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  • Our history

International Social Service was founded in 1924 after the trauma of the First World War. The huge numbers of people fleeing Europe for the United States lead our organisation to concentrate on helping migrants, families and children right from the start.

ISS began building a transnational network so families separated across different continents could re-establish links.



In 1932, our non-governmental organisation opened its first office in Switzerland and ISS Switzerland was born.


It was only after the Second World War that our activities became truly international in scope. Following the conflict, from which barely any world region escaped, thousands of children found themselves completely isolated and separated from their families. ISS was asked to provide its family tracing services in the numerous refugee camps.

This is when the concept of a child’s best interests emerged.

In the post-war period, ISS shared its expertise, for example, by training staff from the International Refugee Organization (IRO) which would later become the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).



In the seventies, we began to work in Latin America, helping those fleeing dictatorships in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

During the Vietnam War, we were in Asia to assist the Vietnamese arriving en masse in Hong Kong to escape the Pol Pot regime.

ISS was becoming increasingly renowned for its activities and in 1957 was invited to be part of a group of experts working to define twelve key principles to provide a framework for international adoptions.



In 1979, our organisation was involved in writing the text of the Hague Convention on child abduction adopted in 1980.


ISS continues to work on child migration issues by publishing a manual titled Children on the Move - From Protection towards a quality sustainable solution. In this practical guide aimed at professionals, the ISS features the key points of cases worked on and its advocacy work on behalf of child migrants.

ISS has also been actively involved in alternative care, including organising an international conference on the subject together with the International Institute for the Rights of the Child (IDE) and the Centre for Children's Rights Studies (CIDE) at the University of Geneva. ISS Switzerland, ISS West Africa and our General Secretariat took part through round table discussions, conference speeches and various stands presenting the organisation's activities.

ISS also collaborates in its areas of expertise with many international bodies which are part of the United Nations.