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Europe

IOM steps up opportunities of voluntary return program

Many refugees experience disappointment when they arrive in the EU - or even before they reach European shores. A UN program helps to reintegrate them in their countries of origins - if they choose to return voluntarily.

Embarking on difficult migrant journeys to reach Europe often comes as a one-way ticket. Many of the refugees leaving their countries end up being stuck in situations they had never envisioned when they took off.

While there is a high number of migrants who suffer abuse in the hands of human traffickers, there also are others who finally manage to reach Italy or Greece where they then find themselves having to spend many months - sometimes years - in a bureaucratic quagmire that won't allow them to truly start a new chapter in their lives.

There are also those who never manage to reach Europe. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is related to the UN, provides a framework not only for safe return before tragedy strikes but also to help establish fresh opportunities in countries of origins.

"Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) is an indispensable part of a comprehensive approach to migration management aiming at orderly and humane return and reintegration of migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in host countries and wish to return voluntarily to their countries of origin," the IOM says about the initiative.

Safety for hundreds of thousands of migrants

An IOM study in 2015 found that living conditions in the country of destination of refugees played a major influence on the decision to return to their countries of origin (such as their legal status and having access to employment opportunities).

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No future for Afghan deportees

With backlogs of cases slowing down the processing of the vast majority of refugees, the AVRR program might provide a feasible alternative for many who had originally left their countries in order to seek better perspectives abroad but found that the grass simply wasn't any greener on the other side.

The list of beneficiaries of the AVRR program include migrants, whose asylum applications have been rejected, refugees who are finding themselves stranded in a foreign country, victims of human trafficking and those who may have special requirements - such as unaccompanied minors, disabled refugees and other vulnerable groups.

Having assisted more than 40,000 migrants each year in the last five years teaming up with the EU, the IOM has managed to significantly speed up its program and has returned more than 65,000 migrants to their home countries in the first quarter of 2017 alone.

Voluntary return

While more than a quarter of those AVRR cases came from Albania, there were close to 13,000 cases from Iraq and more than 7,000 cases from Afghanistan, highlighting the IOM's work in helping to combat the aftermath of war and conflict.

Focus on Nigeria

With record numbers of Nigerians embarking in Italy via Libya this year, the IOM hopes to shift part of its focus to creating incentives for Nigerians to return to their home country.

On July 20, IOM launched an initiative alongside the European Union Trust Fund (EUTF), which will assist about 3,800 Nigerian migrants to return and reintegrate into their communities. They will receive various forms of assistance to start businesses, study, or cover medical and accommodation costs after they return home from other countries.

Watch video 02:54

Traumatized Nigerian refugees return home

While in the next three years 3,000 Nigerian migrants are expected to partake in the program from other African countries, around 800 are projected to return to Nigeria from Europe. The initiative marks a substantial increase from previous numbers of those receiving assistance to return to Nigeria, with only 300 people choosing to voluntarily return last year.

But refugee numbers from Nigeria are sharply increasing: in May 2017 alone, more than 9,000 Nigerians arrived in Italy seeking refugee status. This is in addition to almost 30,000 who had arrived earlier since the beginning of 2016. The IOM says that more than 1.8 million people from Nigeria are trying to flee the country, with the majority trying to escape the Boko Haram terror group in the country's north.

The migration agency also said that in 2017, a total of 23 million people globally were actively involved in planning their migration to other nations - many on account of a lack of economic opportunities in their home nations. The IOM wants to curb such mass migrations by helping to establish better circumstances in countries with such high rates of emigration.

Alternatives back home

When refugees do decide to opt for voluntary return, they qualify for a host of benefits under the IOM's AVRR program, which they would not be able to enjoy as part of a potential forced removal. From full transport costs to health-related support, the IOM first makes sure that all the basic needs are covered before assessing sustainable ways to successfully reintegrate former migrants back in their communities. 

Reintegration also involves various forms of financial assistance as well as support from business partnerships, taking the needs of the local population into account as well. The organization works with a host of local and international groups, institutions and NGOs to facilitate the reintegration of refugees on the ground.

The IOM hopes to achieve a win-win situation for all involved this way, helping to prevent former migrants as well as other members of their communities from repeat migration. The IOM states its long-term aim as discouraging "irregular migration through sustainable work and dialogue at home."

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