De Fabel van de illegaal 57, March/April 2003
Author: Jan Tas
"We have proved ourselves. In the past some organizations did speak about voluntary return, but the presence of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) advanced the ideas about it, and helped voluntary return in becoming a normal part of the asylum question." (1) Assistant director John van den Bergh looks back with enthusiasm on 10 years of IOM Netherlands. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm is shared by many others.
In 1999 the Dutch government wrote the "Terugkeernotitie" ("Return paper") (2) with new plans to make deportation more efficient. The "voluntary return" of refugees and migrants has since become an important part of deportation policy. "After each negative decision in the procedure the asylum seeker will be made aware of his own responsibility and stimulated to prepare for a possible return", (3) it is written in the Return paper. The IOM is very important to this policy. Refugees never want to go back to the country they fled from. That's the reason why still many refugees are being deported and very few leave "voluntary". But the job IOM does is getting more important all the time. The organization is able to build networks with refugee aid organizations and support groups, which do not want to work together with the IND (Immigration service), the foreign police or border police.
IOM Netherlands has 50 employees and is managed by director A.A. de Dycker. Since the beginning of 2000 the IOM is organized locally. The headquarters in The Hague develops the policy and the programs. It also supports the district offices and maintains contact with the government, non-governmental organizations, international organizations and IOM departments elsewhere around the world.
The "voluntary return" and other practical matters are being carried out by district offices in Drachten (northern district), Zwolle (eastern and middle district), Amsterdam (western district) and Eindhoven (southern district). The IOM especially selected these places because they are close to refugee camps. Each office has at least one employee present and two to five propaganda officers who visit asylum seeker camps and organize regular consultation hours there.
On Amsterdam Airport the IOM operates a "logistic unit". That's where papers are arranged and checked, and tickets are booked. Also working at the airport are the IOM employees who sometimes join the refugee to be sure of a smooth "return". That is also ensured by close cooperation with airline companies and border police, the strong arm of this policy. This office also has an international function as a pit stop for refugees who "return" of "transmigrate" through Amsterdam Airport. In 2002 about 15.000 people fell in this category.
In 1951 the Netherlands were among the founders of the IOM. Activities in the Netherlands were coordinated from Brussels or Geneva. Only on May 1st 1991 the Dutch branch officially started. The year before the IOM and the Dutch state had signed a treaty in which IOM tasks were agreed upon. The organization was to support Dutch citizens who want to emigrate or remigrate, and to work on the return of refugees and migrants. A year later the Sociale Verzekeringsbank (Social Ensurancebank) took over the emigration and remigration tasks. And since then "voluntary return" has been the major task of the IOM. On January 1st 1992 the "Return office" was opened.
Immediately, in that same year the IOM came to help the ministry of Justice. The minister wanted to get rid of a group of Vietnamese who had traveled to the Netherlands through Czechoslovakia. The IOM arranged for the Dutch government a "Return treaty" with Vietnam. In the end the Vietnamese got a residence permit after all because they had to wait so long. That was the beginning of the dearly cooperation of the ministry and the IOM. In 1999 the IOM again helped the Dutch state. The war in Kosovo had just ended and the IOM arranged the "return" of some 2.400 Kosovarians. But they wanted to do more at the IOM. The organization was not well known with refugees and for that reason the IOM opened its district offices. Except for individual "return" the IOM at the moment also runs special "return projects" to Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, southern Caucasus, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Angola, Somalia and Ghana.
The IOM officially is an "independent neutral international organization". How "independent" the organization really is, becomes clear when one reads who the IOM considers "chain partners" in "return policy": the IND (immigration service), the border police, the foreign police and the state refugee organization COA. Together all these "chain partners" make sure that immigrants and refugees disappear from the Netherlands: in a 'friendly' manner through "voluntary return" or less friendly through deportation.
In 2000 the COA and the IOM signed an agreement to continually confront refugees with "voluntary return", from the moment they arrive in the Netherlands until they are rejected by the immigration service IND. The COA promised to inform the IOM on a monthly basis about the number of rejected refugees, their countries of origin, the places they live, and whether or not they are already thrown out of the asylum seeker camps or whether they have "left voluntarily". The COA also gave the IOM permission to organize consultation hours in the asylum seeker camps. But the COA employees were also going to do some "return" propaganda themselves. On their part the IOM were to inform the COA how many refugees attended propaganda meetings, how many actually presented themselves to the IOM, how many returned or fled further and to which countries that was.
This cooperation mutually benefits the state and the IOM. The state brings in a "neutral" partner with much expertise on migration control, and the IOM gets the opportunity to make its expertise grow. At the same time in May 1990 the IOM and the Dutch state signed their treaty, they also drew a second agreement in which the IOM was declared an independent organization principally unaffected by Dutch law. Because of that agreement the IOM can now do as it pleases. And the state now got a partner which is immune in contrast to its own deportation machine.
They also agreed that the government would pay the IOM 1.1 million euro for structural costs in 1991. In the years to follow that amount would rise to 1.6 million. On top of that the ministry of Justice also pays for the "return programs". In 1994 they paid 1.4 million euro. It is estimated that in 2002 some 4.7 million will be handed over. "Make no mistake: there is no golden rope between the Dutch government and the IOM due to sponsoring", former secretary of state Cohen stated in 2000 when he signed the agreement between the COA and the IOM.(4)
"The IOM remains dependent on other organizations to connect refugees to the IOM", they admit.(5) That's why they very much like to cooperate with "supporters", such as refugees organizations, lawyers, city councils, refugees support organizations, legal aid and other services. Therefore the IOM takes part in the National Platform Return Organizations (LOTO), and together with the refugee medical organization Pharos, the Red Cross, the national Council of Churches, the official national refugee organization VluchtelingenWerk, the United Nations refugee organization UNHCR and Christian refugee organization Inlia in the National Platform Return (LPT). The IOM also work together with the Salvation Army, the Pauluskerk (church) in Rotterdam, youth aid and foundation De Opbouw.(6)
The IOM's "neutral" image is an important weapon in getting all these aid and support organizations to cooperate. Such cooperation gives the IOM the opportunity to get information not only from the ministry of Justice, but also from circles of refugees, migrants and their supporters. And in that way the IOM can better chart the global migration patterns and develop an efficient control policy.(7)
By pointing at the collaboration of all these organizations the IOM is able to ensure the cooperation of other possibly distrustful organizations. With as result that in the future migrants and refugees will almost everywhere they turn for help get to hear that they had better "voluntary return". The IOM is by now even promoted by organizations which have hardly anything to do with migration. For instance on websites especially for jobless or youngsters in The Hague you will now find links to the IOM.