Myth number 3: The IOM help migrants who want to return home voluntarily

IOM Myths Busted

  • Myth number 3: The IOM help migrants who want to return home voluntarily

Dubious. The voluntary nature of the IOM’s return programs is highly questionable. A brief history is summarised by Rony Erez:

“In 1979, at the request of the West German government, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) created the first European voluntary return programme, to assist asylum seekers in leaving Germany and returning to their country of origin. Since then, the number and scope of IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programmes in Europe has increased dramatically, with programmes now operating in most EU states, targeting irregular migrants, refugees and unsuccessful asylum seekers. These programmes are designed to enable these migrant categories to return to their home countries voluntarily, while providing assistance ranging from arrangement and purchasing of transportation, to provision of reintegration assistance

The first IOM AVR programme in the UK began in 1999, at which time return assistance was restricted to obtaining travel documents and the provision of transportation. IOM has been running this programme in the UK since then, although it has recently been taken over by the charity Refugee Action in 2010″.

The IOM worked inside migrant detention centres in Britain where all detainees face forcible deportation or continued confinement. In this desperate environment, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) paid the IOM to offer detainees ‘voluntary’ return packages. This would include help with finding accommodation or work in their country of origin. However, anecdotal evidence heard by the author suggests the IOM often failed to honour their side of the bargain. A Malawian asylum-seeker detained at Yarl’s Wood who returned ‘voluntarily’ in 2009 reported that IOM only paid the first of several installments before her resettlement package evaporated. In another case, forms were signed in conditions of severe duress. A Nigerian man with mental health problems who was detained in Colnbrook for over a year signed voluntary return forms when he was put in solitary confinement for several days, with no reason for his isolation given by the detention custody officers.

Frances Weber, at the Institute of Race Relations, has slammed the notion of ‘voluntary’ returns:

“Repatriation cannot be termed ‘voluntary’ where the alternative is utter destitution, with denial of accommodation, basic support and the opportunity to work, or the prospect of children being taken into care, or months or years in detention. Nor can it be ‘voluntary’ where the prospect of obtaining recognition as a refugee has become remote because the system for the determination of asylum claims and appeals is deliberately under-funded, depriving increasing numbers of asylum seekers of any legal representation for this supremely important legal decision.”

The British State have also benefited by using the IOM’s voluntary return programs to publicise countries as safe destinations before the UKBA began forced removals by charter flights to some of the most war-torn places on earth, as was the case in the sequence of returns to Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.


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