UN migration agency to start Brexit project in France

‘It’s not what we do every day.’

The UN's migration agency is soon to be helping both EU citizens in the UK and Britons in France with their immigration paperwork.
The UN's migration agency is soon to be helping both EU citizens in the UK and Britons in France with their immigration paperwork. (Philippe Wojazer/REUTERS)

Better known for working with migrants and refugees in war zones and humanitarian hotspots, the UN’s migration agency is soon to start helping Britons in France to deal with the administrative fallout from Brexit.

The International Organisation for Migration, a $1.8 billion UN aid agency active in relief operations such as Yemen, Somalia, and Bangladesh, has posted recruitment ads for two jobs “working to support vulnerable UK citizens and their families to regularise their administrative situations in France” after the UK leaves the EU.

The IOM’s Brexit project in France will hire a legal adviser who will provide advice and legal counselling, hold outreach sessions with British residents, and keep track of French regulations. The second position is for a caseworker, also based in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany.

Questions to the IOM about the cost and scope of the project went unanswered by the time of publication. The project is “unusual” but not unprecedented, an official from the UN agency told The New Humanitarian, insisting on confidentiality as the funding details were not yet announced.

Although the formal announcement has not yet been made, the donor is the UK taxpayer. When asked about the IOM’s Brexit role, UK officials referred TNH to the announcement of a £3 million allocation by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The UK Nationals Support Fund, to be spent over two years is meant to help some of the one million Britons in the EU and European Free Trade Area looking to sort out their immigration status “who may find it harder to complete all the paperwork” for a variety of reasons. The French authorities have paused applications for residency from Britons until July 2020.

Officials at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office told TNH that decisions on the UK Nationals Support Fund were still being finalised and did not confirm funding for IOM. The officials said the work of the fund was in addition to the efforts of British embassies and that France was a priority as large numbers of British citizens live there.

The IOM official said it was “unusual” for the agency to be called upon to help vulnerable citizens of wealthy countries. “It’s not what we do every day,” they said.

The official noted, however, that the agency, formed in 1951, began its existence by helping hundreds of thousands of Europeans emigrate, mainly to the Americas. The Brexit project work is “a reflection of how we are working all over with vulnerable migrants”, they said.

The IOM already received UK funding last year to work on a similar issue in reverse: assisting EU citizens in the UK in getting their status regularised after Brexit. The UK’s interior ministry, the Home Office, confirmed that the IOM received some of a £9 million package of funding for organisations working with EU citizens under the post-Brexit “settlement” scheme. It did not respond to questions about the size and scope of the grant agreement.

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