VHR.pngThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) plays a crucial role in Libya through its Voluntary Humanitarian Return Assistance program. This initiative addresses the challenges faced by foreigners in Libya by offering them the option of a safe return to their home countries. The primary objectives of this program include helping vulnerable people, ensuring their protection, and facilitating their voluntary return. Through partnerships with various stakeholders, IOM strives to create sustainable solutions that address the unique needs of individuals in the Libyan context.

The VHR programme seeks to provide lifesaving, humane, safe, dignified, and expedited return assistance to foreigners stranded in countries in crisis, where protection services cannot be granted adequately due to the complex security and operational context. The programme follows a rights-based approach and is built on strong pillars of protection, direct assistance, and health, ensuring that foreigners in vulnerable situations (including vulnerable groups such as women, unaccompanied and separated migrant children, the elderly, and persons with medical and special needs) receive tailored support during their stay in Libya as well as during their return journey and upon return to their country of origin, through reintegration assistance. 

The VHR programme is unique in that it combines an emergency type of operation with the core fundamentals of IOM’s protection and assistance programming. The VHR programme falls under IOM’s Department of Operations and Emergency (DOE). Its operations are fast-tracked and follow considerations of international humanitarian evacuations: for instance, the fact that the choice of who is to be assisted first should be based on needs and vulnerabilities (including lack of other means of protection, proximity to the conflict, and specific at-risk groups) and should not be discriminatory. At the same time, it strongly focuses on protection and follows an individually tailored, needs-based approach. It aims at achieving the standards applied for AVRR, including the seven principles highlighted in IOMs.  “IOM has been offering voluntary humanitarian return assistance since 2015,” said Federico Soda, International Organization for Migration (IOM) Libya Chief of Mission. The programme is completely free of charge.  In this article, we will provide information on how to apply for the VHR programme and where to get assistance.

How can I register?

The following steps are part of the process of benefiting from the programme:

VHR outreach team informs stakeholders working or in close contact with foreigners on the VHR programme to ensure they are aware of the programme and can refer people interested in returning to their homes to IOM. These activities aim at creating a multiplier effect, whereby representatives of other organizations can convey information about VHR on IOM’s behalf, especially in areas where the VHR team is not present. As well as conduct VHR outreach information sessions in urban settings as well as detention centers to establish a direct bridge between IOM and the individuals potentially interested in return assistance and local and international organizations working in the humanitarian sector (to strengthen referral pathways for individuals to access the VHR services), during which IOM hotline cards and VHR process flyers are distributed.

VHR Information is provided through: 

Regular information sessions on VHR programme and operational updates to (international) nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with individuals on the VHR programme;

Information sessions are organized every month with various embassies to go through operational updates or challenges related to the VHR programme;

Training sessions for NGOs working with people and volunteering to proactively refer foreigners interested in returning to their country of origin to the VHR programme. The training sessions go into detail on the VHR programme and referral pathways to IOM. 

The toll-free VHR Hotline tool that is managed by the VHR outreach team

The Hotline number is available as a regular cell phone between 9.00 and 17.00 during working days. Outside of these periods (evening hours and weekends), an automatic system operates. In this case, the caller receives a voice recording in four languages (English, Arabic, Swahili, Hausa, and French) informing about the hotline working hours and indicating that IOM will call back. The Hotline number is also linked to WhatsApp and Viber programmes to guarantee various means of contacting IOM. 

VHR registration and application:

People who express interest in benefiting from the VHR services through the above channels (including self-referral during Outreach team visits and through the hotline, and referrals by community mobilizers, community representatives, embassies, and partner organizations) are invited to register for the programme.

Registration is carried out by the VHR Registration and Identification team (hereafter referred to as the ‘Registration team’) which collects the people’s basic personal information and pictures.

For people outside of Tripoli, the mobile operations support team (hereafter referred to as the ‘Mobile team’) supports VHR activities outside of Tripoli with an “A-to-Z approach”. The Mobile team is responsible for the registration, interview and basic screening, initial travel arrangements, and MiMOSA entry for all cases outside of Tripoli. They are also responsible for the internal movements of individuals to Tripoli and the airport facilitation and boarding at airports outside of Tripoli (Sebha, Zwuara, Benghazi, Zintan, and Misrata). They are supported by the FOST and Registration teams for consular support and by the Movement team for flight bookings.

Most of the foreigners applying to VHR in Libya have either lost their travel documents (TD) or their TD has expired. To obtain the required TDs, IOM’s VHR Registration and Identification team provides consular support to stranded people in detention centres and urban sites by facilitating linkages with their respective diplomatic representations, either through field visits or through IOM’s Online Consular Support.  

Interview and counseling:

The Field Operation Support Team (FOST) conducts counseling and interviews with each VHR applicant. The following aspects are addressed during the session:

Data is collected on the beneficiary’s personal history, full experience, and current situation.

For unaccompanied and separated children (UASCs) and other individuals identified as being in a situation of vulnerability, contact details of relatives in the country of origin are collected for protection-related follow-up.

People receive explanations on the VHR process and the role of IOM in the process; they receive clarifications on the voluntary nature of the IOM VHR programme, specifying that, at any time, s/he can change his/her mind.

People are informed that the IOM VHR program is free of charge, and they are given enough time to ask questions and resolve any doubts.

Based on the above information, the people confirm the decision to return in writing and sign the Voluntary Return Declaration form. The voluntary return declaration form is provided in a language understood by the individual.

Medical screening and clearance:

IOM’s Health Unit carries out a pre-departure medical screening of all individuals registered to the VHR programme. The procedure aims at detecting emergencies, significant medical conditions (SMC) that could deteriorate while traveling (e.g. pregnancies or disabilities) and/ or affect their safety, and conditions of public safety or public health concerns (e.g. communicable diseases), and at managing them as relevant. 

The PDMS is conducted by a certified physician assisted by a trained nurse. It is administered in detention centres, IOM premises, individual embassies, or at urban sites. Usually, the PDMS is carried out during the counseling and screening process (the Health Unit is physically present along FOST).

PDMS also allows'red flagging’ suspected protection cases through quick visual assessment or indicative behavior. It supports the identification of the following at-risk or vulnerable categories: suspected VoTs, victims of physical violence, or persons with severe mental or physical disabilities. Suspected protection cases are referred to the protection team. 

Upon a positive outcome of the PDMS, IOM’s health team issues a Fit to Travel (FTT) certificate.

Each applicant, regardless of age, must hold a Fit to Travel certificate confirming his or her fitness status, also indicating his or her name, age, and IOM reference number, to be allowed to travel. For families holding identical IOM reference numbers, there are different ‘Fit to Travel’ certificates, one for each member of the family.

Debriefing and follow-up:

At the end of the interview and screening process, a debriefing takes place between FOST and the beneficiary. It covers the beneficiary’s destination, assistance needs during the trip, and if known, the estimated date of departure and travel details. FOST indicates that it will keep individuals informed on the date of departure (either individually or through the relevant embassy) and encourages individuals to call the hotline 48-72 hours (about 3 days) before their planned departure for updates on their departure.

FOST ensures that all information collected during the interview sessions with people, vulnerable or not, remains confidential and private. The data shared with other units is also strictly password-protected, and its reception is restricted to specific case managers. 

The above information, along with the signed consent form, is shared with the IOM Mission in the CoO for adequate preparation of the reception and reintegration in the country of origin. 

Booking and travel arrangements for charter flights:

The Charter team (CT) is responsible for the travel arrangements related to charter flights, in close coordination with the authorities in Libya and in the CoO (and in the countries of transit of the flight if relevant), as well as with the IOM Mission in the CoO and the Charter Movements Management (CMM) team at IOM Headquarters. When a charter flight is selected as the preferred option, the following actions are taken:

Based on the draft charter plan shared by the registration team, the movement team informs CMM and the IOM Mission in the CoO about its plan to organize a charter flight. It indicates the approximate number of passengers and a tentative date.

Notification to the CoO should be made as early as possible, and in some cases, at least 10 days before the planned travel date for the IOM Mission in the country of origin to coordinate the charter arrival with the authorities in the country of origin.

The IOM Mission in the country of origin should confirm its availability for assistance within 48 hours of the notification's reception.

CT updates the charter plan according to the latest developments related to individuals whose TD has been issued and exit visas received.

Approximately 72 hours (about 3 days) before the flight, the Charter Team sends an official e-mail to the Country-of-Origin Embassy with the movement details, including the flight manifest, departure date and time, date of luggage weighing process, and details on the transportation of individuals to the airport.

The CT also sends the passenger list and departure date to DCIM to inform the airport authorities. The notification also indicates whether cases are from urban areas or DCs (in this case, specifying which detention centre(s) are  concerned)

The provision of a qualified medical escort during travel is required for all movements, including returning individuals with significant medical conditions. In practice, medical escorts are arranged for all VHR movements, including returning people requiring medical follow-up during their return journey. 

Reintegration assistance upon return:

The VHR programme is designed to link lifesaving interventions in Libya to sustainable reintegration in the individuals’ respective countries of origin. In this light, all individuals returning from Libya receive post-arrival and reintegration support in their respective countries of origins. Reception and reintegration assistance is carried out by the respective IOM Missions (or their partners) in the countries of origin. This assistance is either managed by the IOM Mission in the countries of origin (when a reintegration programme exists in their homes and VHR cases returning from Libya are eligible for it) or by IOM Libya’s VHR Reintegration team (when there is no reintegration programme in the CoO, or none to which returnees from Libya are eligible). continuity of specialized protection services that individuals receive before arrival is ensured, and any newly identified at-risk individual is fast-tracked for protection assistance.

If you have any further questions or need more information you could not find in the article, you can directly contact the IOM VHR hotline at the following numbers: 

Telephone: +218910011491

WhatsApp: +218910011490