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The travel phase refers to the safe, dignified and humane movement of refugees from the country where they are staying to their country of resettlement.
When resettled refugees need to travel a few elements need to be taken into consideration.Firstly, travel documents need to be obtained, and are usually provided by the country of resettlement through their embassies and consulates. Depending on the country where the refugees to be resettled are currently staying and/or transiting through, exit permits and transit visas are also required. At major airports, transit assistance is provided to ensure that refugees take the correct connecting flights. Transit staff also notify receiving authorities in cases of flights that are delayed or changed.
As refugees are typically novice travellers and often travel in groups, transportation and passenger handling at embarkation, transit and arrival airports is organized on their behalf. This includes assistance with check-in, customs and immigration formalities, and with transit and arrival assistance. In order to help refugees with special needs, and to monitor and attend to medical requirements en route, it is necessary to liaise with flight staff and other authorities to ensure that vulnerable persons travel in a safe and dignified manner, with operational and medical escorts on hand.
As most refugees have never travelled on an international flight before, pre-embarkation briefings are offered as close to the departure date as possible to help first-time travellers feel less anxious and better prepared for the journey ahead. These briefings prepare refugees for their flight, including what to expect: at the airport (airport signs), during the flight (travel procedures, seat belts, use of toilets), while in transit, and upon arrival in their country of destination. The briefings also address safety, customs and immigration formalities and how to travel with children.
Twenty-four to 72 hours prior to departure, Pre-Embarkation Check (PEC) and Fit for Travel assessments are conducted to verify that refugees are fit to travel, and to ensure that pre-departure treatment for certain diseases has been provided. This can be conducted by IOM physicians and nurses in clinics, in transit centres, by mobile health teams, or collaborating field partners. In some locations, the prevalence of certain diseases such as malaria and intestinal parasites justify pre-departure treatment for all refugees. Each treatment is documented and treatment records travel with the refugees to their final destination. In addition, the PEC provides an opportunity to verify that refugees with existing medical conditions are able to fly safely and do not pose a risk to themselves or others. Refugees who have new conditions or whose condition has deteriorated will have their travel postponed until such time as they are fit to travel.
Arranging travel for resettled refugees and other vulnerable persons is a cornerstone of IOM’s constitutional mandate. IOM has a worldwide network of experienced movement operations staff who ensure that refugees are transported smoothly from remote, often far-flung locations to their final destination. Using its MIMOSA database and reporting protocols, IOM can keep government and reception and integration partners abreast of each movement in real time to ensure that refugees are met and assisted upon arrival in the resettlement country.
Most refugees are flown by a scheduled commercial airline service. Using uniquely negotiated agreements concluded with a global network of major airlines, they provide preferential fares and other services in the transportation of refugees. Standby agreements with air charter operators are also maintained in order to conduct movement operations in remote locations, or where large numbers of refugees must be moved quickly.
Pictures: © IOM/Thierry Falise, Thailand, 2007; ©IOM/Alex Van Hagen, 2005; © IOM/Kari Collins, Nepal, 2009