With over 3,500 migrants rescued from the desert and 15,000 assisted in returning home from dire situations across the Central Mediterranean routes, the first year of the European Union (EU) - International Organization for Migration (IOM) joint initiative has yielded substantive results. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Launched in December 2016 with an initial budget of €140 million, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration is a first in responding to the needs of stranded and vulnerable migrants across the Central Mediterranean migration routes, encompassing the Sahel region and Libya. The partnership serves a threefold purpose: saving lives by assisting those en route, offering voluntary return assistance to those who want it – especially from transit countries – and providing reintegration support to returning migrants and their communities.
The joint initiative is funded by the European Union through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), set up during the Valetta Summit on migration in November 2015. With a total of fourteen countries across West and North Africa targeted, the partnership forms a concrete response to the priorities laid out in the Valetta Plan of Action, grounded in an acknowledgment of a shared responsibility over migration between countries of destination, transit and origin.
The objectives of the initiative are defined jointly with IOM and in collaboration with the partner governments of the Sahel region. The initiative was designed for an initial 36-month period, during which capacity building activities will also support regional and local actors to take greater leadership in migration governance.
"The main drive of our work in the joint initiative is to strengthen mechanisms to protect and assist migrants all along the migration routes, making sure that the migration process is safer and better managed and that migrant rights are respected," said Carla Montesi, Director for West and Central Africa at the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO). "We need to develop strategies to be able to ensure an orderly, planned, and informed migration."
Indeed, interviews with beneficiaries of the programme were compiled in IOM’s short film on the programme’s results, Issalam Taret, screened on the anniversary of the project. The footage indicates that many migrants would not have chosen to embark on the journey if, from the outset, they had been provided accurate information on the risks and realities it entailed. The IOM-produced Wallah – Je te jure lays out similar insights into the plight of migrants travelling from West Africa to Italy.
The joint initiative aims to present accurate information on migration and return to migrants, their host societies and communities of origin. While geared in part towards sharing information about the risks of irregular migration, it further provides information on the possibilities of regular migration, and aims to foster better understanding between migrants/returnees and their societies. Further sensitisation projects have included outreach to more than 53,000 beneficiaries in Niger, including explanations of trafficking risks and European migration laws.
A way home
One of the programme’s major successes has been the provision of assisted voluntary returns for nearly 15,000 migrants identified along migratory routes, presenting an important protection measure for those faced with the dangers of the road and no easy way back.
Montesi explained that the notion of returning home is seen as a defeat for many migrants, who have undergone difficult and often traumatic journeys, while having invested significant funds to reach their destinations.
To mediate these difficulties, to date, the partnership has provided reintegration support to over 12,000 migrants and their host communities, in an attempt to address the drivers of irregular migration. From investing in vocational training to assisting returned migrants in setting up businesses, the programme aims to facilitate another 15,000 returns over the next six-month period.
“It’s important to have a global and coordinated vision to keep funds centrally-managed, and to prevent poorly organised activities and a lack of coherence,” Montesi said, underscoring the joint role IOM has played in implementing the project.
Other partners, including local NGOs, UNHCR and partner governments, have further played key roles in helping with reintegration projects, she added, emphasising the need for effective collaboration in continuing to meet the programme's objectives.
For Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM Regional Director for the EU, Norway and Switzerland, the joint initiative has had wide-ranging impacts. “The first result is that we’ve managed to design and put in motion a comprehensive approach that tackles key issues and migration priorities at the same time,” he explained.
According to Ambrosi, the programme is a shift from using returns as a way of managing migration flows to supporting local development. “This is an important strategic move that needs to be expanded and consolidated,” he said.
“Successful policy must be measured on ensuring migrants’ rights and increasing their protection and well-being”.
“The pace of return has been a big challenge because the whole structure of the programme was designed for a certain pace, and we had to adjust to a large extent to a pace that has been two to three times higher than what was initially foreseen,” said Ambrosi, when asked if any of the programmes results came as a surprise.
“The key is to provide alternatives for people moving irregularly to Europe, not to solely achieve a reduction in arrival numbers; rather, successful policy must be measured on ensuring migrants’ rights and increasing their protection and well-being,” he said.
While the initiative has largely been a success, it is clear that many challenges remain to be addressed due to the complex nature of migration flows in the region and the number of actors involved in Africa.
“There are common strategic lines of implementation, but these have to be specified in the national context, so that each country has a specific national plan. This is a complication because you have to put together a variety of different needs and priorities at the country level,” Ambrosi said.
“Countries of origin may be coming out of political crises, such as the Gambia, or have problems with local infrastructure,” he added, emphasising the need for coherence moving forward.
“You don’t want to create additional pressures in some countries of origin which could result in further irregular and unsafe movement, either regionally or towards Europe.”
According to Ambrosi, the immediate priority is to strengthen the reintegration component of the joint initiative. Over the longer term, he explained, national capacity building will be needed to ensure the sustainability of programme, while continuing to consolidate the community-based reintegration approach.
Montesi expressed that working with the IOM represents a growing partnership and that the resources needed to meet the challenges should be revised accordingly.
In addition to the challenges highlighted by Ambrosi, moving forward will require closer cooperation with governments in facilitating return flights and obtaining proper identification for national citizens, according to Roland Sourd, Manager of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa for the Sahel and Lake Chad region at DEVCO.
“As long as the humanitarian situation remains unchanged and migration flows remain what they are, the project will continue”
Some protection needs have remained unmet, Sourd explained, though there are solutions in the pipeline that the EU and IOM hope to implement over the coming months. Access issues and compliance of national authorities in some transit countries with human rights principles and adequate treatment of migrants, along with increased access to Libyan detention centres, remain of prime importance.
“As long as the humanitarian situation remains unchanged and migration flows remain what they are, the project will continue,” Sourd said, when asked about the longer term prospect of collaboration in the region.
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