The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) is a Vienna-based international organisation that has, for decades, quietly worked on the periphery of European Union borders. Yet with the appointment of a new director in 2015, that focus radically shifted, and ICMPD began aggressively expanding its operations. The organisation is now at the centre of EU border operations in nearly every country that borders the bloc.

An international team of journalists based in Spain, Italy, Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as researchers from the German transparency organisation FragDenStaat, documented ICMPD activities in a number of countries. What they found was alarming: 

  • In Morocco, ICMPD provided state security services with top-of-the-line surveillance technology, ostensibly for ¨fighting smugglers”, but civil society actors worry the same EU-funded technology could be used against activists, journalists and academics that are critical of the government or king.
  • In Libya, ICMPD has been a key European partner on issues of migration. Internal documentation, received via freedom of information requests, describes partnerships with the same Libyan authorities that have been accused by the United Nations Human Rights Office of a litany of human rights abuses against migrants and refugees.
  • In Bosnia, ICMPD is building a migration detention centre that civil society organisations worry will be used to facilitate legally questionable deportations. The organisation has also brokered bilateral meetings between Bosnian and non-European governments that critics worry could be used to bring about deportations.
  • In Tunisia, ICMPD is supplying technology and training to a coast guard that is accused of carrying out human rights abuses against migrants and refugees.
  • In Germany, ICMPD worked on a “digital refugee card” that would combine identity and payment documents for refugees in the southern region of Bavaria, alongside Jan Marsalek, the chief financial officer of financial services provider Wirecard, according to leaked emails. In 2020, Marsalek was accused of having a role in one of the largest fraud cases in European history and has been an international fugitive since. In response to questions, the Bavarian Ministry of Interior said it was still looking for another company to implement the project but gave no further information.


ICMPD operates for the European Commission under a funding scheme called “indirect management”, whereby EU work is outsourced to external agencies and the Commission isn’t involved in how projects are carried out. Critics argue that, by outsourcing this type of work, the European Commission seeks to avoid scrutiny and accountability for its actions.

And with the European Union’s ever-expanding spending on border policing, ICMPD’s work is growing fast.

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