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IOM Says Migrants Often Overlooked During Crises

The International Organization for Migration says migrants too often are overlooked during times of war. To mark International Migrants Day, which falls on December 18, IOM is highlighting the need and plight of stranded migrants in times of crises. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from IOM headquarters in Geneva.

The IOM estimates there are some 195 million migrants around the world. It says despite their contribution to the global economy, little thought is given to migrants who are caught up during times of conflict.

For example, the evacuation of Westerners from Lebanon this summer during the war between Israel and the Hezbollah group captured the world's attention. But, IOM says little international concern was shown for the tens of thousands of trapped migrants whose countries could not afford to help them flee.

IOM Spokesman, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, says his agency helped more than 11,000 migrants leave Lebanon. Most of them were women from Asia and Africa working as domestic servants.

"The problem we had at the time was first to register with the consular authorities from the Philippines, from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, many countries, to register those migrants," he said. "Because some of them had lost their travel documents or their travel documents and passport had been confiscated. Then we needed to make sure that medically, they were fit to travel. And, then of course we had to arrange the logistics of the evacuation by road."

Chauzy says IOM made similar arrangements for migrants who fled to Jordan from Iraq during the war, as well as for those who ran from the violence in Liberia and Ivory Coast in 2003.

He says it is relatively easy to assist highly skilled and well-paid migrants. But, people working in menial jobs usually need help to leave. It is for this reason, he says, IOM is appealing for the creation of an Emergency Evacuation Fund. This Fund would have what he calls a "float," of around $2.5 million to be used during an emergency.

"The idea is to provide this assistance as quickly as possible because situations can be very, very difficult," added Chauzy. "And, we feel that the needs of migrants have to be addressed. So, this float would basically allow us, for instance, to line up the logistics of the operation. It would allow us to provide the medical assistance required for this evacuation. It would allow us also, and that is very important, to provide some kind of re-integration assistance to those migrants who are being evacuated."

Chauzy says migrants also need help when they arrive home. He says it is extremely traumatic for a migrant worker to return home empty-handed.