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22 of November 2013

Be prepared to a repatriation in case of an emergency


During the last years emergency repatriations have become more and more frequent. Many expatriates and mobility managers are completely unprepared when facing this type of situation. It is certainly not easy to foresee an emergency and to plan each step before the emergency arises. However, a number of measures can already be taken in advance to be better prepared and to know how to react in case of an urgent repatriation.

An emergency repatriation is defined as an immediate and rapid movement of expatriates away from a threat or hazard at the expatriate location and a quick return, generally back to their country of origin.

A distinction has to be made between public and personal emergencies.

Personal emergencies affect one individual and the individual’s dependents only, for example an illness, a medical problem or the death of a close family member.

Public emergencies are often more complex and very difficult to handle by the HR professional because they affect several expatriates or even the entire expatriate population and their dependents in one country, region or subregion.

Examples of public emergencies are natural disasters, wars and political or civil unrests which have provoked several vagues of repatriations from various African countries during the last years.

In December 2006, several large oil companies decided to repatriate hundreds of expatriates from Nigeria during the political unrests prior to elections in Nigeria. The particular difficulty in this case was that the repatriations took place just after the start of December holidays. Many expatriates had already left the country without informing the HR department in their home country or were unreachable for personal or technical reasons. Regular flights were overbooked at that time of the year and many service providers in Europe (temporary housing providers, transportation companies, furniture rental, relocation companies etc.) were unavailable due to the holiday season or unable to handle such a large number of transferees in a short time. It is interesting to compare the differences in terms of repatriation policies of the concerned multinationals. In the same type of emergency situation some companies decided to repatriate all their staff, others limited their repatriations to the training spouses with children under a certain age. This type of decision, which often has to be taken within a few hours, can have important consequences not only on the expatriates themselves but also on the company. The employer is entirely responsible for the safety of all travelling staff, expatriates and personnel abroad. This care of duty of care includes all factors of potential risks. The nature of their obligation is one of result.

To efficiently prepare emergency repatriations, the following ten points are essential:

-       Keep your expatriates’ databasis updated at any time. Data should include detailed information about each expatriate’s and each dependent’s presence at the expatriate location, all their contact details, medical needs, requirements in case of an urgent repatriation, schooling an housing needs, family contacts in the home country etc.

-       Set up clear policies and guidelines concerning evacuations and hostage situations that expatriates are asked to adhere as a condition of their contract before starting their foreign assignment.

-       Communicate one single telephone number already in advance. This number will serve as your hotline which you will set up as soon as an emergency arises.

-       Select reliable service providers already in advance to cover all areas of assistance which may be needed, such as air transportation, relocation services, hotline service, car rental, temporary accommodation search, permanent home search, schooling assistance, immigration services for non Europeans, medical and psychological assistance, etc. Sign framework contracts with your providers including their obligation of assistance at any moment of the year around the clock at short notice.

-       Train all expatriates, their dependents, your HR and security staff and your external providers regularly to make sure that your guidelines, policies, security and safety procedures are known and correctly applied in case of an emergency. Test an emergency one per year with your providers including their emergency hotline staff.

-       Make sure that expatriates keep all necessary travel documents, immunization records, mariage and birth certificates accessible and up-to-date.

-       Inform expatriates about the necessity to keep a fly-away kit at hand at any moment.

-       Keep emergency supplies at hand for your expatriates (sanitary items, blankets, medical kits, torches…)

-       Keep emergency project plans and team contact details at hand including information about your staff’s availability and contact details during holidays.

-       Set up an internal or external emergency watch unit oberving all expatriate regions to foresee any eventuel political or civil unrests, wars, hostage situations or natural disasters.

To sum up, it can be said that an emergency often occurs in an unexpected region and moment which makes it difficult to plan actions in advance. However, a good preparation, selection of service providers and training of all concerned parties will contribute to make your emergency repatriations as safe and smooth as possible.