The section provides an introduction to the report, including why it was commissioned, its purpose, the methodology used, and how it aligns to the IFRC’s Policy on Migration and the importance of migration for the IFRC.

Key messages
  • The IFRC commissioned this report as part of its mandate to share knowledge and skills and to ensure that all National Societies have the knowledge, resources and capacities to support vulnerable migrants. This report does not provide a comprehensive list of all smart practices. Neither does it make recommendations or provide guidelines on how to address specific needs of migrants, but rather, provides examples of how other actors have addressed similar needs. The report is not intended as a thorough needs or vulnerability assessment.
  • The report is a living and dynamic document; the IFRC will continue to identify and share smart practices, as National Societies and partners test, implement and scale up new initiatives.
  • The study followed four steps to select the smart practices to be included in the report.

This study’s methodology – and all of the Red Cross Red Crescent’s work – is anchored in the needs of the people served and aims to reduce their vulnerabilities by enhancing their resilience to unexpected events.

  1. First the study considered six steps in a migrant’s journey: first steps at origin; transition across borders; potential stay in migrant camps; potential regularization of status when arriving to a country; long-term stays in countries of destination; and potential return to the country of origin.
  2. Second, it considered six intertwined dimensions of resilience: regulatory safety, financial capital, physical capital, human capital, social capital, and natural capital.
  3. Third, it considered four types of services provided: assistance, protection, awareness raising, and advocacy.
  4. Fourth, it considered alignment with IFRC Migration Policy: all smart practices focus on the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants (Principle 1) and should be aligned with at least one other migrant-centred design principle (Principles 3 and 4) or an effective implementation principle (Principles 2, 5, 6 and 7). The smart practice might, in addition, be a type of response in a desired area (Principles 8, 9 and 10).

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has seven Fundamental Principles:

  1. Humanity. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.
  2. Impartiality. It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.
  3. Neutrality. In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.
  4. Independence. The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.
  5. Voluntary service. It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.
  6. Unity. There can be only one Red Cross or one Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.
  7. Universality. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.

Auxiliary role of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

The auxiliary status is permanent and is part of the legal foundation of every National Society. Normally, it is included in the domestic law of the country and occurs once a National Society has been recognized by the legal government of its country, on the basis of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and of national legislation, as a voluntary aid society, auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field.

The auxiliary role is the embodiment of a National Society’s auxiliary status; it helps to define the relationship between a government and a National Society and provides opportunities for regular contact at all levels. The auxiliary role also refers to a set of agreed responsibilities and activities defined by a government and a National Society together.

Migration at the IFRC

The Red Cross Red Crescent supports vulnerable migrants, regardless of their legal status

  • The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is committed to addressing the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants in order to provide protection and assistance.
  • Working with and for vulnerable migrants across the world is one of the long standing traditions of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The Movement has a role in providing humanitarian protection and assistance to those in need irrespective of their legal status along the migration trail. The Red Cross Red Crescent supports migrants as part of its auxiliary role to governments.
  • Moreover, the 2016-2020 IFRC Plan and Budget establishes migration as one of the eight priority areas, in addition to disaster risk reduction, shelter, livelihoods, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, social inclusion, and promoting a culture of non-violence and peace.

“Particular focus will be placed on supporting the needs of people leaving their homes in search of a more secure and stable environment. Protracted crises, environmental degradation, human rights abuses, and poverty are some of the factors that have led to more people being forcibly displaced today than at any time since the Second World War. Unfortunately, uninformed and prejudiced narratives obscure the complexity of this phenomenon, leading to discrimination, division, xenophobia and hatred.

The Red Cross Red Crescent has a trusted and vital role to play in meeting immediate needs and insisting on principled humanitarian action to protect the dignity and well-being of vulnerable migrants. In partnership with other relevant organizations at the international, regional and community levels, all efforts will be made to meet the particular needs of vulnerable people along the full migration path from countries of origin, transit and destination.

In parallel, we will continue to combat the prejudice this phenomenon is provoking, through balanced and informed communications and advocacy that facilitates support for this work from communities and institutions.”

Policies and plans that guide work in migration

Work in migration is guided by the Migration Policy, 30th and 31st IC, and specific plans


IFRC Policy on refugees and other displaced people (has been replaced by the Migration Policy).


The 30th International Conference resulted in Resolution 5 which explicitly recognized the importance of migration. It also resulted in the “Together for Humanity” declaration which included a section on humanitarian concerns generated by international migration and acknowledged the role of National Societies in providing humanitarian assistance to vulnerable migrants, irrespective of their legal status.


The IFRC Policy on Migration clarified the Red Cross Red Crescent’s mandate to address the humanitarian concerns of migrants ‘living at the margins of conventional health, social and legal systems’, throughout their journey. The policy establishes 10 principles.


The 31st International Conference adopted Resolution 3 on Migration: Ensuring Access, Dignity, Respect for Diversity and Social Inclusion. The resolution recognized the important role of the Movement on migration issues and guides the work of the movement on Migration issues. Members of the Conference adopted a resolution: (a) to ensure National Societies can safely and effectively access migrants; (b) to ensure national procedures at international borders protect the dignity and safety of migrants; (c) that called for provision of relevant services and adequate protection for migrants; and (d) encouraged cooperation between National Societies and states in migration.


The 32nd International Conference provides an overview of progress made in implementation of Resolution 3 of the 31st International Conference during the period 2011- 2015.

Response plan to meet the humanitarian needs of vulnerable migrants – a Movement-coordinated approach focusing on the Mediterranean and neighbouring regionsidentifies specific humanitarian strategies, activities and partnerships that are being developed across the Movement and which will form the basis of a common and coordinated Movement approach to the protection and assistance of vulnerable migrants in the years ahead, while equally taking into account the roles and mandates of other institutions and organizations assisting and protecting migrants.


London Plan of Action provided a common recognition by European National Societies of the European humanitarian crisis, and an overview of actions in operations and advocacy to provide support to migrants as well as action items to enable the Plan of Action.

The IFRC Migration Policy provides the framework for the Red Cross Red Crescent’s work

The adoption of the Policy on Migration by the Council of Delegates in November 2009 clarified our mandate to address the humanitarian concerns of migrants ‘living at the margins of conventional health, social and legal systems’, throughout their journey.

The migration policy has 10 principles:

  1. Focus on the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement strives to adopt an integrated and impartial approach, combining immediate action for migrants in urgent need with longer-term assistance and empowerment. It is therefore important that National Societies be permitted to work with and for all migrants, without discrimination and irrespective of their legal status.
  2. Include migrants in humanitarian programming. National Societies can opt for different approaches in assisting and protecting migrants. Some focus on migrants through special, targeted programmes or projects; others include migrants in their general humanitarian action, addressing the needs and vulnerabilities of the population in its diversity. Both approaches require sustained efforts by National Societies to guarantee impartiality and non-discrimination, taking into account the humanitarian needs of the host population.
  3. Support the aspirations of migrants. Migrants have a legitimate claim to hope and opportunities to achieve their potential. They are also an important social, economic and cultural factor. Their skills, experience and resilience can be a valuable contribution to their host communities. National Societies will consider migrants’ own needs and interests, and support their social inclusion, integration and their aspirations.
  4. Recognize the rights of migrants. National Societies provide assistance and protection to migrants, irrespective of their legal status. Yet, the degree to which migrants are able to enjoy their rights is an important factor in assessing their vulnerability. By working with migrants to ensure that their rights are respected – including the right to the determination of their legal status – National Societies will also promote their social inclusion and their aspirations.
  5. Link assistance, protection and humanitarian advocacy for migrants. Assistance to migrants goes hand in hand with efforts to protect them against abuse, exploitation, and the denial of rights. In making these efforts National Societies will respect the migrants’ own interest, and the imperative of doing them no harm. To enable migrants to overcome abuses and pressures, National Societies can provide legal advice, refer them to other relevant and competent organizations or entities, or undertake discreet or public forms of humanitarian advocacy.
  6. Build partnerships for migrants. The humanitarian challenges of migration reach across borders, regions and cultures. There is a Movement-wide responsibility for capacity building, mutual support and coordination. Regional cooperation among National Societies is equally essential. In working with external partners on migration, a common and principled approach of the Movement is indispensable.
  7. Work along the migratory trails. The Movement is in a unique position to help bridge the gaps of assistance and protection for migrants. National Societies in countries along the migratory trails will work together to optimize their humanitarian action, including the restoration of family links. This requires a focus on situations and conditions in which migrants all along their journey are especially susceptible to risks. National Societies may sensitize potential migrants about risks of migration, but must not seek to encourage, prevent or dissuade migration.
  8. Assist migrants in return. Return to the place of origin is not the necessary end or solution of migration. Migrants may prefer to stay where they are, for an extended period or permanently. While providing counselling and informing migrants about their options, National Societies cannot and shall not decide what solution is the best, and must at all times maintain their impartiality, neutrality and independence. When migrants do return they face particular challenges; to assist and protect them, cooperation and agreement between National Societies in countries of destination and return is essential.
  9. Respond to the displacement of populations. Armed conflicts and violence, natural or man-made disasters, but also development or relocation schemes can force populations to leave their homes, leading to accelerated and collective, even massive movements. The displaced populations might seek assistance and protection within their own country, or might find refuge across international borders. Displacement of populations and migration of individuals and groups are distinct but often interrelated phenomena; where they are interrelated, National Societies will strive for a coordinated action that covers both, the displaced and the migrants.
  10. Alleviate migratory pressures on communities of origin. Migratory pressures on communities of origin can be related to social and economic distress; they can be linked to environmental degradation as well as natural or man-made hazards; and they can be due to persecution, armed conflict, and violence. By supporting disaster preparedness and building resilience at community level, National Societies contribute to alleviating pressures that can induce people to migrate against their will and desire.

Purpose of the report

The IFRC hopes to increase awareness of smart practices throughout the Red Cross Red Crescent

Why the report was commissioned

  • The Red Cross Red Crescent views migration through an operational lens, in particular through the Movement’s humanitarian response to meeting the needs of vulnerable migrants, irrespective of their legal status, in countries of origin, transit and destination.
  • The IFRC has prioritized this study as a means of harnessing its potential contribution in meeting the needs of vulnerable migrants.
  • National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies engage in a wide range of migration-related activities and there is an opportunity to strengthen the entire network by capturing smart practices.

What this report aims to do

  • This report is a compilation of smart practices (in assistance, protection, awareness-raising and advocacy) that address the needs of migrants. These smart practices have been implemented by the Movement and other actors.
  • The report aims to provide illustrative examples of responses which National Societies (and others) can be inspired by when addressing similar needs.

What this report does not aim to do

  • This report does not provide a comprehensive list of all smart practices implemented by the Movement and other actors working in migration.
  • The report does not aim to make recommendations or provide guidelines for how to address specific needs of migrants, but rather to provide examples of how other actors have addressed similar needs.
  • The report is not intended as a thorough needs or vulnerability assessment of migrants, but uses common needs of migrants as a framework to present smart practices.


Structure of the report

The report is a living and dynamic document which follows a simple structure

The report follows a simple structure; it has five main sections:

  • Introduction, which presents the structure of the report.
  • Overall migration journey, which introduces key concepts used throughout the report and provides an overview of the 59 smart practices and 13 smart operational enablers included in the report.
  • Detailed steps in the migration journey, which presents and analyses each of the 59 smart practices that address the needs of migrants at each of the six steps of the migration journey and across all steps.
  • Enablers of success, which analyses the enabling factors that need to be in place to effectively identify and address needs or migrants and provides 13 examples of how actors have strengthened these enablers.
  • Conclusions, which includes recommendations on where more smart practices can be identified and how coordination can be increased across the Red Cross Red Crescent.

The report is a living document. It will be continuously updated to incorporate new smart practices as they emerge.
The report is dynamic. It allows the reader to seek smart practices in migration by step in the migration journey, type of response, need addressed, geography, or implementing actor. Moreover, it includes external and internal links.

  • Internal links allow the user to navigate to specific sections within the report directly.
  • External links include links to external content, external websites, or to contact details for National Societies.


The study followed four steps to select the smart practices included in the report

Steps in the migration journey

The study considered migrants’ needs at each stage of the migration journey

The study considered six steps in a migrant’s journey: first steps at origin, transition through borders, potential stay at migrant camps, potential regularization of status when arriving to a country, long term stays at countries of destination (or intermediate countries); and potential return to the country of origin. The figure below provides a high-level description of what is considered under each of the six steps.

It is worth noting that the steps in the path are rarely as distinct as detailed in this report. In reality the transition from one step to another is more fluid. For example, the country of destination may become a country of transition, or a country of transition become a country of destination.


Decision to migrate

Not report focus: Decision to migrate is made. (Support at this stage includes initiatives that make people more resilient at point of origin.)

1. First steps

First steps within country of origin. For the purposes of this report this stage includes preparatory steps to migrate across an international border, and does not include internally displaced populations (IDPs).


2. Border

Transitioning through to other countries by crossing international borders. For this report, this stage is considered as short-term stays at a country or border, with the intention to quickly continue the journey.

3. Migrant camp

Some migrants may spend some time at a migrant camp. The stays of migrants at migrant camps have different natures. Taking into consideration these varied characteristics, this report considers migrants who stay at a camp with the intention to be re-settled to a different country; migrants who stay at a camp until they can return to their country of origin; and migrants who stay at a camp until they settle into the country that hosts the camp.

Destination and return

4. Arrival

Some migrants may decide to regularize their status in the country. For this report, this stage considers the period between when a migrant arrives and when he/she receives a decision on the petition to regularize his/her status.

5. Long-term stay

For this report, this stage considers migrants living in a country with the intention to remain in the country indefinitely, to remain for a longer term and potentially migrate elsewhere, or to remain until they return home.

6. Return

Return is one of the possible phases of the migratory cycle. In this report, this step considers the journey from the destination country through to the country of origin; and re- settling into the country of origin.

Dimensions of a migrant’s needs

The study applied a resilience lens to provide a holistic view of migrants’ needs.

The IFRC believes that the best way to support migrants is by helping them to be resilient throughout their journey. A resilient individual is empowered; healthy; and has the knowledge, skills, competencies and mind-set to adapt to new situations and improve her/his life, and those of his/her family, friends and community. By being resilient, migrants will be able to better overcome the external shocks they might be exposed to during their journey. To be resilient, migrants need to have six intertwined dimensions of resilience addressed. These six dimensions are common irrespective of sex, age, ethnicity, disabilities and other factors, although the importance of each need will vary depending on a migrant’s personal characteristics and circumstances. The dimensions of resilience are detailed below.

Governance/regulatory systems

This includes all the laws, regulations and organizations on an international, national and local level that affect a society.

Financial capital

This includes access to financial capital including stable revenue streams as well as international assistance after a disaster; it is a critical mechanism for absorbing the impact of sudden shock.

Physical capital

This is the provision of and access to services, infrastructure and resources necessary for human survival. Examples include: clean water, food, healthcare (both physical and mental), shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene.

Human capital

This includes formal education; informal training in useful life skills, such as first aid and road safety; language training; practical information on trails and on how to remain safe; useful information such as on labour markets, cultural norms, etc.. It also includes information on rights, which allows people to survive unexpected events and rebuild their lives in different contexts, and information on services which helps migrants know what support is available to them.

Social capital

This refers to the prevalence of social norms, such as violence and child employment, as well as to the networks within each society which provide support to people. Examples include families, friends, volunteer networks and community groups. It includes maintaining family links, social acceptance by the community and cultural immersion programmes to help integration.


Natural capital

This is the level and quality of natural assets including the atmosphere, biodiversity, water, land, and forest. It is vital for the provision of ecosystem services, such as crop pollination and clean water, which humans need to survive.

This report uses the resilience lens to provide a comprehensive framework on the needs of migrants.

Types of smart practices

The study focused on four types of interventions that National Societies implement.


National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies provide humanitarian assistance to migrants, irrespective of their legal status, address their most pressing needs and respond to the most vulnerable groups. Such services include providing shelter and emergency accommodation, distributing essential items such as food parcels, hygiene kits and clothes, and delivering social and health services, along the migratory trails, and often at harbours and land borders.


National Societies, in collaboration with the ICRC and IFRC, develop protection activities that aim to protect lives, human well-being and secure respect for individuals. Protection aims to ensure that authorities and other actors respect their obligations and the rights of individuals in order to preserve the safety, physical integrity and dignity of migrants. This definition of protection also includes activities that seek to make individuals more secure and to limit the threats they face, by reducing their vulnerability and/or their exposure to risks. According to context, focus can be on immigration detention, restoring family links, and general rights awareness programmes and advice on particular legal entitlements.


National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies conduct a wide range of activities to foster the integration of migrants into local communities in line with Resolution 3 of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. These include language courses, support in accessing housing and the labour market, provision of vocational training or educational support for children and youth.

In their awareness-raising, National Societies promote rights of migrants, respect for diversity and counter intolerance, prejudice and discrimination through a series of positive imaging programmes. These focus on raising awareness among the local host population on the realities of the migrant experience and the challenges faced by migrants. These programmes also emphasize the value, talent and contribution that migrants can bring to society and the positive opportunities that global migration presents.


Experience suggests that advocacy can be used successfully to address key issues in meeting migrants’ humanitarian needs in a range of areas. These include securing access to all migrants; ensuring the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and other vulnerable migrants; developing strategies to address and respond to the humanitarian consequences of trafficking; improving detention conditions; improving the conditions and respecting the rights of asylum seekers whose claims were unsuccessful, and developing legal avenues for migration. Evidence also shows that advocacy in support of assistance is best focused on ensuring that relevant laws and procedures are in place to enable National Societies to enjoy effective and safe access to all migrants and on designing good procedures at borders to allow for the delivery of services, as agreed in Resolution 3 of the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Each need can be addressed through one or several types of responses.

National Societies can address needs through assistance, protection, awareness raising or advocacy. The table below shows the main type of support that generally addresses each dimension of resilience. The following chapters provide examples of how these types of support have been designed and implemented across the world by National Societies and other actors.

Inclusion criteria for smart practices

This report uses the principles of the IFRC Migration Policy to define a smart practice.

For this report, the IFRC Migration Policy was used to determine if an intervention should be included in the list of smart practices. The 10 principles can be grouped into three categories:

  • Design principles focus on ensuring that the needs, ambitions and rights of migrants are considered in a response.
  • Implementation principles focus on ensuring that responses are implemented effectively, for example through coordination, or by including migrants in existing programming.
  • Programme principles provide examples of desired types of response, such as assisting migrants to return.
    All smart practices focus on the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants (Principle 1) and are aligned with at least one other migrant- centred design principle (Principles 3 and 4) or an effective implementation principle (Principles 2, 5, 6 and 7). The smart practice might, in addition, be a type of response in a desired area (programmes). The figure below provides a summary of how smart practices need to be aligned with the different types of principles.

1. These three principles provide examples of types of response that National Societies should engage in.
NOTE. The numbers coincide with the numbering of the principles in the IFRC’s Migration Policy.
NOTE. Cost-effectiveness was not a criterion because of a lack of comparability across practices in terms of their benefits.