New Incentive To Help Immigrants Return Home

New incentive to help immigrants return home

Christian Peregin
Sunday, 8th November 2009

Illegal immigrants who opt to return to their home countries voluntarily will be offered more preparation before they start afresh under a new programme launched by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with the Justice Ministry.

Following the pilot project Dar, through which some immigrants were given 5,000 each to set up a business in their home countries, a more refined programme has now been launched called Restart. This will offer them less money, but better preparation.

Peter Schatzer, who is in charge of Mediterranean issues within IOM, told The Sunday Times: “It is not enough to give them a plane ticket and a sum of money. They need to be reintegrated,”

Through this project the immigrants will receive just 200 in cash. The rest (2,200) will go into an account managed by the IOM, and will either go towards education or to help them set up a business.

Mr Schatzer said that voluntary return had proved to be the most cost-effective way of dealing with immigrants, compared with keeping them in centres or forcibly sending them home.

The problem with forced return is that it requires a chartered flight and two policemen per migrant. It is also more difficult to find cooperation with countries of origin compared with voluntary return.

One of the problems with the Foreign Affairs Ministry-managed Dar project was that migrants' spending could not be monitored once they returned home.

Mr Schatzer pointed out that with the new project there was less chance of the programme being seen as a pull-factor for immigration, even though he does not believe immigrants would ever choose to leave their countries and risk their lives for the off-chance to get a 5,000 cheque.

“Many migrants are pushed to leave their countries for economic reasons – and this project applies to them. We cannot send someone back if their country is war-torn or if they will be persecuted.”

However, many immigrants go to Europe for economic reasons and since they do not qualify for protection they end up in dire situations.

“Many migrants realise the streets are not paved with gold. Instead they might have to end up paving the roads themselves,” he said.

When migrants realise this, many may be persuaded to return voluntarily.

The Restart project already has a number of success stories from all over the world, including migrants who left Malta.

They have managed to set up various businesses ranging from pharmacies to beauty salons, while others have managed to obtain professional skills enabling them to become teachers or architects, among others.

Twenty-five immigrants living in Malta, together with their families, have already benefitted from the project and next year the aim is to place 100 people on the programme.

The money for the project comes mostly from the EU (80 per cent), while the rest is sponsored by the government. The project is managed by IOM, which has over 140 offices in more than 60 countries and can therefore monitor the success of each person.

“We hope we can alleviate some of the consequences of a very difficult situation for the authorities, migrants and locals. We now know you can win or lose elections because of the migration issue, so we need to devise policies that will not destabilise democracies,” he said.

“Malta is in a particular situation. You cannot just say: apply everything like everyone else does. In this case, size does matter.”

He added, however, that a zero-immigration policy did not make sense, because the labour markets in Europe, including Malta, required a certain number of immigrant workers.

However, this shouldn't be managed by smugglers, and like America and Canada, Europe needs to be in a position to find a legal way of facilitating immigration.

“Some migrants need to return voluntarily, others can be relocated to other EU or non-EU countries, and some, yes, will stay and find a job. That's not a popular thing to say but we have to learn to accept it.”