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Amid 2020 pandemic IOM supported over 2,500 migrants with voluntary return from Greece

Dudu and his family taking some selfie pictures before departing to Georgia. Photo: Konstantina Mintzoli/IOM
A family from Iraq receiving transportation assistance from IOM to the airport in Athens. Photo: Konstantina Mintzoli/IOM

Athens – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) supported the voluntary return of some 2,565 people from Greece to their home countries in 2020, in coordination with the Greek authorities and respective countries’ diplomatic representatives.

Amid hardships and challenges induced by COVID-19 in the past year—including mobility restrictions and closed borders—many migrants living in Greece expressed interest in returning voluntarily to their home countries.

“It is extremely important to be able to continue offering the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration support during this challenging period, as for many migrants, COVID-19 posed additional challenges to their stay in the EU,” explained Gianluca Rocco, Chief of the IOM Mission in Greece.

The 2,565 Returnees from Greece through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme originated from 46 countries, with the largest contingent (734 migrants) coming from Pakistan. This was followed by Georgia (529 migrants), Iraq (489), Afghanistan (188) and Iran (163). Thirty per cent of migrants assisted were males between the ages of 22 and 29.

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The number of returns fluctuated throughout 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, from 868 in the first quarter to 300 per month at the end of the year.  Since launched in Greece in 2010, IOM’s AVRR programme has assisted more than 50,000 people to voluntarily return to their home countries.

In 2020, IOM developed initiatives to overcome challenges, mitigate negative impact on migrants and ensure that Ministry of Health protocols were applied to all without discrimination. IOM medical teams provided assessments and medical examinations, including COVID-19 testing. In addition, relevant information was communicated through online outreach activities, and the dissemination of leaflets and posters to migrant communities. In parallel, helplines operating in 13 languages supported remote counselling as needed.

“We worked intensively with the Greek authorities and the Embassies of countries of origin to develop new cooperation mechanisms to overcome mobility restrictions and make the returns possible, particularly for the most vulnerable,” said IOM’s Rocco.

READ  Over 140 migrants perish in deadliest shipwreck of the year

IOM Greece also established an Online Scheduling Appointment (OSA) platform through which potential beneficiaries were able to book counselling appointments online.

When commercial flights were not available, IOM organized charter flights to Georgia and Iraq for 433 people in total in close collaboration with all relevant actors in Greece and the two destination countries.

Prior to their departure from Greece, migrants who applied for AVRR had the opportunity to access temporary accommodation facilities including the Open Centre for migrants (OCAVRR) in Athens.  IOM also provided a cash grant to cover returnees’ initial basic expenses after their departure.

Upon return, 1,008 migrants who qualified under the programme for in-kind reintegration assistance were able to use the support to set up small businesses (individually or in partnership), training programmes, temporary accommodation, job placements, medical support and material assistance.

IOM reiterates the importance of promoting the systematic inclusion of reintegration assistance as a force for stability in communities of return and as a bridge between migrant return and sustainable development.

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Download here for a snapshot view of the programme’s main 2020 highlights.

The project “The implementation of assisted voluntary returns including reintegration measures and operation of Open Center in the Prefecture of Attica for applicants of voluntary return (AVRR/OCAVRR)” is 75 per cent  co-funded by European Funds (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) and 25 per cent by Greek National Funds.

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IOM appeals for lifesaving assistance to over half a million displaced and vulnerable migrants in Niger

International Organisation of Migration (

Niger, one of the Sahel region’s busiest transit countries for migrants, faces multiple emergencies. COVID-19, ongoing security threats and generations of deeply embedded poverty have contributed to a growing humanitarian crisis, with over half a million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and their host communities in need of essential services. Another 135,000 vulnerable migrants also need assistance in Niger in 2021.

To be able to provide much-needed assistance, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today is appealing for USD 121 million to provide essential support to migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities in 2021.

Continuous returns of migrants from Algeria—as well as migratory movements through Niger, both to and from Algeria and Libya—leave migrants lacking shelter, food, water and health assistance. In addition to these essential humanitarian interventions IOM is equally committed to promoting stability and social cohesion between host communities, IDPs and migrants.

Despite the official closure of land borders since 19 March, migrants continue to travel to, through and out of Niger on longstanding migration routes mainly to Libya and Algeria. IOM assists stranded migrants through its humanitarian operations (on the border with Algeria) and with search and rescue operations in Niger’s northern Agadez region, after which many migrants receive assistance in one of IOM’s six transit centres in Niger.

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An IOM assessment last year concluded at least 2.7 million migrants were stranded unable to return to their country of residence by COVID-19 mobility restrictions.

“In 2020, IOM assisted more than 9,000 stranded migrants in Niger, the majority of whom were from countries in the West and Central Africa region,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM Niger’s Chief of Mission. “Many of these migrants have been supported with voluntary return to their respective countries of origin, despite the official closure of the borders, through a humanitarian corridor established with the Government of Niger.”

Over 2,100 returning Nigeriens were also assisted with their COVID-19 isolation and onward assistance to their areas of origin once they arrived in Niger. Official convoys for stranded Nigeriens have been organized from various countries in West Africa by other IOM offices in collaboration with Niger’s government, including its consular missions.

Some 3.8 million Nigeriens will need assistance in 2021 according to the Humanitarian Needs Overview released by the Humanitarian Country Team in Niger. IOM Niger plans to scale up its level of assistance in areas that have been affected by different crises, including natural disasters and insecurity as a result of increasing activity by violent extremist organizations in Niger.

READ  Stranded Nigerians celebrate as government lifts suspension on evacuation

IOM’s Global Crisis Response Platform provides an overview of IOM’s funding requirements in 2021 and beyond. The Platform is updated regularly.

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UNHCR appeals for immediate rescue of Rohingya refugees in distress on the Andaman Sea

This news comment is attributable Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
BANGKOK, Thailand – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees in distress on the Andaman Sea today.
UNHCR received reports of an unconfirmed number of Rohingya refugees aboard a vessel in distress as of the evening of Saturday 20th February. The refugees report having departed from Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf, Bangladesh, approximately ten days ago. Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours.
Refugees have told us that the vessel ran out of food and water several days ago, and that many of the passengers are ill. The vessel has reportedly been adrift since the engine broke down, more than a week ago. We have not been able to confirm the number of refugees or their precise location at this time.
In the absence of precise information as to the refugees’ location, we have alerted the authorities of the relevant maritime states of these reports and appealed for their swift assistance, should the vessel be found in their area of responsibility for search and rescue. Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy.
As always, saving lives must be the priority. In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status. We appeal to all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress.
UNHCR stands ready to support governments across the region in providing any necessary humanitarian assistance and quarantine measures in the coming days for those disembarked, in line with public health protocols.
The fact that refugees and migrants continue to undertake fatal journeys accentuates the need for immediate and collective regional response to search, rescue and disembarkation

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Migrants play key role in disaster response, IOM explores diaspora’s engagement in humanitarian assistance

Stronger diaspora coordination has the potential for better and more effective humanitarian assistance in countries affected by disasters. Photo: IOM/Muse Mohammed

Many people, when they consider the contributions of migrants to their countries of origin, think first of remittance flows —the billions of dollars travelling annually between high income, “developed” destination countries to lower income regions in the Global South.

For decades, remittance flows have been larger than total official development assistance levels in low- and middle-income countries, and more stable than private capital flows. In 2020, which experts forecast as a year when a global pandemic would decrease remittance levels globally, the decline was nowhere near as considerable as predicted. Migrant workers and diaspora members —many employed in essential services— continued to send money home. Mexico, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh all even saw rises in incoming remittances.

Yet, diasporas provide much more than financial support. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, diasporas have forged creative, transnational responses to support their communities in both their new countries of residence and those of origin. Diasporas provide supplies to hospitals; they equip communities with tutors and translators for school age children. They create helplines for families affected by the pandemic, developing campaigns to combat misinformation. And so much more.

READ  How Coronavirus impacts over 70million refugees

To increase the scope of humanitarian assistance around the globe, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has implemented a project aimed at developing and piloting a framework for diaspora engagement in humanitarian assistance.

In cooperation with the Haiti Renewal Alliance, IOM has begun conducting remote consultations with key actors worldwide. IOM also has launched a survey for diaspora organizations to explore best practices migrants can leverage to strengthen their engagement.

“The results of the survey will allow us to dissect the challenges and interests of Diaspora organizations when delivering assistance in their country of origin,” said Magalie Emile-Backer, co-founder of the Haiti Renewal Alliance, an organization actively working to integrate Diasporas in the humanitarian system.

This effort comes at a crucial time, when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic stretches resources for assistance.

“Diasporas’ engagement already is a critical component of humanitarian assistance, unlocking doors and knowledge that might not otherwise be available. Engagement contributes also to increasing communities’ resilience,” said Luca Dall’Oglio, IOM Chief of Mission in Washington, DC. “Diasporas’ involvement has the potential to further scale up all aspects of humanitarian response, preparedness and recovery matters.”

READ  Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide

Ecuador
Founded by Ecuadorians and Spaniards, the Rumiñahui Association supports the needs of the migrant community in Spain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of 30 experts stepped up to provide psychological assistance to migrants across Spain, especially to women who have been victims of gender-based violence. Additionally, the Rumiñahui Association coordinated with an organization in the United States to donate 5,000 food kits to vulnerable households in Ecuador.

Pakistan
The Pakistani Diaspora Health Initiative developed a digital platform where the Pakistani diaspora health community around the world register to provide online consultations. The organization also promotes webinars to share knowledge between local and overseas health professionals on the latest, evidence-based COVID-19 practices.
Closer coordination and cooperation with other humanitarian actors can maximize this potential. Funded by the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Affairs, the IOM project builds on several decades of work with diaspora communities. It aims to build the capacity of diasporas to better address disasters and to strengthen coordination with one another and with institutional humanitarian actors.

As seen during numerous man-made and natural disasters, diasporas have immense capacity for good. They can leverage their financial contributions, network with each other and offer technical skills and local area knowledge to quickly address humanitarian needs on the ground in communities of origin.

READ  Millions of future climate refugees may need protection, U.N. committee warns

After analyzing the survey results, IOM will join with partners to develop a framework for Diaspora engagement as well as a set of operational tools that diasporas and institutional actors can use across sectors and locations. With the right skills, resources and partnerships, diasporas can enhance humanitarian efforts, ultimately increasing the reach and support towards affected communities.

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