The International Organization for Migration
A point of reference in the heated global debate on the social, economic and political implications of migration in the 21st Century
“I must admit that watching refugee and migrant kids going to Greek schools for the first time, was one of the most heart-warming and moving experiences in my career.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), together with the Greek Asylum Service, contribute to the implementation of the Relocation Scheme, that begun in October 2015. Since the 2nd of November 2016, IOM’s mission in Greece has already ensured the safe relocation of 5,136 asylum seekers. Daniel Esdras, Chief of IOM’s mission in Greece, explains the significance of the programme and the crucial role of IOM Greece during this emergency situation in Greece.
GDL: One year after the first relocation flight, both the programme and the European Union have received a lot of criticism. What went wrong?
DE: So far, all stakeholders admit that numbers have not reached our expectations. Although, it is undoubtable that the Relocation Scheme is still on and everyone should stick to their role and fulfill their obligations. Last September’s data created a trend. It was the best month, since 1,134 asylum seekers have been relocated. This trend should go on and all European Member States should step up and make this programme work better and faster.
GDL: What is the exact role of IOM?
DE: IOM’s role is to make the relocation process as simple and smooth as possible and ensure the safe and dignified transfer to the EU Member States where beneficiaries are being relocated.
We conduct health assessments, ensuring a safe travel, organise pre-departure orientation sessions, carry out a pre-embarkation “fit to travel” health check prior to departure, and if necessary, escort beneficiaries during the flight. We naturally provide specialised services and care to unaccompanied minors and vulnerable groups. Through the whole procedure, IOM cultural mediators assist beneficiaries at all different stages.
GDL: A big number of beneficiaries have expressed their disappointment regarding the Relocation Country. Has the beneficiary the right to choose the relocation destination?
DE: It is crucial to clarify that beneficiaries do not have the right to choose the relocation country, nor does IOM. The core of the programme is based on the obligation of each EU Member State to send pledges and welcome the asylum seekers.
At this point, I would also like to underline the significance of the integration procedure. Relocating someone is a very important part of the agreement. But reassuring a safe home and a job position is a challenge that EU Member States should accept.
GDL: Apart from the Relocation Scheme, IOM Greece also contributes to the education programme for refugee and migrant children. What is the importance of this action?
DE: I must admit that watching refugee and migrant kids going to Greek schools for the first time, was one of the most heart-warming and moving experiences in my career.
The Greek education system opened its doors and with the contribution of the donor, DG ECHO of the European Union, approximately 1,000 children are going to school. IOM ensures the safe transportation of all pupils, by also providing them with the necessary school equipment. Education, especially during this difficult period, can certainly give a child a much-needed sense of normality.
GDL: Since 2010, IOM Greece helps third nationals to return to their home country. What are the results so far?
DE: Since the beginning of 2016, more than 5,000 third country nationals have returned to their country of origin with safety and dignity. Assisted voluntary returns and reintegration is a core activity of IOM and during the last six years, we have helped more than 30,000 third country nationals to return to their home.
Every day a lot of migrants visit our office asking to register to the programme, expressing also their willingness to go back to their families and restart a new life. The decision is 100% voluntary and the importance of this programme is that we provide a legal choice to those who are not eligible to apply for asylum.
After 65 years, the IOM is part of the United Nations
The IOM has seen its profile rise in recent years as migration has become a full-on megatrend. In the world, 1 in 7 people are migrants, with the surge of forced displacement casting a dark shadow over the reality of a world on the move. More people today are displaced from their homes – 65 million – than ever before in history. As such, it recently joined the United Nations as a related organisation.
IOM, or as it was first known, the Provisional Intergovernmental Committee for the Movement of Migrants from Europe (PICMME), was born in 1951 out of the chaos and displacement of Western Europe following WWII.
Mandated to help European governments to identify resettlement countries for the estimated 11 million people uprooted by the war, it arranged transport for nearly a million migrants during the 1950s.
A succession of name changes from PICMME to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) in 1952, to the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) in 1980 to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 1989, reflects the organization’s transition over half a century from logistics agency to migration agency.
While IOM’s history tracks the man-made and natural disasters of the past half century – Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Chile 1973, the Vietnamese Boat People 1975, Kuwait 1990, Kosovo and Timor 1999, and the Asian tsunami and Pakistan earthquake of 2004/2005 – its credo that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society has steadily gained international acceptance.
From its roots as an operational logistics agency, it has broadened its scope to become the leading international agency working with governments and civil society to advance the understanding of migration issues, encourage social and economic development through migration, and uphold the human dignity and well-being of migrants.
The broader scope of activities has been matched by rapid expansion from a relatively small agency into one with an annual operating budget of an estimated $1.4 billion and some 9,000 staff working in over 150 countries worldwide. IOM currently has 165 Member States and a further eight states holding Observer Status.
As ‘The Migration Agency’, IOM has become the point of reference in the heated global debate on the social, economic and political implications of migration in the 21st Century.