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AYS News Digest 25.07.2022: How voluntary is IOM’s ‘voluntary return’?

50 remain trapped on Evros islet // In-flight Protest, Belgium // UK Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration report finally published // 1,100 rescued in the Med


How voluntary is IOM’s ‘voluntary return’?

Europe is denying the right to asylum and deporting people by ‘voluntary’ return.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) offers a voluntary return programme for people who have migrated and wish to return home but lack the the means to do so. However, do people have much choice when it comes to voluntary return?

“An IOM caseworker was going around the camps targeting nationalities with high rejection rates, without any idea of what the human rights situation of each country is, or the proper way to do a voluntary return — he seemed randomly hired without correct training, totally unaware of the harm he could do.” aid worker in Greece

Through interviews involving asylum seekers, lawyers and aid workers, this article gives an overview of the conditions faced, particularly in Greece, by people waiting for asylum claims to be reviewed, and how returning to their home country is then made an option.

“when a person is made so vulnerable by the conditions of the host country, with no prospects of asylum in Greece, then they really only have one ‘choice’ in front of them, which isn’t a choice at all.” aid worker in Greece

A lack of legal aid, and translators, along with an aggressive publicity campaign from IOM, have led many people to believe that returning home is the only option left to them. In many EU countries, asylum claims are rejected the first time, but accepted on appeal. The lawyer interviewed explained how people were supposed to be informed of their legal rights via a translator, but with a lack of translators, this information isn’t shared, leaving the printed leaflet from IOM as the only apparent option.

The war in Ukraine has demonstrated the inherent racism of European nations. Further evidence of this is the recent IOM ad campaign in Athens. Billboards in many different languages, ask “Have you thought about returning home?”. The one language not used is Ukrainian, demonstrating the inequality of the system.

“If return should be available for everyone, then why isn’t anything written in Ukrainian?” Hana Ganji, the vice president of the Afghan Community in Greece

Allegations that EU funding for IOM is dependent on returns is also not a new accusation. Four IOM employees had the impression that funding was conditional on returns, yet also felt that the reputation of the organisation was negatively effected by this. Some parts of the return programme are executed well, and benefit e.g. victims of trafficking who have had documents taken from them.


The 24th July marked one month since numerous people were killed and hundreds injured at the Melilla border. El Colectivo Caminando Fronteras have published a report into the incident, which illuminates events of that day. 40 people died when hundreds attempted to cross into the Spanish territory of Melilla from Moroccan land and were met with military force.

After the tragedy, a humanitarian crisis was unleashed. Hundreds of injured people were reportedly returned to the south and deported to the Algerian border, whilst others face detention and criminal charges.


Authorities in Milan are accused of preventing access to asylum through complex, inefficient and cruel procedures. Only ten claims are reportedly being processed per day, with applicants being required to queue at the office for days in order to submit a claim. This is a breach of Legislative Decree №25 of 2008 which aims to protect those seeking asylum. Those queuing for days have also been the target of police action for sleeping rough whilst waiting. The crime of bivacco is subject to a 100 Euro fine as well as removal from the location. The organisation, ASGI, who first published on this topic six months ago, are calling for immediate change and for conditions of safety and dignity for the people involved.


50 remain trapped on Evros islet

Following on from the last News Digest, the group of 50 people remain trapped on the Evros islet. Their location on Greek soil has been confirmed via photo metadata, and the group have since reported that Turkish authorities approached them violently in order to force them to attempt to reach Greece. ENHCR have ordered their rescue, at the time of writing, yet the group remains in distress. This comes as wildfires are also reported in the area.

Wildfires are also plaguing the island of Lesvos.

Villages were evacuated as the fires spread across the island. Greece is a top tourist destination for the sunny weather, beaches and hospitality. A hospitality that isn’t extended to those seeking asylum.


August 15th marks one year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan

Seebrücke International are holding a demonstration in Berlin from 13th August and are calling for others to create their own events. #DontForgetAfghanistan

Photo Credit: Seebruecke international on Twitter

Described as “A terrorist organization with no chain of command, leadership or will to take Afghanistan towards the right path”, the actions of the Taliban have become more widely known. This UN report released several days ago highlights arbitrary arrests, torture and killings as well as the reduction in rights for women and girls.


In-flight Protest, Belgium

PHOTO CREDIT: Getting the Voice Out

Often members of the public disagree with political decisions but feel powerless to enact change. This article from Getting the Voice Out tells the events of one person who was saved from deportation on a passenger flight by an individual speaking out.

“I tell them [the air stewards and police] twice calmly but firmly: “I can’t condone that” . I go back to my seat. Without sitting down, I warn the surrounding passengers. The young man shouts again. We then realize the terror of this one this time.” Natalie

The flyer above offers information for how we can all react if we find ourselves in a similar situation, leading to an outcome like Natalie’s — where the young man was removed from the flight and offered legal support.


Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration report has finally been published.

The report, based on data collected during December 2021 and January 2022, has repeatedly been delayed. Chief Inspector David Neal and his team visited two asylum processing centres in Dover and declared that the Home Office had ‘failed’ to make changes to the system, despite the time period involved. The report findings include how data isn’t sufficiently collected, meaning it’s impossible to take adequate care of the most vulnerable people, or to track those who could pose a risk to others. Additionally the report describes how staff were “doing their very best” but were hindered by lack of leadership and being overworked, which lead to lack of record keeping and data collection.

Neal has repeatedly asked to meet with Home Secretary Priti Patel, but she has declined every meeting since Neal took office in March last year.

Meanwhile, the Refugee Council has criticised the continued use of hotels as accommodation for those waiting for asylum claims to be processed. Their recent report on housing found that over 26,000 people were housed in hotels at the end of 2021. Some newspapers have implied that people should be lucky to be housed in luxury hotels, but the reality of the situation is far from positive.

“We are talking about hotels that are variable in quality, with many being remote and cramped. We are talking about whole families being forced to live in one room for weeks, even months on end. About children living out their childhood trapped between four walls of a hotel room, with no space to play and all too often locked out of education.” Refugee Council UK

The call to action is clear — the Home Office must meet its own standard by ensuring people are moved within 35 days of entering a hotel, and they must be more transparent about new hotels being used so that groups can provide support as soon as possible.

Following the resignation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, asylum and immigration are part of the leadership contest debate. Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have referred to the stricter measures for those seeking help — Sunak would like to cap the number of claims granted, whilst Truss supports the Rwanda plan and would seek to extend it. The stance of both candidates is fully explored in this article.

Published this week is a list of abbreviations and acronyms that are used during the asylum process in the UK. This is a really useful tool for asylum seekers and those trying to help them.


Over 1,100 people were rescued in the Mediterranean over the course of the weekend.

PHOTO CREDIT: SOS Mediteranee on Twitter

A huge rescue operation took place in the Ionian Sea, involving over 600 people. The fishing boat left Libya and was reported in distress on 23rd July. The rescue mission involved six vessels including the Italian Coast Guard and was reported in detail in this thread. Sadly, five people lost their lives, bringing the UN number of deaths in the Med this year to 823.

80 people were rescued by the rescue vessel Ocean Viking with collaboration from Alarm Phone. Ocean Viking are currently carrying passengers from previous rescues too, with 387 people currently onboard. Alarm Phone were also instrumental in the rescue of 52 people by the MSF ship the Geo Barrents.

Mission Lifeline’s boat the Rise Above was granted a safe port in Sicily, whilst sadly another vessel, which was reported to be in distress off the Libyan coast, has lost contact. Approximately 20 people were on board, their status is unknown.

The call for more rescue vessels in Mediterranean waters has been answered by organisation Open Arms. Their new ship “Open Arms Uno” is off to work soon.


EVENT: 28th July The seminar: Pushbacks, illegal, harmful and hurtful practice of EU border management: This panel discussion will aim to take a closer look at the current practices that authorities use as well as focusing on actions by organisations and civil society.

From the New Humanitarian: The humanitarian fallout of DR Congo’s M23 rebellion

From SOAS University of London: To Stop the Rwanda Flights, Our Collective Demonstrations of Solidarity Must Continue

From Balkan Insight: Migrants in Bosnia Risk All on Winning Border ‘Game’

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.