The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Greece and the Hellenic authorities, in coordination with IOM Iraq and the diplomatic corps, organized the voluntary return of 134 Iraqi nationals who wished to return home. They left Athens Thursday (6/8) on a flight to Baghdad International Airport, where the first group of passengers disembarked. The flight then continued to Erbil International Airport.
This is the first large group of migrants to voluntarily return from Greece since the COVID-19 movement restrictions were imposed. Among them were 80 men, 16 women and 38 children.
“This initiative is an important step towards resuming operations amid COVID-19 and providing migrants with an option to return in safety and dignity,” said Gianluca Rocco, Chief of Mission for IOM Greece.
“COVID-19 has imposed restrictions on all of us but for certain categories of migrants it also has delayed their possibility to return home. This movement was a cooperation between the Iraqi authorities, the European Commission and the Greek Government to alleviate that situation.”
“Amid the lockdown, migrants staying in Greece continued to register for return assistance and take advantage of the special programme initiated by the Hellenic Authorities to assist with voluntary returns from the Greek islands,” he added.
The Iraqi nationals had been residing on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Kos, Chios and Leros, as well as mainland Greece, for several months.
Prior to their departure, and in coordination with the Hellenic authorities, the migrants were accommodated in an IOM temporary facility in Attika and the Open Centre for migrants (OCAVRR) in Athens. Individual counselling sessions were conducted in their native languages to confirm their wishes to voluntary return. Following the protocols set by the Ministry of Health, all migrants also underwent health assessments and medical examinations, including COVID-19 tests, to confirm their fitness for travel.
“I am glad I am returning to my home country because I missed my wife and mother,” said Salih Ahmed from Baghdad.
On the day of departure, IOM Greece assisted the returnees with all airport procedures and one-time cash assistance was given to each of them as a contribution to their initial expenses upon arrival.
During the flight, all passengers were required to wear masks and gloves, and disinfectant gel was provided for use on surfaces and to keep hands clean. Upon arrival in both Baghdad and Erbil, temperature checks were conducted, while new sets of masks and gloves were provided.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 432 migrants have voluntarily returned to 20 countries of origin via commercial flights, with IOM’s assistance. All necessary travel documents have been provided in collaboration with the relevant consular authorities.
Working in close cooperation with the Hellenic authorities, ΙΟΜ Greece has been implementing AVRR projects since 2010, assisting more than 50,000 migrants to voluntarily return to their countries of origin. The project “The implementation of assisted voluntary returns including reintegration measures and operation of Open Center in the Prefecture of Attica for applicants of voluntary return (AVRR/OCAVRR)” is co-funded 75% by European Funds (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) and 25% by Greek National Funds.