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Job fair tries to help Iraqi migrants returned from Europe

The refugee crisis in Europe has increased pressure on officials to speed up returns of people fleeing Iraq

International migration officials organized a job fair this week in Erbil, Iraq, to connect migrants returning from Europe to employers as EU officials scramble to help the nearly one million people seeking protection there — and to find ways to send back more quickly those who have been denied asylum, or who live in the bloc illegally.

About 710,000 refugees and economic migrants have entered the European Union this year, and authorities are struggling to provide, shelter and language training. The job fair program, run by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), is an EU-supported effort to encourage those denied asylum to return to their countries of origin voluntarily, rather than staying on illegally.

The project, called Magnet II, is funded by the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, France and the United Kingdom. Available to Iraqi nationals who choose to return voluntarily from these countries to the Kurdish region in Iraq, it operates a database that matches employers in Iraq with those returning. Magnet II has so far helped 39 people find employment since April 2014, as carpenters or sales associates at local businesses and multinationals, the IOM said in a statement issued Friday. About 100 people attended the fair in Erbil on Wednesday; other job events are planned this year to take place in Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah. 

“That’s really the goal of the project, to capitalize on the skills they may have learned in Europe, often foreign languages, or before their stay,” said Emma Proust, project assistant at IOM.

The number of Iraqi nationals seeking asylum in the EU has risen rapidly, from 10,740 last year to 21,310 in 2014, according to the United Nations' refugee agency. And now, some countries are making it more difficult for Iraqi citizens to be granted refugee status. Belgium’s foreign ministry, for example, no longer automatically grants asylum to migrants from Baghdad.

Given the large number of people heading to Europe, applications for asylum can take up to two years to be processed. Many people struggle to find employment as their cases languish. Others have entered the EU legally, but have overstayed their visas and found jobs clandestinely. The IOM's program offers to help returning people in both situations.

The jobs program was started in 2013, but the refugee crisis has increased pressure on officials to return more people faster, as thousands continue to request asylum each day — about 105,000 people arrived in Slovenia this week, for example. EU officials have expressed increased growing interest in such programs as the refugee crisis drags on, said Susan Fratzke, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute’s International program.

She explained that the program is intended to give people an incentive to return voluntarily, by helping them find a job once they do. “There has been an increase in pressure to make sure that returns happen, to figure out ways to make returns effective,” Fratzke said.

Governments have tried other tactics to make sure migrants leave. Germany created a “safe countries” list, which includes Kosovo, Macedonia and other western Balkan states, and designates them as “safe” for migrants to be returned to once their applications have been processed.

Another tactic has been to give migrants whose asylum applications were denied shorter notice of their deportation time, sometimes just a few hours or the morning of their scheduled departure, “to prevent abscondment,” Fratzke said.

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