News & Events


The Family Reunion Travel Assistance Programme helped reunite a Syrian baby, Omar Al Sharki, with his family at Heathrow Airport after four-months apart on Friday February 19th. The programme is led by the British Red Cross and supported by IOM through a number of services, including travel assistance. IOM staff travelled with Omar from Beirut to London to safely ensure the reunion with his parents.

Mousa and Rajaa Al Sharki were living in Aleppo, Syria with their four children when the conflict escalated and they were forced to leave as the safety of their children could no longer be guaranteed. Mousa decided to travel first to the UK to seek refuge, while Rajaa, at the time pregnant, went to Lebanon, where she gave birth to Omar. Mousa then managed to get a family reunion visa to bring his wife and children to Cardiff. However, an error on Omar’s passport, which stated he was born in Syria rather than Lebanon, meant he was not allowed to board the flight in Beirut.

Rajaa said: “The authorities in Lebanon told me if I didn't leave the country then, I would never be allowed to come to the UK. They said this was my only chance. I didn't want to leave my other children either. I had to make a snap decision - either way it was a huge sacrifice. I feel so guilty for leaving him, but I had no choice. Words can’t describe how happy I am to have him back with me.”

With the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) tracing unit in Beirut, Omar finally received the exit visa needed to leave the country.

Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission of IOM in the UK said:
“We are very happy and proud to have been able to bring Omar to his family after having been through such a difficult ordeal. This is a testament to the family reunion avenues that provide safe paths for those displaced by conflict and instability. IOM has supported the British Red Cross in reuniting over 1,000 family members under its Travel Assistance Programme in the last year alone, and we hope to offer this service to many more.”

Karl Pike, Refugees and Asylum Policy Manager at the British Red Cross said:
“Bringing more refugee families together would be one of the most effective ways for the Government to do more to help right now - strengthening an existing safe and legal route for refugees to reach a place of safety.”

An average of two children have drowned every day since September 2015 as their families try to cross the eastern Mediterranean, and the number of child deaths is growing, according to IOM, UNHCR, and UNICEF. The agencies are calling for better protection for those escaping conflict and despair.

Since last September, when the tragic death of toddler Aylan Kurdi captured the world’s attention, more than 340 children, many of them babies and toddlers, have drowned in the eastern Mediterranean. The total number of children who have died may be even greater, the agencies say, their bodies lost at sea.

"We cannot turn our faces away from the tragedy of so many innocent young lives and futures lost – or fail to address the dangers so many more children are facing,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We may not have the ability now to end the desperation that causes so many people to try to cross the sea, but countries can and must cooperate to make such dangerous journeys safer. No one puts a child in a boat if a safer option is available.”

The stretch of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece is among the deadliest routes in the world for refugees and migrants. The winter’s rough seas, overloading and the poor quality of boats and lifesaving equipment increase the risk of capsizing, making the journey significantly more dangerous.

“These tragic deaths in the Mediterranean are unbearable and must stop,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “Many of the children and adults who have died were trying to join relatives in Europe. Organizing ways for people to travel legally and safely, through resettlement and family reunion programs for example, should be an absolute priority, if we want to reduce the death toll," he added.

With children now accounting for 36 percent of those on the move, the chance of them drowning in the Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece has grown proportionately. During the first six weeks of 2016, 410 people drowned out of the 80,000 crossing the eastern Mediterranean. This amounts to 35-fold increase year-on-year from 2015.

“Counting lives is not enough. We must act,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. “This is not only a Mediterranean problem, or even a European one. It is a humanitarian catastrophe in the making that demands the entire world's engagement. Haiti's 2010 earthquake was not a matter for only one hemisphere, nor was the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami. Those disasters were met by an outpouring of humanitarian action. So must this one.”

For further information please contact IOM HQ: Leonard Doyle Tel: + 41 79 285 71 23, Email: or Joel Millman, Tel: + 41 79 103 87 20, Email:

IOM UK is delighted to be part of Refugee Week, a nationwide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and encourages a better understanding between communities. This year’s Refugee Week will take place between 20-26 June 2016, marking World Refugee Day on 20th June, with the theme 'Refugees Welcome'.

As latest member of the Refugee Week partnership, IOM UK presented the global and UK perspectives on the current migration and refugee situations, alongside with UNHCR UK, at the Refugee Week Conference on Monday 15 February 2016.

Bindu Issac, IOM UK, noted it is unacceptable that people fleeing war, persecution and extreme poverty are dying on the shores of Europe, highlighting it is crucial to provide safe and legal routes to the European Union. Giving the example of refugee resettlement, she reminded how individuals and groups present at the Refugee Week Conference campaigned, among others, to expand the UK government's pledge to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020 through its Syria Resettlement Programme. This number represents an advocacy achievement, but challenges remain such as issues related to family reunification for refugees living in the UK and the responsibility to protect and take care of unaccompanied children. Bindu Issac also underlined the importance of the pre-departure cultural orientation activities led by IOM as one of the first key steps in the journey to welcome refugees in the UK.

The diversity of representatives who attended the Refugee Week Conference illustrates the wide range of arts, voluntary, faith and refugee community organisations, student groups and local authorities involved in Refugee Week. For instance, Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founders of Solidarity for Refugees, explained how they co-organised the September 2015 Solidarity with Refugees demonstration, which gathered thousands of people in the streets of London, who took action for all those who are seeking protection. Another march is to take place all around Europe, on 27 February 2016, to support refugees rights. Sue McAlpine, for her part, presented an interactive art and photo exhibition project portraying voices from the Calais camps, to be held in June 2016 as part of the Migration Museum Project.

Marvellous artistic performances by singer and musician Didier Kisala, great Shakespeare poetry revisited by Fatima Diriye, Freddy Macha and Arne Pohlmeier of Bards without Borders and an epic final act by singer-songwriter Yasmin Kadi, accompanied by musician Moses Black, were also part and parcel of the highlights of the Refugee Week Conference. Furthermore, interactive workshops were conducted throughout the day to prepare participants in the organisation of events for the 2016 Refugee Week.

The whole event ran smoothly thanks to the amazing involvement of the Refugee Week team of volunteers.

For more information on Refugee Week and how you can contribute to share your own story of welcome, have a look at the Refugee Week's website.

For further information, please contact Nidaa Botmi at IOM UK, Tel: +44 207 811 6002, Email:

The UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC), Kevin Hyland OBE, has endorsed IOM UK’s CPD accredited Introduction to Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery awareness raising sessions, aimed at equipping frontline practitioners with the knowledge and tools needed to identify and protect victims of trafficking and slavery.

Reporting directly to the Home Secretary, the role of the IASC was established in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the newest legislative provision to strengthen the protective and preventative measures to combat the crime of trafficking and slavery. The functions of the Commissioner are to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and trafficking offences and to encourage good practice in the identification of the victims of those offences. As part of the IASC’s efforts to expand focused, coordinated and effective actions to combat slavery, training was identified as a key requirement to advance understanding of trafficking and slavery and in turn improve identification of, and assistance to, victims.

Since 2011, IOM has provided training and awareness sessions on human trafficking and modern slavery to over 2,000 frontline professions from bodies such as: local authorities, Police, health services, immigration services, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, the Church of England and diverse charities. The sessions seek to build their capacity in understanding the complexity of the crime, identify the specific, and often hidden, vulnerabilities of its victims and take appropriate action within the existing safeguarding frameworks.

Through his endorsement of the training sessions, the Commissioner notes that the content clearly addresses the key aspects of the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery: from the international legal framework and the global picture of trafficking, to the UK’s national response, and support services available to victims detected within the country. He further noted that by using case studies, discussion and group work, the course actively engages learners and is an important step towards building awareness and understanding among staff that may come across victims of trafficking and slavery in their work – such as those who support vulnerable adults and children.

With the IASC endorsement of the awareness raising sessions, IOM UK looks to further engage with, and deliver training to, key public authority and third sector organisations to improve understanding of the crimes of trafficking and slavery, and ultimately protect its victims.

If you are interested in finding out more about the sessions, please contact IOM UK at

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing will travel to London on Thursday 4th February for the ‘Supporting Syria and the Region 2016’ pledging conference. The event will be co-hosted by the UN, UK, Germany, Kuwait and Norway.

The conference aims to rally international financial support to address humanitarian and development needs inside Syria and the region, bringing together world leaders from around the globe in order to raise money to support those who have been affected by the ongoing Syria crisis.

Kuwait hosted the previous three pledging conferences in January 2013 and 2014, and March 2015.

Approaching its sixth year into the crisis, the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. With 13.5 million people in need and 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), the need for humanitarian assistance continues to reach over multiple sectors ranging from shelter to protection, education, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and health.

According to the latest UN Humanitarian Needs Overview, 8.7 million people are considered food insecure, 7.5 million are need of non-food item (NFI) and shelter support, and 12.1 million are in need of WASH assistance.

Six million are children and 4.5 million are in hard-to-reach locations, while 360,000 continue to remain trapped in 15 besieged locations. The 2016 UN inter-agency appeal for the Syria Crisis amounts to USD 7.73 billion.

Apart from addressing the imminent needs, the conference will also set itself ambitious goals for education and economic opportunities to support the lives of Syrian refugees, as well as the countries hosting them.

As part of the inter-agency appeal, IOM is requesting USD 254 million – USD 150 million for its operations inside Syria, including through its cross-border hubs in Turkey and Jordan, and USD 105 million under the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan.

To date, IOM has assisted 5.4 million refugees inside Syria and almost 800,000 in the region with NFIs and shelter support, health activities, transportation assistance, psychosocial support, and livelihood programmes.

Funding for the 2015 UN appeals has reached USD 3.3 billion of an appeal for USD 8.4 billion. “The international community needs to do more and raise new funding to address the short and long term needs of millions of Syrians affected in Syria and neighbouring countries,” said IOM Director of Operations and Emergencies Mohammed Abdiker.

For further information, please contact Geraldine Ansart at IOM HQ, Tel. +41 79 250 02 28, Email: or the Syria Crisis Coordination team, Email: