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Homecoming agony 1: Returnees bemoan failed promises by UN body, govt to empower them

Libya RETURNEES

•Condemnation trails exclusion of deportees, expelled migrants from trainings
•Large return of migrants may worsen insecurity- House Committee Chair
on Migration and Refugees •We have trained, empowered over 7, 000
returnees this year ­–National Commission for Refugees director

No fewer than 15, 000 stranded Nigerian migrants have in the last two years voluntarily returned to the country with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a United Nations migration agency . The IOM in July 2017 said roughly 3,800 Nigerian migrants would receive in-kind reintegration assistance to start businesses, study or cover medical and accommodation costs after they return home from other African countries (an estimated 3,000 migrants) and from EU member states (800 migrants) over a period of three years (2017 to 2020). This, according to the organisation, represents a major scale-up in the reintegration assistance that IOM provided previously. More than one and a half years after their return, many of the returnees are yet to get the expected empowerment from IOM even after attending the reintegration programme facilitated by the organisation. The returnees’ woes are compounded by the failure of government to fulfil myriads of promises made to them on return to the country. With the number of migrants coming back to the country constantly increasing, INNOCENT DURU, in this report, examines the implication for the socio-economic and security situation of the country.

After a hellish experience during her turbulent sojourn in Libya, Anthonia heaved a sigh of relief when the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) came to evacuate her and other stranded migrants in the North African country back home to Nigeria.

Anthonia’s joy was not just that she was returning home unscathed, she was elated that after all she had suffered, there was hope that she would later have something to fall back on because she was voluntarily returned by the IOM.

Her confidence level rose when she was invited to participate in a reintegration programme by IOM in Lagos, after which she would be empowered. But that never came. Her vivacity gradually fizzled out after a long time of fruitlessly waiting for IOM’s support.

“I was part of the people brought back by IOM. When we came back, they promised that they would support us by starting businesses for us. I was part of the reintegration programme but I wasn’t empowered. I came back last year April. They accommodated us during the training and also reimbursed us for the money we spent on transportation. The training I attended was held in Lagos and I was given N5, 000 for transportation.

“They have not given me anything after that time. I have been in touch with them. They said they would support and asked me to provide some documents. I have been on it but the latest I heard from them was that they have transferred my case to another person. They have not replied me since then. I am acquiring skills in fashion designs. I have not received any support from the government,” she said in a tone laden with disappointment.

Anthonia is not alone in this. Sifahu Lasisi, who also came back through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR), also spoke of how her hope of bouncing back to financial independence through the support of IOM was dashed.

“I attended the training at IOM’s office located at Isaac John’s Street, Ikeja. They trained us on how to do business and make profit. For the six days we spent going to take part in the training, I was paid N6, 000. I have not received further help thereafter. I had gone to their office several times but nothing came out of it. I was forced to give up. I have nobody to help me.”

Also reliving his frustration waiting for IOM’s support, another returnee brought back under the AVRR programme, Christian, said: “I came back last year. I was one of the people brought back by IOM. I took part in the reintegration programme. I spent about a week attending the programme. They taught us some hand work but I told them that I am a driver.

“I have not been able to reach IOM officials after the training. I don’t even have their contact anymore. When we returned to the country, they promised us that they would empower us but I have not heard anything from them. I am surprised and disappointed.

“I have been helping people to wash car since I came back just to make both ends meet. I want the government to assist us. I am a driver and need a job to earn a living.” It was the same sad tale for Vitalis who also took part in the IOM’s reintegration programme. “I attended the training but got no support thereafter,” he said.

When The Nation called one of the numbers of the IOM officials, who was identified as Tope, to know why the returnees have not been empowered in line with the organisation’s mandate, he rhetorically asked: “What are their names? Who gave you my number? The person who gave you my number should call me. I don’t know how you got my number. I can’t respond to that question. Who are those people? Give me their names. Please oga, Iam very busy. I can’t answer that your question I beg o. I should know the people that made the allegation.”

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Our correspondent subsequently asked Sifahu who provided the IOM official’s mobile to call him.

The embattled returnee later called to inform our correspondent that Tope neither answered her call nor called back. “He also did not respond to a text message I sent to him,” Sifahu said disconsolately.

The Nation subsequently contacted the European Union office in Nigeria to find out why some of the migrants who voluntarily returned with IOM were yet to be empowered.

The International Aid/Cooperation Officer Migration, Drugs and Organised Crime, EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Eleni Zerzelido, declined speaking on the phone but on two occasions requested that our correspondent should send messages to her.

As at the time of filing this report, Eleni was yet to respond to the messages sent via WhatsApp and regular text message.

The EU and the IOM entered into a partnership for the Protection and Reintegration of Migrants, which was launched in Nigeria on 20 July, 2017. The European Union Trust Fund (EUTF) support is part of the EU–IOM Initiative.

Returnees lament successive governments’ failed promises

The frustration of not being empowered by IOM for many of the returnees is bearable compared to the failure of successive governments in the country to make good their promises to the beleaguered migrants.

Some of the returnees in Edo State told The Nation how they went into agriculture to make both ends meet and shun the temptation of embarking on another round of irregular migration but got no support. They recounted how they formed cooperative societies to enable them access loans but ended up disappointed.

One of the leaders of the cooperative groups, Pastor Dongo, said: “ I am the head of Victory Farmers Cooperative Society. We are into fish farming. I actually head two cooperative groups and both are into fish farming. We have not received any support from any government. Edo State government under Obaseki trained us but we are yet to be empowered. When they made the promises to us, we were praising them all over the social media but at the end nothing came out of it.

“This is why most of us went to hustle on our own. It has not been easy hustling without support. I attended training on fish farming for good three months, wasting all my money on transportation. Some of my cooperative members don’t have money. I have to foot their bill in order to encourage them. At the end, like I said, we are just at the mercy of fate. We only thank God that we are still alive.”

Expressing fears about the large number of jobless returnees in the country, Dongo said: “The situation of things in the country is an eyesore. In my area, once it is 7 O’ clock, you will not see a single fly outside. Yesterday (Tuesday), there were gunshots for good three hours. Things are getting out of hand.

“The major problem of our youths is unemployment and hunger. I believe strongly that if our youths are empowered and they work during the day, they would sleep at night. But when they are idle in the day, they would be busy at night.

“Some of my members have been expressing the desire to travel again but being a pastor, I have been talking to them, giving them hope that one day, God will help us. Some of them have started learning how to repair generators and other skills. Nobody has left in my group but it cannot be zero per cent in all the groups. Some will come today and in the next three months, they are back again.”

For Chidi, the head of Fish Farmers Cooperative Society, it was endless lamentation as he relives the ordeal of his members . “No government has ever empowered us. We are a registered body and we have our certificate. Since the expected empowerment from the govern ment didn’t come through, we are operating individually, but we hold meetings from time to time. We are not happy with the state of things. It is because of lack of support that the cooperative society is not functioning the way it should be.

“It is not everybody in the group that has the money to start the business of fish farming. It is those whose parents helped to raise funds that have started farming. Our personal efforts are grossly insufficient but instead of staying back and doing nothing, we have decided to be productive and take care of our families. We have made efforts to get loans from a new generation bank we opened an account with but nothing came out of it after they had tossed us up and down,” he said.

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Chidi suddenly became emotional as he recounted how some of his frustrated members have perished trying to make another attempt at going abroad. “Many of our members have gone back through the desert to places like Morocco because there was no hope of empowerment from the government. Many of them even died in the process because they there was nobody to assist them.”

When The Nation cornered Tony Jimoh, the leader of Snail Farming Cooperative Society, he told of how they registered the group last year with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, adding: “We are 27 in my group. Some other groups have 27 members each too. Our farmland is more than four hectares. We contributed money to get the land. Nobody has given us any support since we started. They have only been promising to assist without fulfilling it. They only brag and do nothing. We came back from Libya in 2011. We started the group in 2013 but it was not registered. It has been promises galore since then till this time.”

Former leader of the Nigerian Migrants in Tripoli, Libya, Sidi Yakubu, who is based in Kogi State, also said: “Government has done nothing to empower us. I came back in 2011 and have received no form of assistance since then. I came in on as a diplomatic returnee. I have been on the street since I came back. I have been part of one or two civil society groups which have helped in one way or the other.

“There are dangers in continuously bringing people back without providing jobs for them. They could be used as thugs during election period and can be engaged in criminal activities. The way out is for the government to train and empower returnees and give them a conducive environment to operate in. I went to Libya legitimately. I worked there for eight years with an international organisation. I couldn’t take the risk of staying back there because my life was at risk. The rebels raided my house and brought it down.

We have been training, empowering returnees- National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI)

The Director, Refugee and Migrants at the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI) , Hamidu Lawal, in a chat with our correspondent, dismissed the allegations of the returnees, saying that the commission has always trained and empowered returnees. “We actually do empowerment, which we call Durable Solution. We don’t it not only for migrants but also for IDPs and persons of concern. This empowerment is in phases. When migrants return, we do NEEDS Assessment.

“We aggregate their needs, knowing those who want to go to school and those who want to do other things. We take an aggregate of whatever they want to do. Most of these returnees, especially those stranded in Libya and Cameroon are adults who want to do something for livelihood and not education. We have a training skill for them, which we do together with our partners like the IOM and others”.

This year, he said, “We have trained over 7, 000 of them. We do this sometimes on our own and sometimes with our partners. Thereafter, we empower them. If you want to open a shop, we will get a shop for you, buy the goods and pay the rent for at least two years. We paid rent for those who came back from Cameroon; we gave them food for six months and empower them in a trade after training.

READ ALSO: Homecoming agony (2): Concern over how deported sick migrants, ex-convicts are managed

“When they come back, we take them back to their local communities or any communities they choose to stay in and we empower them from there. Last week, we set up a cooperative group in Numan, Adamawa State. It is a rice milling cooperative. We set up the cooperatives and gave them the machines and capital to do their work. We are going to do the same thing in oil mill in Adamawa State. We teach others on how to make soap and other skills.

“The figure of migrants who have been brought back is over than 14, 000. I know that NEMA brought back 2, 100; IOM has brought back over 16, 000 migrants. Those who are deported because of immigration problems are being brought back on a regular basis.”

He further pointed out that “some of the migrants don’t understand that this intervention is in their interest. Some of them disappear immediately they arrive. Even when we have given them SIM cards so that we can keep in touch, they don’t come back. It is not the fault of the intervening authorities. It is the fault of the beneficiaries. Some of them want to be given physical cash. The programme is tailored in such a way that the cash doesn’t get to their hands. If it is a store he wants, we would do that and get the equipment.

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“Some of these people coming from Mali, Europe and so on have criminal history. Most of them are returning for immigration related offences. Those ones fizzle away immediately they arrive. Some of them because of circumstances key into this programme. The ones that came back from Cameroon because they are refugees are fully part of the process. Most of them have been returned to their villages and empowered.”

Stakeholder decry returnees’ plight

Some stakeholders on migration issues in the country, who spoke with our correspondent, flayed the plight of the returnees.

The Director of the Centre for Youth Integrated Development (CYID), Victor Aihawu, said: “When we met in Morocco, the international reintegration officer of IOM said if reintegration does not lead to financial independence, that it is not sustainable. IOM does not work with forced deportation. They deal with voluntary returns. But the truth is that there are so many people that came under that voluntary return that they have not implemented their programmes. Because I don’t work with IOM, I wouldn’t know what the problem is.

“The NCRI is supposed to be the agency supervising the work that IOM is doing in Nigeria. IOM is not the owner of the funds. They are only working with the money given to them by EU. The NCRI is in the best position to answer why this and this have not been done. If the NCRI asks IOM that they are aware that after one and a half years, so many returnees have not gone through their reintegration programme, what is the problem? IOM will immediately respond to them because if they fail to do that, the NCRI can write to the EU and terminate their contract.

Unfortunately, the NCRI is not supervising anything. When you have a country where their migration management is 100 per cent in the hands of foreign donors, he who pays the piper will dictate the tune. The standard operating procedures in Nigeria, which we are reviewing now, only covers voluntary return because it was IOM that sponsored the draft. Nigerians are Nigerians irrespective of how they came back. tion, expulsion, they all should be entitled to reintegration because you don’t even know the danger of receiving people you don’t even have their background information. Most of these returnees didn’t leave this country as criminals, drug addicts or rapists. They developed those characters over there and Nigeria is just receiving them without proper monitoring. Nobody monitors them, when they enter the country they disappear and that is all.”

Also expressing concern about the plight of the returnees, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on IDPs, Refugees and North East Initiatives, Hon. Muhammed Umar Jega, said it is a serious matter. “In the first place, they are leaving their country for another in search of greener pasture. When they get there, they are declared persona non grata because they don’t have valid documents. This comprises educated and non-educated. We need to make our system better and make our economy work so that people don’t leave the country.

“It has serious security implications. When people are idle, their minds would become the devil’s workshop, as the saying goes. Some people cannot even provide some basic needs. You know it is a serious matter. The way forward is to make our system work.”

He added: “This is the work of the executive. Ours is to enact the law and also ensure there is supervision and implementation of this law, that is an oversight on the part of the executive to ensure they are doing the right thing.

“This question is better answered by the minister of humanitarian affairs because they are supposed to provide a policy direction and where they think they need some legal framework from us, they should let us know. The minister of humanitarian affairs should make adequate provisions for the rehabilitation of those returning so that they will be reintegrated back to their families.”

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

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Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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