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Sander IJmker, alumnus MA International Relations and International Organization

Sander IJmker
Sander IJmker

After finalizing his Master in International Relations, RUG alumnus Sander IJmker moved to The Hague and now works as Project Assistant at the International Organization for Migration (IOM – the UN Migration Agency) country office in the Netherlands. He talks about his work and how his studies and time at the University of Groningen contributed to his current position.

“IOM has offices in most UN Member States, and the Dutch main office is located in The Hague. The Dutch office is actively involved with various projects across different areas related to the management of migration. My primary responsibilities are within the ‘Migrant Training, Resettlement and Integration’ unit which focusses on projects supporting the travel of (prospective) refugees to the Netherlands and on integration projects for permit holders (recognized refugees).”

“In January 2016 I started as an intern on the Skills2Work project, a labour market integration project led by IOM NL and implemented in nine EU countries. After six months I had the opportunity to continue working for IOM NL under a regular contract. My activities switched to our Family Reunification project and to the VOORwerk project, with COA and the Foundation for Refugee Students UAF, which helps refugees in reception centers (azc’s) to better prepare for the Dutch labour market.”

“Currently, I’m still active as focal point for the Family Reunification project where we support family members of refugees who travel to the Netherlands for family reunification. And since late 2016 I have been working on the Relocation project, which is currently in its final phase. Within the Relocation project we cooperated closely with the Dutch government and our colleagues in Athens and Rome to facilitate the movements of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to the Netherlands under the EU solidarity mechanism that came into effect in the summer of 2015.”

Describe an average working day

“The average working day varies quite a bit. Most of the time I am communicating via email and phone with colleagues from around the world to make sure the migrants we support arrive in the Netherlands safely and that our projects run smoothly. For Family Reunification cases I’m regularly in touch with colleagues in Ethiopia, Libya, Lebanon, Sudan, and various other countries. For the Relocation project I was constantly corresponding with the colleagues in Rome and Athens. Similarly, I am in touch daily with our partners in NL at organizations such as COA, IND, and VWN.”

“In addition to the day-to-day operational aspects, the work at IOM includes networking efforts and relationship building with partner organizations large and small. All activities at IOM are fully projectized, which means we are constantly on the lookout for new partnerships and developing project proposals e.g. for European Commission funds.”

In what ways does your current position connect to your studies?


“I have always had an interest in how countries interact with each other, and was fascinated particularly by questions of fairness or responsibilities between countries e.g. with different levels of development. The discipline of International Relations of course ties into that very well, and for me particularly so as my time as MA student coincided with the advent of what was later called the ‘refugee crisis’. The increased influx of refugees, and the European response, later became the subject of my MA thesis.

As the situation around the Mediterranean became more acute over the course of 2015 my interest in the topic solidified, and after finalizing my studies I moved to The Hague where I first worked as research volunteer for The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration. Later, in the final months of 2015, I volunteered with VWN at an emergency reception center in The Hague to support newly arrived refugees with their Family Reunification applications. I think that this first volunteer experience has definitely helped me to get into the IOM internship and my subsequent position as Project Assistant.”

What are your ambitions?

“For now I am very comfortable at IOM in The Hague where I’m still learning a lot and can look forward to new activities and responsibilities within our ever changing portfolio of projects over the course of 2018. A little further down the line I hope to expand on the first international experiences I acquired with an exchange semester during my BA and internship abroad during my MA. Whether this will be within or outside of IOM remains to be seen, but the regularly available opportunities within IOM to work abroad either short or long term definitely are appealing.”

“For me the bottom line is that I want to keep doing work that is meaningful and contributes in some way to improve the lives of others, and where I can continue working with a great team and to keep learning. I have never had a 10-year plan but I am sure many interesting opportunities lie ahead.”


Last modified:16 May 2019 2.47 p.m.
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