The EU-IOM Joint Initiative: Putting the Valletta Plan into Action in Africa
At the Valletta Summit on Migration in November 2015, European and African Heads of State and Government recognised the need to address the challenges and opportunities of migration in Africa in a spirit of solidarity, partnership and shared responsibility. The bar was set high with the Summit’s crowning output: the Valletta Action Plan. Naturally, partners at the table were united in their conviction that agreed actions should translate into contrete results and practice. So what has happened in the three years since the Summit?
On migration, one prominent step has been the launch of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in December 2016 with funding from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative is the first comprehensive programme bringing African countries, the International Organization for Migration and the European Union together around the shared aim of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed, and better governed.
One of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative’s most essential contributions towards fulfilling the priority domains of the Joint Valletta Action Plan has been the strong commitment and engagement of African partner countries in facilitating return and reintegration assistance. Here, the progress achieved through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative in providing protection and assistance to migrants in vulnerable situations as well as to their communities demonstrates that trilateral partnership between African states, the European Union, and the International Organization for Migration is leading to concrete action and tangible results.
Supporting returning migrants: A Strong Partnership with African partner countries
Given the dire situation and inhumane treatment of migrants in Libya, the EU-AU-UN Task Force announced, at the AU-EU Summit of Abidjan in 2017, joint action to accelerate the voluntary humanitarian return of stranded and detained migrants in Libya. In this emergency context, more than 5,000 migrants were able to return with the support of Niger, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo during a scale-up operation from end of November 2017 to February 2018.
Around 90% of the migrants approaching IOM for assistance in Libya and more than half of those assisted in Niger had no valid travel documents allowing them to return to their countries of origin. Facilitating timely access to consular services is critical for migrants who are often stranded in difficult conditions, particularly for those in detention. Strengthening capacities and reinforcing consular procedures is also a key priority for partner states to ensure that travel document issuance processes are secure.
IOM has supported consular visits with embassy representatives of countries of origin to migrant detention centres in Libya and countries along the Southern migration route from the Horn of Africa, as well as to IOM transit centres in Niger and Djibouti. These visits have direct outcomes for migrants and have increased the number of vulnerable migrants who have been able to return to Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. These visits also served to identify priority areas for capacity development.
Reintegrating returnees from Libya and elsewhere is a key concern for governments in countries of origin. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative supports these efforts by strengthening national systems and coordination for reintegration support in a spirit of ownership and sustainability.
African partner countries in turn are investing both financial and human resources in the reintegration of their nationals. Crucially, they are providing direct assistance to stranded migrants in transit and receiving returnees upon their arrival, providing temporary accomodation, medical assistance, food, and non-food items.
In Mali for example, the Protection Civile is mandated to provide relief and assistance to migrants andreturnees, according to Lieutenant Mahamadou Telly, who is responsible for assisting migrants at the Reception and Transit Centre of the Protection Civile in Sogoniko, Mali. Moved by his work, he describes the difficult conditions for migrants:
“There are often young boys who are completely uprooted and who are assisted by IOM. They do not know where their parents are and where their village is located. There are women who arrive with babies and who do not know what to do and where to go.”
Government representatives across the countries where the EU-IOM Joint Initiative is being put into practice are counselling returnees, assessing their reintegration plans, and providing reintegration assistance to returnees, together with other local partners. Local partners are also demonstrating strong leadership with the establishment of community-based reintegration projects under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, As of September 2018, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative assisted more than 38,500 stranded migrants to return to their countries of origin and has been supporting more than 52,300 migrants with post-arrival reception and reintegration assistance after their return.
What are the top priorities for joint migration governance on the road ahead?
The Valletta Summit in 2015 and the Joint Valletta Action Plan need to be seen as important steps towards harnessing the opportunities and addressing the challenges of migration in Africa. But we are not there yet. Three years on, it is important to re-emphasize that the priorities set out in the Joint Valletta Action Plan need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner and with equal weight.
The frequently dire situations and deaths of migrants along migration routes in Africa and the Mediterranean continue to call for joint action. Eugenio Ambrosi, Chief of Staff to the IOM Director General, explains that while return assistance can constitute an important protection measure for migrants who find themselves stranded along the routes and suffer serious human rights violations, there is no doubt that unless more committed efforts in opening more pathways for regular migration are undertaken, migrants will continue to engage in irregular migration pathways which leave them vulnerable to various types of abuse.
“Perilous irregular migration is in no one’s interest, yet not all migration issues can be addressed through the lens of stemming irregular migration. We need a balance,” said Ambrosi.
“Furthermore, migration and mobility dynamics must be integrated into development approaches, not put in opposition. Migration should not be seen as a problem to be resolved with development cooperation but as a key factor that can also contribute to development and growth,” he added.
The endorsement of the AU Free Movement of Persons Protocol by Member States, along with existing regional free movement protocols, is a significant advance towards ensuring that migration is safe, orderly and regular within the African continent. This will not only contribute to safeguarding the economic and social rights of African migrants, but will also foster the contribution of migration and mobility to development at large.
To learn more about the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, including the involvement of our partners and IOM’s innovative approach to reintegration assistance, please visit our website at www.migrationjointinitiative.org .
This article was written by the IOM Regional Office in Brussels and the IOM Regional Office in Dakar.