IOM’s Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs) have been providing individual and online consultations and reaching out to various communities of Georgian nationals regarding safe migration and visa-free travel. In the light of COVID-19 related challenges, IOM is using its visa-free to Europe Facebook group to offer support and counselling to Georgian nationals stranded mainly in EU countries. IOM works closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure provision of most up-to-date and objective information. IOM's visa-free to Europe Facebook group has over 4800 members (and growing), among them 82% women, regular and irregular migrants, stranded in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Poland, France, Germany, Cyprus, Israel.
With the support of the European Union, MRCs in Tbilisi, Telavi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Poti, have been promoting benefits of safe migration and raising awareness on risks that might accompany irregular migration. Recent challenges, which accompanied COVID-19-related restrictions, further demonstrate the importance of being informed and prepared, irrespective of the purpose and the duration of the journey.
As a result of COVID-19 majority of Georgian nationals found themselves stranded abroad, unable to purchase return tickets, get in touch with the embassies and fill out necessary registration forms to receive support. Some of the underlaying issues are lack of funds/savings, lack of trust towards authorities, lack of knowledge on who to contact and how. Many have fears of violating rules of visa-free travel due to overstay or are trying to overcome other uncertainties and financial or emotional challenges. Some would like to return, but are not in a position to cover the fines upon departure, which add up to thousands of Georgian Laris due to years of overstay. And there are others, who would like to return now, but are afraid that because of past violations will not be allowed to go back to the EU country of their previous residence once the COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted.
IOM will continue to provide up to date information and counselling to the stranded migrants. Once travel to the EU becomes again relevant for the nationals of Georgia, the MRCs will turn their efforts back to promoting informed and safe migration.