IOM, the UN Migration Agency, announced today (13/03) that it has assisted 10,171 migrants to return home safely from Libya with support from the European Union, African Union, and the Libyan Government since the scale up of Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) from the country started on 28 November last year.
Another 5,200 migrants have returned with the support of African Union member states in the same period. Some 23,302 migrants have returned through IOM’s VHR programme since January 2017.
“We are continuing to assist migrants inside Libyan detention centres, while increasing efforts to reach stranded migrants outside of detention,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission.
“Since the expansion of our VHR operation, the number of migrants in official detention centres have dropped from an estimated 20,000 people in October 2017 to 4,000 people today, a five-fold decrease. IOM in Libya is also working with the authorities to register migrants, provide lifesaving assistance in the form of health care and essential aid items, psychosocial support, improve consular services and projects promoting community stabilization,” said Belbeisi.
Nearly half of voluntary humanitarian returns carried out by IOM from Libya are part of a larger EU-IOM initiative to protect and assist migrants in need not only in Libya but in 26 countries along the Central Mediterranean Route. This includes crucial support for reintegration of returnees in countries of origin.
Launched in December 2016, with additional funding from Germany and Italy through the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), the EU-IOM Joint Initiative on Migrant Protection and Reintegration is active in Libya and countries in North Africa, the Sahel and Lake Chad region, and the Horn of Africa.
Together with its partners, IOM has been scaling up activities in countries of origin to meet the surge in returns from Libya and ensure that returning migrants receive appropriate assistance upon arrival as well as longer-term support to adjust to life and re-establish themselves in their communities. Reintegration assistance is also available through the programme for those assisted to return from European Union member states.
IOM Regional Director for the EU, Eugenio Ambrosi, said that the huge protection needs and the scale of returns in the last few months under the VHR operation have overtaken initial planning and pose some additional challenges for countries of origin. He cautioned that the reintegration process is complex and requires time.
“We are embarking on a completely new approach to reintegration and we believe in it. It will take some time to build, and in cooperation with authorities in countries of origin and the local communities, we are already seeing promising developments,” said Ambrosi.
“The Joint Initiative, in partnership with the governments of countries of origin and the African Union, aims to make sure that the migration process is safer, and that returning migrants can get back to their countries of origin safely and re-establish their lives without the feeling that they are a burden for their communities and families,” said IOM Regional Director for West Africa, Richard Danziger.
He cautioned, however, that many returnees from Libya are traumatized after having suffered unspeakable abuses, and so their immediate medical and psychosocial needs have taken priority.
The new, integrated approach to reintegration combines support for returning migrants and their home communities. It aims to mitigate possible tensions at home for returnees by involving local communities in the reintegration process and raising awareness to address potential stigma of return. For this reason, capacity building, systems strengthening, social, psychosocial, and community-based aspects are being built into the programme.