JG - Assistance project benefits Jamaican migrants in Britain
Assistance project benefits Jamaican migrants in Britain
published: Sunday July 22, 2007
Lovelette Brooks, Special Projects Editor
Ms. J. left London in July 2004. She decided to open a business and got help.
It is rarely a happy ending for deportees. Blacklisted by immigration officials and stigmatised, returnees face innumerable difficulties trying to recoup and reintegrate into society. Finding shelter, a job and a dignified lifestyle for many is an ambitious and daunting task.
‘Irregular’ Jamaican migrants living in Britain and desirous of returning, however, do have an option once they have not been issued a deportation order. Through the International Office of Migration (IOM), headquartered in Geneva, they can get assistance returning home; and while at home, they can benefit from the programme’s local reintegration projects.
An independent organisation, the IOM with local offices in Jamaica and four other Caribbean territories, offers assistance to refugees, migrants and displaced persons. Helping returnees re-establish themselves in their home country is done through the IOM’s Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP).
Since 2003, the IOM has opened offices in Kingston and has been quietly helping returnees find jobs, start small businesses and further their education. The IOM projects are funded through the Britain’s Borders and Immigration Agency, the European Union and other international donor agencies.
63 Jamaicans benefited
“We were set up with a mandate to provide capacity building in migration management, however, most of our work is project based. Right now, we are offering assistance through VARRP. So far, 63 Jamaican returnees from Britain have benefited from the programme and there is a long waiting list at our London offices”, says project manager Keisha Livermore.
Any Jamaican national who wishes to return home can benefit from VARRP.
Who qualifies? Persons who have applied for asylum and are waiting on a British Home Office decision; applicants who have been refused asylum and are appealing; those appealing against refusal; persons who have been granted exceptional leave to remain, and persons who have been given humanitarian protection.
“We have had a cross section of persons coming back home, whole families who voluntarily decided to return for one reason or the other, individuals who have violated immigration laws, persons detained for minor offences, and even qualified professionals. Under the Return of Qualified Migrants Programme (RQM), professionals are assisted in getting jobs that are in line with their qualifications,” Livermore tells The Sunday Gleaner.
The RQM project, which was geared to stem the brain drain from Jamaica, recently ended, and the IOM is currently running full speed ahead with the VARRP. According to Livermore, most of the beneficiaries were actually asylum seekers who had lost their appeals – some who fled from politically violent areas, like the garrisons, and there are others who were threatened at home because of their sexual orientation.
The programme of assistance begins once they get home. Returnees have the option of being met at the airport. If they have nowhere to live, the IOM office arranges temporary accommodation until something permanent comes up. They are ensured meals and subsistence cash.
For those who have families to receive them or a place to stay, they are asked to report to the IOM office within three months after arrival. Here, they are given a choice as to how they wish to start over.
Livermore explains that everything is above board and strictly confidential. Beneficiaries may choose one of the following reintegration options: skills training; education; setting up of small businesses; and health care.
“Our focus is to help the beneficiaries get started on a sustainable project. Most are desirous of starting a small business – grocery shop, higglering and farming. A few opt for going into taxi service, and there are others who want to go back to school.
Cut through red tape
“We cut through all the red tape for them. We fill out forms, see to registration of businesses and the acquisition of licences. As soon as the projects are approved, the beneficiaries get funding to begin their operations,” Livermore says.
“This particular beneficiary just got approval to set up a coffee farm in St. Thomas, and his funds will be disbursed soon. We just helped another person purchase a car, which she will use to buy and sell goods,” said Livermore, at the same time appealing for other non-govermental organisations to partner with the VARRP.
Despite a few challenges, like “walking them through the system, especially those who have not been to Jamaica in years and are a bit ignorant and impatient,” the project mostly has rewards. Says this mother who returned recently with her three British-born children: “They just love the sunshine, they love school and the freedom to run up and down.”