New Approaches to Reintegration of Returning Migrants in Georgia

Sanja Celebic Lukovac, IOM Georgia Chief of Mission and Sabine Machl, UN Resident Coordinator in Georgia at the forum

Tbilisi - Mirroring the accelerated rate of emigration from Georgia, the scale of returns to Georgia has been growing significantly in over the last decade. Over 23,000 Georgian migrants are known to have returned home during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic alone, in face of job insecurity abroad.

The pandemic and related restrictions on public and economic life significantly disrupted the ongoing reintegration process of earlier returnees. IOM surveys show that in 2021 returnees struggle more than previously to readapt and rebuild their lives in Georgia, especially because many of the same economic, social, and psychosocial factors that prompted them to migrate in the first place have remained unchanged or even took a turn for the worse during the ongoing crisis.

On 27 September 2021 IOM invited its partners and national stakeholders to present new surveys conducted among returned migrants in Georgia, and discuss innovative approaches to migrant reintegration, as well as efforts to foster linkages and synergies between reintegration and sustainable development programming in the county.

The participants were welcomed by Sanja Celebic Lukovac, IOM Georgia Chief of Mission, who stated that “Depopulation and loss of human capital have contributed to market deterioration in the vulnerable regions in Georgia and further destabilize local communities already affected by poverty and lack of opportunity. The households in the most affected parts of Georgia rely extensively and often exclusively on remittance income, pushing additional individuals to consider emigration as a means of supporting their families. We are excited to share with you the new direction on which IOM is embarking globally in linking reintegration and development programming. These efforts aim at making the environment of return more supportive of reintegration and giving returnees the chance to become agents of progress and development in their communities.”

Already prior to the pandemic, the Government of Georgia has made reintegration of returning citizens its key priority, especially in light of its efforts to curb irregular migration from Georgia and decrease the number of applications for asylum lodged by Georgian citizens in the Member States of the European Union (EU). Indeed, return and reintegration figure prominently in the Government’s Migration Strategy and for 2021-2030. The effectiveness and availability of reintegration support have become even more critical to Georgia in face of local economic developments.

IOM’s recent surveys show, however, that over 30 per cent of the beneficiaries of reintegration programmes in Georgia feel they will need to leave the country again, nearly unanimously pointing to lack of jobs; lack of security; low earnings; lack of essential services or family pressure as their motivations for re-migration. This and other findings of IOM’s recent surveys among the returnee population indicate clearly that an even more robust approach to supporting returnees and their households is needed to contribute to community revitalization in regions of return, boost local recovery from the effects of the pandemic, and address the remaining adverse drivers of migration in communities of return.

Giorgi Chavchavadze, Head, Policy Department, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs of Georgia also delivered opening remarks and stressed importance of reintegration, which is included in the country strategy for 2021 – 2030: “We believe it is important to focus on reintegration of returnees to be managed not our via government prgramme, but through uniform approaches, which will take into account all those opportunities, which are currently available in the country. These include development programmes, social protection, education and health programmes.”

In her opening remarks Sabine Machl, UN Resident Coordinator in Georgia spoke about returning migrants as opportunity for Georgia’s future: “Returnees bring back skills, experience and entrepreneurship abilities which can help Georgia’s recovery. At the same time, many returnees are at the risk of becoming vulnerable to poverty and social marginalization due to travel restrictions, growing unemployment and lack of access to services. The Government of Georgia has recognized the need to take active steps to enable successful reintegration of Georgian returnees and has pursued a range of policy, strategic and institutional efforts in the past years. Return and reintegration of migrants are reflected as key priorities in the Government’s Migration Strategy for 2021-2030, and on the agenda of the United Nations and development partners in Georgia and globally.”

The online event hosted by IOM brought together stakeholders and partners with an interest in fostering sustainable migrant reintegration and local development in Georgia to jointly reflect on new findings and pilot approaches and chart a path forward. Reflections by partners and donors will also serve to inform the development of IOM Georgia’s Country Strategy for 2022-2025.

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities