Dili – This week (14/9), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) facilitated the return of 11 Vietnamese migrants from Timor-Leste. The migrants (8 men and 3 women) were rescued by Timor-Leste authorities after drifting at sea for days when their vessel developed problems and they eventually landed on the uninhabited Jaco Island.
After sleeping rough, in open space for two nights, the migrants were rescued by authorities on 12 June 2020.
The group had set off from Viet Nam on 9 March 2020, arrived in Indonesia where they spent several months before proceeding by boat on 1 June 2020, to their intended destination, Australia.
Wonesai Workington Sithole, IOM Chief of Mission in Timor-Leste commended the timely support of various ministries and agencies in Timor-Leste. “Even in the midst of a state of emergency, the Government took all necessary preventive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of the stranded migrants, which reflects a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to migration management.”
The rescued migrants and their families had borrowed money to finance their journeys, with each migrant having to pay a large, partial payment to what they called their “agents,” who were to arrange passage and jobs for them abroad.
After their return to Viet Nam, they will still need to repay the debt, but many of them do not have jobs or income. Despite these challenges, the migrants were relieved to return home to their families. One of the migrants said: “On behalf of the group, I would like to thank IOM offices and Governments of Timor-Leste and Viet Nam to bring us home in the midst of this unprecedented travel restrictions.”
Still, there is lingering bitterness. One migrant said he worked as a mechanic in Viet Nam but did not earn enough to provide for his family. He decided to seek a better opportunity abroad so that he could pay for his children’s education and give them a better future. He said: “Agents know very well how to play with feelings of those desperate to make a living. They made me believe, easily, that the whole journey is legal, and that the agent can easily obtain for you a work permit.”
Another migrant also said his agent made many false promises about the journey, but the reality when he arrived in Indonesia was very different. The agent assured him that he would travel with a big tourist cruise ship, but it was all a lie. Remembering his harrowing experience of being stranded at sea, he offered this heartfelt advice, “I advise anyone thinking of migrating not to fall prey to agents’ tricks and migrate properly.”
Upon arrival in Viet Nam, the migrants were placed into the mandatory 14-day quarantine, following which, they will be assisted by IOM to return to their respective homes to be reunited with their families, who have been waiting for their return for a long time. The group will be entitled to receive a cash grant to meet their reintegration needs.
Miah Park, Chief of IOM Mission in Viet Nam highlighted the challenge of supporting returns during a pandemic: “It took quite some time and a lot of efforts from all responsible government agencies and IOM to successfully organize this safe return flight for the migrants, especially in the restricted travel situation.”
Park said this return also showed the effective cooperation between the Governments and IOM in managing migration. “However, to avoid such incidents in the future, more efforts and work are required in the fight against human smuggling,” she added.
The migrants’ return has been organized through the Voluntary Returns Support and Reintegration Assistance for Bali Process Member States programme, implemented by IOM in coordination with the Bali Process Regional Support Office.
Yvain Bon, the programme’s manager explained: “The collaboration between Bali Process Member States to coordinate their support for the return of their citizens who want to return home is key to overcome challenges, especially when consular support is not available in the countries where migrants are stranded.” He added, “For IOM and the Regional Support Office of the Bali Process, it’s important to have such projects to complete the efforts made by Member States in assisting stranded migrants.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 60 people have been assisted in 20 countries with assisted voluntary return through this programme.