2019 was a busy year for IOM The Netherlands.
3035 people decided to leave the Netherlands with our assistance. 3035 individual stories, 3035 different needs, and 3035 personal expectations.
To help all these people requires teamwork.
The return of a migrant starts with meeting one of our IOM counsellors. These meetings can be planned by the counsellors themselves but often migrants contact our 0800- number in order to make an appointment. Our colleagues from the secretariat listen to the concerns, answer questions and book appointments for a first information meeting or counselling. During the individual counselling meetings all aspects of a potential return are discussed. Our 22 counsellors work in more than 60 different locations all over the Netherlands. They can be found in asylum seeker centers, social institutions, emergency shelters and many other places.
Because counselling is so crucial and can become emotional at times, 2019 was also a year where we invested in strengthening the skills of our counsellors to deal with emotional behavior. In the training, the counsellors learned theory and practice of addressing the emotions of the migrants they speak to. Key, during the counseling sessions is the ability to connect with the persons to be able to share relevant information that is needed to make a well-informed decision for return. For this reason, good communication skills are very relevant.
The availability of travel documents is another important pre-condition a migrant must meet before we can book the return flight. Sometimes travel documents are lost or outdated. In these cases, we can assist migrants in obtaining a new, usually temporary, travel document. In order to be able to inform migrants about the procedures to obtain such documents, we have a team that focuses on the contact with diplomatic representations in the Netherlands, and for some countries in Belgium.
Also, in 2019 we assisted 362 migrants with varied health needs. The support reaches from checking the availability of medication in the country of origin to arranging medical escorts during the flight and a grant to cover health care costs after return. In order to be able to assess the health needs of each migrant, the team that works on medical returns is in daily contact with general practitioners and specialists.
In cases where the person who decides to return is eligible to receive reintegration assistance from our AVRR program, our reintegration team reaches out to our colleagues in the country of origin to inform them about the return and discuss the initial reintegration plans. This already happens prior to the departure of the person. Last year, 1075 migrants qualified for a reintegration grant.
Once everything is in place, the airport team at Schiphol books the flight. The information about the flight is sent directly to the person who is returning via SMS. Our counsellors also make the last appointment to discuss the departure procedure. Our colleagues at the airport will assist every returnee with the check-in, security checks, border controls and boarding the plane. They also provide the migrants with the small cash component that is part of the return program.
And it does not stop there, we also support the migrants with a reintegration grant with their reintegration efforts once they are back in their country, we report to our donors and we are always seeking to improve our assistance through new ways of communication.
2019 was a busy year for all of us at IOM The Netherlands - we look forward to doing it all again in 2020.