The International Organization for Migration's (IOM) Migrant Protection and Assistance Division (MPA) works to promote and uphold migrants’ rights and supports migrants and their communities to access and exercise those rights. It also supports governments in their roles in promoting and fulfilling migrants’ rights. MPA does this directly and in partnership, through advocacy, setting standards, conducting research and analysis, and developing guidelines for protection and assistance, including supporting member states.

Protection encompasses all activities aimed at obtaining full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and spirit of the relevant bodies of law. It seeks to secure individual or group rights, and aims to create a society in which those rights are recognized and upheld.

Assistance includes all direct support activities which support the individuals, families and communities, broader structural level interventions and support to governments. Assistance can include support for return and/or reintegration, shelter and accommodation, water, sanitation and hygiene, food and nutrition, safety and security, healthcare, education and training, employment and/or income generation, family assessments and reunification, counselling, referrals etc.

MPA also addresses issues of protection risks which enhances vulnerable migrants’ ability to access and enjoy their rights. Protection risks are directly impacted by threats and migrants’ existing vulnerabilities and capacities.

IOM works via direct assistance, building capacities and training, policy work, convening and dialogue, research, advocacy and awareness-raising. Migrants from, within, and transiting the 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.


Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants and Counter-Trafficking

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, 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 and providing thematic guidance to NGOs and governments.  We support not only trafficked persons, but also potential and presumed 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.

IOM’s approach to migrant vulnerability is rooted in the belief that the human rights of all persons should be upheld and promoted. All migrants who are vulnerable, regardless of their membership in any particular category or holding of any particular status, should be afforded the protection and assistance services they require. The MPA unit provides protection and assistance to migrants vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse, including victims of trafficking.

Millions of lives are shattered by internal and international human trafficking every year. These alarming numbers are rising every year, and have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen a rise in migrants’ vulnerabilities. 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, it has assisted more than 72,000 trafficked persons. Trafficking in persons needs to be approached within the overall context of managing migration, working 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.

Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration

Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) is an indispensable part of a comprehensive approach to migration management, aimed at orderly and humane return and reintegration of migrants. IOM supports the principle that, where feasible, AVRR is the most desirable form of return as it takes the migrant’s decision into account. It provides administrative, logistical and financial support to migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in their host countries and who volunteer to return to their countries of origin, supported with reintegration measures locally where possible. The successful implementation of AVRR programmes requires the cooperation and participation of the migrants themselves, civil society and the governments in origin, host and transit countries.

In the context of its AVRR programmes, IOM implements the following activities:

  • Pre-departure assistance: Counselling and return-related information dissemination on the country of origin, medical assistance, transport assistance arrangements, including specialized assistance for migrants in vulnerable situations (family tracing and best interest determination for UMCs, risk assessment for Victims of Trafficking).
  • Travel assistance: departure, transport (movement coordination, transit assistance and/or escort assistance)
  • Post-arrival assistance: reception, inland transport, health- related support
  • Reintegration: An essential aspect of AVRR programmes is reintegration assistance, which is provided, based on a needs and opportunity evaluation, on an individual or community basis to enhance the socio-economic reintegration of migrants in their countries of origin
Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered new risks of trafficking in persons and exploitation. These include increased vulnerability of stranded and destitute migrants, a higher incidence of trafficking recruitment and exploitation online. IOM has modified and expanded eligibility criteria for direct assistance to migrants in vulnerable situations, in the light of COVID-19 and assists migrants who are unable to meet their basic needs and those of their dependents. Additionally, IOM’s Regional Office and Missions across the region apply flexible, adaptive, and innovative approaches in responding to the limitations posed by COVID-19 to ensure continuity of protection of Victims of Trafficking and other vulnerable migrants. This includes:

  • virtual counselling to migrants via telephone remote management of provision of services
  • identifying the most vulnerable and providing critical humanitarian assistance
  • mapping access points such as borders, police stations, health facilities, to identify new data and trends
  • analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on migrant populations, to inform messaging, provision of services, and identification of those most at risk
  • making prevention and response to Gender-Based Violence part of all COVID-19 response plans, while advocating for domestic violence shelters as essential services

IOM is stepping up its work with mandated government agencies on rights-based migration governance, in particular return management and options for return and readmission cooperation in the COVID-19 context. It is advocating for the inclusion of migrants, regardless of their status, in national and local COVID-19 preparedness and response strategies/plans across Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.