Migrant Protection and Assistance Division

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With an ever-growing number of people – one in seven – on the move for a multitude of reasons, a worrisome number find themselves in need of assistance and protection. They may be migrants wishing to go home but lacking the means to do so, or vulnerable individuals such as victims of trafficking or unaccompanied migrant children. Assisting migrants is often a challenging and complex process, involving the migrants, countries of transit and origin, civil society and local communities.

Dignified and humane assistance to migrants in need is a cornerstone of IOM's work. To ensure the most inclusive and encompassing approach, IOM’s Migrant Protection and Assistance Division (MPA) focuses its work on

  • assisted voluntary return and reintegration (AVRR); and
  • assistance to vulnerable migrants, such as victims of trafficking, exploited and stranded migrants or unaccompanied migrant children.

We work via direct assistance, building capacities, information sharing and awareness-raising.

IOM’s Migrant Protection and Assistance Division (MPA) focuses its work on Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR); and assistance to vulnerable migrants.

Migrants from, within, and transiting through the South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (SEEECA) region are often desperate to reach their final destination. Lacking legal migration routes, they are particularly vulnerable to the crimes of human trafficking, smuggling and exploitation, and need special protection and assistance.

The region covered by IOM’s Regional Office in Vienna contains countries of origin and transit, several of which are among the top ten countries of origin for trafficked migrants assisted by IOM worldwide. At the same time, an increasing number of SEEECA countries serve as a destination for trafficked migrants, particularly for sexual exploitation, forced labour and forced begging.  Unauthorized employment and over-staying, entry without permit or carrying forged documents can lead migrants towards organized crime and corruption, particularly via smuggling and human trafficking.

Most of the human trafficking originating in SEEECA is intraregional, more specifically within sub-regions (Central Asia, South Caucasus, Western Balkans and Eastern Europe). IOM runs over 30 projects that include shelter, counselling, medical, psychological and legal assistance, vocational training, issue or reissue of qualifications, economic empowerment, capacity-building and networking with NGOs and governments.  We support not only trafficked persons, but also potential victims of trafficking, unaccompanied migrant children, victims of domestic violence, homeless children and those living on the street, children without parental care, institutionalized children, labour migrants, stranded migrants, and single mothers.

An overview of our activities is available here.

MPA's work relates directly to the following SDG goals:


As of 2016, at the regional level South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (SEEECA) remains the main region of origin of AVRR beneficiaries. Approximately 49% of total returns of IOM return to the SEEECA region. Most returns in the region originate in the European Economic Area with major countries of origin including Albania, Serbia and Kosovo*. We provide reintegration assistance which aims to support migrants in becoming self-sufficient.

Through our AVRR programmes, we aim at orderly and humane return and reintegration of migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in host countries and wish to return voluntarily to their countries of origin. Reintegration assistance is vital to facilitate sustainable returns by addressing factors that originally compelled individuals to emigrate by irregular means. Building on our experience and worldwide network of offices and partners, we assist migrants to make informed decisions and provide services to States to promote stronger dialogue and cooperation on migration management issues among destination, transit and origin countries and thus facilitates the sustainability of returns.

IOM's Framework for Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) to guide policymakers and practitioners’ work in this important field was launched in December 2018. 

IOM is implementing a key project to help expand the direct operational capacities of national authorities in Serbia and North Macedonia to respond to the mid- and long-term challenges related to migration flows. We assist them by providing accommodation and basic living conditions to:

  • efficiently respond to the needs of migrants and asylum seekers;
  • facilitate access to basic medical care for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;
  • provide AVRR for eligible rejected asylum seekers and persons residing irregularly.

Through the IPA II regional support to protection-sensitive migration management, IOM is working on increasing capacities for the national implementation of AVRR through the provision of support for establishing AVRR structures and capacity development of AVRR practitioners in the Western Balkan region.

Turkey has been a primary transit route for irregular migrants and for refugees trying to reach Europe. Here, IOM has been facilitating the voluntary return of migrants since November 2009, and has assisted more than 5,000 people. In 2016, IOM Turkey supported over 1,050 migrants to return to their respective country of origin, with the majority having returned to Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Related Publications and Resources

  • Factsheet: Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration

    Jan 2016

  • Global Compact Thematic Paper: Supporting Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration through Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration

    Jun 2017

  • Towards an Integrated Approach to Reintegration in the Context of Return

    Jan 2017

  • This is My Story: Giving Voice to Returnees


  • SPEAK: Giving Voice to Returnees



Most SEECA countries can be categorized as both countries of origin and transit of trafficked migrants. Some countries in the region are among the top ten countries of origin for trafficked migrants assisted by IOM worldwide. At the same time, an increasing number of SEEECA countries serve as a destination for trafficked migrants.

Millions of lives are shattered by human trafficking every year. These alarming numbers, rising every year, do not include individuals who are victims within the borders of their own countries. Organized criminal groups earn billions of dollars in profits from this trade in misery. Trafficked persons are often victims of abuse such as rape, torture, debt bondage, unlawful confinement and threats against their family or other persons close to them, as well as other forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence. The demand for cheap labour, sexual services and criminal activities are among the root causes of trafficking, with vulnerable people most at risk.

IOM has been working in counter-trafficking since 1994. In this time, we have assisted approximately 70,000 trafficked persons. We operate from the starting point that trafficking in persons needs to be approached within the overall context of managing migration. We work alongside governments, NGOs and international organizations, stressing respect for human rights, the physical, mental social well-being of the individual and his or her community and sustainability through capacity building.

Counter-Trafficking in SEEECA

IOM is the leading organization in combating Trafficking in Persons (TIP) around the world and particularly in Central Asia. Our work to combat TIP in the region began in 2002 when IOM was the first organization to raise the issue of the trafficking of Central Asian citizens for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. This led to all countries in Central Asia ratifying the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Palermo Protocol, as well as adopting anti-trafficking legislation, strategies and action plans.

The IOM Counter-Trafficking approach in Central Asia addresses four integrated aspects: protection, prosecution, prevention and partnership. We now have extensive experience with the return, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of trafficking (VoTs), as well as with building effective referral mechanisms among government and civil society service providers. (We work with a regional network of about 100 NGOs that are specialized in service provision). Over 10,702 VoTs (as of 1 July 2017) have received protection, rehabilitation and reintegration assistance through IOM projects in Central Asia.

IOM has been providing expertise and technical assistance to the Government of Moldova since 2005. Our work on the existing Counter-Trafficking legal framework led to the creation and consolidation of a national referral system for assistance and protection of actual and potential victims of trafficking, which is the main institutional mechanism for the provision of rehabilitation and reintegration assistance in the country.

In Ukraine, there has been considerable progress towards strengthening the national referral mechanism for assisting victims of trafficking. The country was one of the largest source, transit and destination countries for trafficking in persons in Europe, although this has reduced since the conflict started in the East in in 2014. IOM assists trafficking survivors who sought better job opportunities but fell victim to sexual exploitation and forced labour in the Russian Federation, Poland, Turkey, domestically within Ukraine, and other parts of Europe and Asia. Projects in the country have assisted the Ministry of Social Policy to become the National Counter-Trafficking Coordinator, whereby it established state assistance for victims through a new legal framework and contributed to improved quality monitoring and data management. There has been considerable progress demonstrated towards strengthening the National Referral Mechanism for assisting victims of trafficking.

The recent official closing of the Western Balkan migration route has left transiting migrants increasingly vulnerable to traffickers. Preliminary findings from a sample of 1,042 migrants and refugees of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevalence Indication Survey introduced in December 2015, as part of IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix’s Flow Monitoring Surveys, indicate that 7.2 per cent of respondents experienced one of the trafficking and exploitation indicators. IOM aims to increase capacity for proactive screening, victim identification and services among vulnerable populations, and to conduct trainings for civil society and front-line officials to enhance victim screening and identification. The project will conduct public awareness campaigns among refugee and migrant populations to reduce overall vulnerability.

Related Publications

  • Global Trafficking Trends in Focus: Victim of Trafficking Data 2006-2016

    Aug 2017

  • Migrant Smuggling Data and Research: A global review of the emerging evidence base

    Jan 2016

  • Counter-trafficking Data Collaborative

    Global Data Hub

Counter-Trafficking Statistics in SEEECA, 2016:

  As region of origin As region of exploitation
Victims of Trafficking, Assisted by IOM, by Type of Trafficking International: 81.24%
Domestic: 11.23%
Both international and domestic: 7.46%
International: 78.93%
Domestic: 12.77%
Both international and domestic: 8.30%
Victims of Trafficking Assisted by IOM, by Type of Exploitation Sexual Exploitation: 11.29%
Forced labour (domestic work, begging, low level criminal act): 86.56%
Combined sexual and forced labour: 1.29%
Forced marriage and other practices similar to slavery: 0.11%
Other: 0.54%
Sexual Exploitation: 14.32%
Forced labour (domestic work, begging, low level criminal act): 83.58%
Combined sexual and forced labour: 1.48%
Forced marriage and other practices similar to slavery: 0.12%
Other: 0.49%
Victims of Trafficking Assisted by IOM, by Gender and Age Male: 51.48%
Female: 48.52%
Adults: 82.99%
Minors: 17.01%
Male: 51.48%
Female: 48.52%
Adults: 82.45%
Minors: 17.55%

Source: IOM HQ - Counter-trafficking Statistics

Global Trafficking Statistics  2006-2016:

Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Statistics  Global, April - June 2017: