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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  IOM commends United States’ inclusion of migrants in COVID-19 vaccine roll-out

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.

READ  Gavi, IOM join forces to improve immunization coverage for migrants

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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UNHCR and IOM shocked and dismayed by deaths near Belarus-Poland border

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and are deeply saddened by the deaths of four individuals near the border between Poland and Belarus. The organizations express their condolences to the families of the deceased and are calling for an immediate investigation into this tragedy. The nationalities of the all the victims have yet to be confirmed but two Iraqi nationals reportedly died of hypothermia.

In recent months, groups of asylum-seekers and migrants have been transiting through Belarus, to seek asylum in neighbouring EU Member States – Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

The two agencies have been following with growing concern, reports of pushbacks of people at these borders. Groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services. Many were left in dire situations, exposed to the elements, suffering from hypothermia. Some were rescued from swamps.

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Recognizing the significant challenges posed by irregular movements, the agencies have called for the situation to be managed in accordance with international legal obligations, and for States to work collaboratively to resolve the situation, prioritising human rights.

UNHCR and IOM call for immediate access to those affected, in order to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially in light of the approaching winter.

While States have the sovereign right to manage their borders, this is not incompatible with the respect for human rights including the right to seek asylum. Pushbacks endanger lives and are illegal under international law.

UNHCR and IOM have been engaging with relevant authorities to explore various options for the people who continue to be stranded at borders; from access to asylum, family reunification procedures, and voluntary return for those found not to be in need of international protection.

IOM and UNHCR reiterate that asylum-seekers and migrants should never be used by States to achieve political ends. The fundamental responsibility to protect vulnerable people should be shared among States in a spirit of solidarity. Political disagreement on responsibilities must never result in the loss of life, forfeiting States international obligations and commitments.

READ  UNODC commends the government of Nigeria, NIMASA, Nigerian Navy for sustained efforts in the fight against maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea and Nigeria

 

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UNHCR calls on Libya to urgently develop plan for asylum seekers and refugees, welcomes authorization to restart evacuation

Libya. UNHCR provides assistance to asylum-seekers caught in crackdown

A refugee feeds her baby while waiting to receive assistance at an emergency distribution by UNHCR and partners in Tripoli, Libya.  © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today urged the Libyan government to immediately address the dire situation of asylumseekers and refugees in a humane and rights-based manner. Raids and arbitrary arrests by the authorities this month targeted areas largely  populated by refugees and asylumseekers that resulted in several deaths, thousands detained, and many homeless and destitute.

“Since the start of the security raids and arrests by the Libyan authorities in October, we have witnessed a sharp deterioration in the situation facing vulnerable asylumseekers and refugees in Tripoli,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean Situation. “The Libyan authorities must come up with a proper plan that respects their rights and identifies durable solutions.”

Some 3,000 people are currently sheltering outside the Community Day Centre (CDC) in Tripoli, where UNHCR and its partners have been providing medical assistance and other services. Their situation is very precarious. Many were affected by the raids, demolition of their homes, and have escaped from detention in terrible conditions. Others have joined the group hoping to be evacuated.

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“Many have been left homeless and lost all their belongings as a result of the security operation and are now sleeping in the cold and in a very unsafe environment. This is utterly unacceptable,” said Cochetel.

UNHCR and partners had to suspend operations at the Community Day Centre for security and safety reasons, but remain engaged in an active dialogue with representatives of the protesters outside the CDC to explain the limited assistance it can offer, including cash and food assistance.

Together with other UN agencies, UNHCR stands ready to support an urgent plan of action that could help alleviate the terrible suffering of asylumseekers and refugees in Libya. 

UNHCR continues to call on the authorities to respect the human rights and dignity of asylumseekers and refugees, stop their arbitrary arrest and release them from detention. 

The UN Refugee Agency has welcomed authorization to restart humanitarian evacuation flights, but warns that it is not enough. 

“This is a positive development for some of the most vulnerable refugees, who have been waiting anxiously for many months to depart. Our teams are already working to ensure humanitarian flights can restart as soon as possible,” said Cochetel “But we also need to be realistic: resettlement or evacuation flights will only benefit a limited number of people.”    

More than 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylumseekers are currently prioritised for humanitarian flights and awaiting their resumption. UNHCR continues to urge the international community to offer more legal pathways to safety outside Libya.

READ  IOM, UNHCR: Latest Mediterranean tragedy underscores need for search and rescue

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Free movement of people a top priority, say West African nations

Aligned migration policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons, says the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Photo: Fredrick Ejiga/IOM

Abuja – Free movement of people and goods, and fighting human trafficking should be top policy priorities, members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed at talks convened with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Network for Migration and the African Union.

Three days of consultations in Abuja this week offered the first chance for ECOWAS members to collectively assess progress in implementing the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) objectives and to decide key recommendations to be put to next year’s International Migration Review Forum.

Integrated migration governance should be a key goal and Ambrose Dery, Minister of Interior for Ghana, the Chair of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments, said it was essential African nations addressed trafficking in persons and its devastating consequences on migrants.

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“Vile stories on international media concerning migrant slavery, as well as mistreatment of young African domestic helps in some Gulf States, call for a reflection on appropriate actions to be taken with a view to finding a lasting solution to this persistent problem that leads to the loss of young Africans, without whom the continent cannot build a prosperous and peaceful future,” Dery said. “In Ghana, the contribution of migrants has played a great role in shaping our national development.”

Governments must address the root causes of trafficking and ensure the free movement of people in a safe, orderly and dignified manner. ECOWAS representatives emphasized the need to join forces and align approaches to prevent and counter smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons to promote rights-based management of migration.

The meeting, which ended Thursday, also heard that policies must be effectively applied by border officials to ease free movement while combatting trafficking in persons.

Aissata Kane, IOM’s Senior Regional Adviser for Sub Saharan Africa, said the Global Compact for Migration was a landmark, multilateral document. “It aims to catalyze and boost combined support and assistance for addressing legal and humanitarian challenges of migration and foster its positive social, cultural and economic dividends within and outside the ECOWAS region.”

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IOM has been working with all stakeholders at intergovernmental and national levels, as well as within the UN Network for Migration, to promote safe, orderly and dignified free movement of people and economic exchange among ECOWAS Member States.

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