Texting Returnees

Transportation assistance is a key component of IOM return and reintegration programmes for migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in host countries and wish to return voluntarily to their countries of origin. Relaying travel details can sometimes be challenging, but recent feedback from migrants in the Netherlands has led to communication improvements and fewer missed flights.

Suvdmaa* and her younger sister traveled to the Netherlands last year, seeking employment and new opportunities. But life was not as easy as they had imagined, and after overstaying their visa, they started worrying about the risks they might face by staying. They decided to return home to Mongolia with IOM’s assistance. As the departure day grew closer, Suvdmaa was concerned that they might not receive the flight information because their address had changed so often. But there was nothing to worry about. Soon after, Suvdmaa’s phone lit up with a text and her flight details appeared on the screen.

IOM used to contact migrants by phone or email to provide travel dates and ticketing information and would also send each migrant travel details in a posted letter. Despite the multiple channels used, many returnees did not show up for their scheduled flights.

The IOM mission started collecting feedback from migrants as to what was going wrong. In nearly every case, the flight details had not reached the migrants, in time or at all. Letters had been lost in the mail, especially those addressed to migrants without a reliable postal address. Messages were often left that were never heard or read. From the feedback, the IOM team realized that it needed a way to reach each and every migrant in the programme, more directly and in real-time.

With nearly all returnees owning phones, they saw SMS as the solution. IOM Netherlands set about digitizing its return and reintegration operations. Now, when a flight is booked, the IOM system dispatches an automatic text message to the respective returnees’ phone with flight details. The migrants can keep the information on their phone, at hand, and access it at any time.

Since the launch of the new service, far more migrants are catching their home-bound flights.