Back and Beyond: Portraits of Returned Migrants

The Hague (IOM)Back and Beyond takes a close look at IOM Netherlands’ Migrant Assistance work through six real-life portraits and an in-depth interview with one of the mission’s twenty counsellors.

Back and Beyond includes stories and many pictures produced by migrants themselves. It thus presents our beneficiaries and clients as masters of their destinies and decisions and it clearly illustrates there is no such thing as ‘THE migrant’ – all are different and in need of tailor-made support.

Having assisted a record 4,634 migrants with their voluntary return and reintegration in 2016, IOM NL’s AVRR team had worked under too much pressure to pay full attention to each migrant.

Following the closure of the Balkan route, the EU-Turkey agreement, changes in Dutch return policy and recent interceptions in Libya, the caseload fell to 1,532 in 2017. This has allowed the mission to provide 360-degree counselling again - as had been the practice in the years before 2016.

Given the voluntary nature of return, IOM counsellors are reaching out and in touch with many more migrants than those actually departing – the story “Under the Radar”, illustrates this well.

The mission emphasizes the importance of its predeparture counselling work also because in the wake of the last years’ mass arrivals, greater attention is now directed towards post-arrival assistance and reintegration facilities in the countries of origin.

This approach is more coherent and in many ways more logical than the current practice based on each destination country’s peculiar policies and divergent reintegration packages. At least in theory, this change would finally allow for fairer access to reintegration benefits for all returnees in a given country of origin, regardless from where they were returned.

Having directly assisted migrants and asylum seekers for more than 30 years, Martin Wyss, IOM Chief of Mission in the Netherlands cautions that the new focus on post-arrival assistance could eclipse the importance of IOM’s predeparture care: “Personal counselling is an essential part of Migrant Protection and Assistance in the Voluntary Return process. It is important to remember this now when there is a shift towards Post-Arrival Assistance in reaction to the recent record inflows.”

He concludes, “Our experience shows that jointly discussing the possible challenges with our clients is the best preparation for a smooth return and a successful reintegration. Our mission assists migrants 24/7 with a very personal and human touch. We expect that the six portraits and the interview convey this clearly to the readers and viewers of Back and Beyond.”

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Martin Wyss is IOM's Chief of Mission in The Netherlands