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Challenging return as the preferred solution to internal displacement

International Organisation of Migration (

Increased attention to the plight of returnees is highly necessary to promote renewed insights and challenge the dominant discourse on return as the ‘preferred durable solution’.

Bangui – Forced displacement is undoubtedly a life-changing event. While the often-traumatic experience of displacement cannot be undone, the possibility to return to locations of origin in a safe, dignified and sustainable manner can bring hope and alleviate suffering after displacement.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), along with governments and other international organizations, supports three traditional durable solutions for internally displaced persons – which comprise voluntary return and reintegration, local integration and resettlement or settlement elsewhere.

Voluntary return to locations of origin is widely portrayed by the humanitarian community and governments alike as the ‘preferred’ durable solution to forced displacement.

However, the reality often illustrates the great complexity of the return process. Return movements go hand in hand with a wide variety of psychosocial and economic challenges that can have important implications for post-conflict reconciliation and community recovery.

Numerous returnees struggle to achieve any durable solution and even after return, the vulnerabilities they faced while living in displacement continue to persist. The return process does not end in the act of arriving back home, but ultimately implies yet another complicated and lengthy adaptation and reintegration process.

A comprehensive approach and new understandings of displacement are needed to replace overly narrow interpretations of return as a durable solution to forced displacement. National governments, the humanitarian community and development actors play a crucial role in developing new ways of understanding return as a solution to forced displacement. Therefore, it is essential to allow the highly complex dynamics of the return process enter ongoing debates and to agree on collective outcomes based on context-specific approaches and creative alternatives to traditional concepts.

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A more holistic and inclusive approach to return and reintegration could be one such alternative. The return of displaced populations cannot be understood as assisting returnees in areas ‘where they belong’.

What it means to return ‘home’ – and ensuring people’s rights to do so – remains largely under-examined, and tend to be far more complex than the traditional definition of durable solutions implies. The return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees to locations of origin is not a natural or logical outcome in most post-conflict situations, nor does it have to mark a moment in time where mobility ends.

The assistance and protection of returnees is rather approached as a concept that is not reducible to categories of populations or geographical locations. The humanitarian fixation to transform the returnee population into residents is falsely assuming that uprooted individuals need to be restored in their soil of origin for the return movement to be successful. This idea precludes potential coping strategies and solutions that diverge from the standard durable solutions framework such as pendular movements between locations of origin and locations of displacement, or labour migration.

READ  Over 6,000 stranded migrants assisted back home through EU support

The use of established definitions to identify groups of displacement-affected individuals is undoubtedly useful to track populations and quantify movements.

However, in terms of durable solutions, the adoption of such instrumental language often consolidates identities and camouflages the blurred distinctions and common vulnerabilities between the individuals behind those labels. Returnees, members of host communities and resident populations often share similar needs. In order to enhance social cohesion, solutions are found in comprehensive development policies and inclusive community-centered approaches.

Rather than the connection with territorial space, the notion of home is marked by the social dynamic between an individual and their environment. This environment may be defined by security, participation, meaningful lives, livelihoods and sense of belonging. It is an on-going process, nurtured by identity that combines understandings of the past, experiences of the present and prospects of the future.

In order to establish conditions to restore the notion of home and efficiently protect and assist the returnee population, measuring the indicators defining the concept of home at the community level is of crucial importance.

Therefore, in different contexts such as Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic, IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) is increasingly shifting its attention to the plight of returnees and is redefining its assessment tools in order to respond effectively to the humanitarian and development needs in areas of high return. This will allow IOM and partners to assess the quality of return movements, plan resources and operations, and design coherent interventions linking humanitarian, recovery and stabilization activities.

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Moving forward, interventions and policies should be increasingly cautious of overly narrow interpretations of return as a durable solution and allow variations and modifications based on a combination of context-specific indicators. This can be achieved by a conversation on return movements that ensures active participation of both displaced populations and host communities and is based on the understanding that the status quo ante is rarely, if never, recreated.

This article was written by Kristof Orlans of IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  Covid-19: IOM supports health actors, builds  90 quarantine shelters in Nigeria

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

READ  The stories of migrants risking everything for a better life

UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

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Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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