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26th May 2019

Libya return demand triggers reintegration headaches

  • The IOM has helped return some 20,000 from Libya to their home countries last year (Photo: unsmil.unmissions.org)

Around 20,000 people left Libya for their home countries last year under an EU funded programme. But the project had planned for a far fewer, triggering problems for some returned.

Run by the Geneva-based International Organisation for the Migration (IOM), the programme aims to provide migrants stuck in Libya with opportunities once back in their home communities. Such efforts are meant to help people rebuild their lives - also known reintegration assistance.

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In 2017, it planned to help 5,000 leave the war-torn country, but ended up with four times that number.

"This means that the strain on the assistance to integration of the country of origin has been particularly high because of the success, paradoxically of the return operation," said Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM's Europe director, on Monday (12 February).

"We had to try, and we are still trying, to scale up the reintegration assistance," he said.

The IOM says it is helping people who have volunteered to leave Libya, a country plagued by conflict, slavery and host to dozens of prison-like detention centres.

Libya is the main staging point for people from across Africa and other conflict-ridden areas in their effort to seek refuge in Europe. Last year, around 119,000 disembarked from its coastline to reach Italy by boat.

Those caught at sea by the EU-trained Libyan coastguard are sent back to the country where they face abuse. Estimates put the figure of people detained in Libyan centres at around 20,000, or a three to four-fold increase when compared to late last year. Those figures have since dropped again to below 5,000, according to Libyan authorities.

Some of those detained are released to the IOM and sent home where they are helped.

The organisation says it seeks to tailor long-term needs for each individual person, in the hope that it will also benefit the wider home community.

Since November, It has stepped up operations, along with the African Union, and helped 8,581 up until earlier this month. Altogether some 13,500 were helped given that some were also assisted by African Union states. Most ended up in Nigeria, followed by Mali and Guinea.

Mixed integration bag

People are returned to their home countries in four ways. Three are voluntary and one is forced. The mixed bag is causing headaches for people who end up in the same community but with entirely different integration approaches.

"The level of assistance and the type of reintegration assistance that these different programmes offer is not the same," noted Ambrosi.

Among the most long-term support options is the IOM's voluntary scheme, which is entirely funded by the EU trust fund for Africa and was launched in 2015. The programme is said to offer individual and community-based solutions crafted alongside input from local authorities.

Second, the IOM also helps carry out voluntary returns from individual member states, often financed through the EU's asylum, migration and integration fund (Amif).

Such returns are also often designed and decided upon by interior ministries, and generally have different goals than those crafted by development agencies.

Third, member states have their own direct individual return and reintegration programmes run by other institutions. The fourth option is forced return.

Money woes

Some EU states will offer in-kind support, used to set up a business, training or other similar activities. Others tailor their schemes for different countries of origin.

Some others offer cash handouts, but even those differ vastly.

Sweden, according to a 2015 European Commission report, is the most generous when it comes to cash offered to people under its voluntary return programme.

It noted that in 2014, the maximum amount of the in-cash allowance at the point of departure/after arrival varied from €40 in the Czech Republic and €50 in Portugal to €3,750 in Norway for a minor and €3,300 in Sweden for an adult.

Anti-migrant Hungary gave more (€500) than Italy (€400), the Netherlands (€300) and Belgium (€250).

However, such comparisons on cash assistance does not reveal the full scope of help given that some of the countries also provide in-kind reintegration support.

This article was updated on Wednesday (14 February) at 12:55 to reflect the differences between integration and reintegration. It also added that the number of people detained in the Libyan centres have dropped. It noted that the total returns since November was 13,500 and that the cash comparisons do not reveal the full range of support.

Frontex naval operation to look for 'foreign fighters'

The EU border and coast guard agency, or Frontex, has launched a new naval operation called Themis. The operation replaces its surveillance Triton mission but with a bigger emphasis on security and intelligence gathering.

EU anti-slavery mission in Libya at risk, UN says

Karmen Sakhr, who oversees the North Africa unit at the UN refugee agency, told MEPs that Niger may stop accepting people from Libya if EU states don't take in more refugees.

Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant

Niger has temporarily stopped all evacuations from Libya detention centres under an EU funded programme because so few are being resettled to Europe. Many of those that have been evacuated are pregnant, with some asking for HIV testing.

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