable refugees (elderly, widowed, mentally and physically disabled) in 11 countries. It also helped 2,600 refugees in Bosnia and Kosovo, primarily women and internally displaced people, move towards economic self-sufficiency through microcredit loans. About 42,000 were resettled in the United States that year. Wherever possible, the ICMC works in partnership with the local Church. In 2001, ICMC had around 30 international and almost 400 national staff members who work in 21 countries on all continents. It is also one of the chief collaborators in the Holy See's World Day of Migration, which calls attention to the needs of those affected by migration issues. It cooperates with the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. The ICMC was actively involved in the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa (2001), precisely because of the impact of racism on refugees.

The ICMC cooperates especially with two intergovernmental organizations, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) and claims consultative status with the Council of Europe and, since 1952, the UN Economic and Social Council. Funding comes through a combination of grants from the United States government and the United Nations organization, among other sources.

Membership of the ICMC is open to all Catholic national episcopal conferences and their relevant organizations working with migrant and refugee populations. In 2001 the ICMC had 95 members and affiliate members from 82 countries. The ICMC is made up of a Council, Governing Committee, and General Secretariat. Council members are nominees of Catholic bishops conferences and national Catholic organizations working with refugees and migrants. The whole Council elects the President of the Commission, subject to approval of the Holy See, who convenes and chairs both the Council and Governing Committee meetings. Voting for the other members of the 12-person Governing Committee is regionally based. The ICMC Council meets once a year to determine the priorities of the organization. Every three years the Council elects the President and other officers of the Governing Committee.

Bibliography: The papers of James J. Norris are archived at the University of Notre Dame. The ICMC's 50-year history was in press in 2001.

[p. j. hayes]

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