European Dreams & African Nightmares: Failures of EU’s Voluntary Migrant Return Scheme

Written by | Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

Around 81,000 African migrants – 33,000 of them from Libya – have so far been returned to their home nation with the aid of the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) and paid for by the European Union, as part of the €357 million Joint Initiative called Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR). Along with a seat on a commercial or charter flight out of several transit nations, migrants are also promised cash, support and counselling to allow them to reintegrate in their home countries once they return. But an investigation conducted by Euronews journalists across seven African nations has uncovered massive failings in the programme, considered to be the EU’s flagship response to preventing migrants trying to get to Europe.
The investigation has found that most of the migrants who have been through the programme did not receive the promised support upon their return to their home country. And since even those who did receive financial support reported it was insufficient, it is hardly surprising that many of them are considering making a new break for Europe as soon as the chance arises. The IOM itself admits that only one-third of migrants who start the reintegration process actually complete the process. Many of those tens of thousands of migrants flown back from Libya had suffered detention, abuse and violence at the hands of people smugglers, militias and criminal gangs. Conditions are so bad in the north African country that the programme is called Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR), rather than the Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programme elsewhere in Africa. IOM’s own data on returnees to Sudan, mainly from Libya, reveal that only 766 out of over 2,600 have received economic support, blaming high rates of inflation and a shortage of both goods and cash in the market. Kwaku Arhin-Sam from the Friedensau Institute for Evaluation (FIFE), which focuses on the evaluation of development projects, estimates that half of the IOM reintegration programmes fail, saying that “most people are lost after a few days.”
As many as 80% of Nigerian women and girls – which are considered the most trafficked in the world – who are arriving in Europe from Nigeria by sea, were likely victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, in Italy or other EU countries. The IOM has also documented an increase in sexual abuse of girls and women in Libya, and a corresponding increase in the number of girls and women who arrived on Europe’s shores pregnant, having been raped while temporarily staying in Libya. But having escaped sexual abuse and violence in Libya, many women arriving home fell back into the cycle of exploitation in Nigeria while others said they received little support once they got home. Many women and girls said they struggled with depression, anxiety, insomnia, flashbacks and other physical ailments that have sometimes limited their ability to work effectively, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a recent report.

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