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The challenge of helping child refugees in Libya overcome trauma

With refugee and migrant children in Libya in desperate need of psychological support, UNHCR is doing what it can to help despite a volatile situation.

Suicide attempts, aggressive behaviour, sleep disorders and bedwetting – these are just some of the symptoms displayed by many young asylum seekers and refugees in Libya who have faced violence and suffering at home as well as during their difficult and dangerous journeys.

Children and their families have also often experienced or seen shocking levels of violence since arriving in Libya, which has suffered widespread conflict and instability since a 2011 uprising to overthrow former leader Muammar Gaddafi. Many have witnessed things that no child should ever see, leaving them highly stressed and anxious.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, supports activities to help refugees and asylum seekers address their mental anguish. One programme in the capital Tripoli was specifically designed for children at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), which was established as a transit centre for refugees and asylum seekers awaiting evacuation flights out of the country.

At a recent session, where youngsters were invited to draw pictures about themselves and their hopes for the future, one young girl mimics a boxer’s punches as she plays. “This child, a cute little girl, told us she wants to be a wrestler,” said psychotherapist Nadia Tabet, who works with UNHCR’s local NGO partner in Tripoli, LibAid.

“We were surprised. When I asked her ‘why?’, she said: ‘I want to hit all those who have hit us’. This reflects the injustice she suffered.”

After fleeing Eritrea, the youngster and her mother had spent more than a year in Zintan detention centre, one of 16 active official detention centres in Libya, run by the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), which falls under the Ministry of Interior. UNHCR managed to secure their release, taking them to the GDF in Tripoli pending evacuation.

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“She used to wake up at night crying. Her mother brought her to us,” Tabet explained. “The girl used to witness people fighting at night in the detention centre … she had internalized this violence. She is full of bad memories. We are trying to treat the psychological traumas they’ve experienced and modify their violent behaviour.”

In 2019, UNHCR, together with LibAid, started a psychosocial programme at the GDF trying to provide some normalcy and hope for many formerly detained youngsters. Other support programmes are available for adults at the facility as well as at UNHCR’s Community Day Centre located in another part of the city.

Libya is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Refugees and asylum seekers are regarded as illegal migrants. They can be subject to arrest and detention, especially those who have been intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard while trying to cross the Mediterranean. They often languish in detention for months, or even years. There is no judicial review process, and those held often face abuse, torture and sexual violence.

READ ALSO: Migration trends to watch in 2020 – Tola Emmanuel

In addition, many children may have come to Libya via routes controlled by human trafficking gangs, where violence, exploitation and abuse are not uncommon.

The support programme for children, funded by UNHCR, targeted youngsters aged five to 12 years old. It provided a safe space where they are encouraged to express themselves, take part in play activities that take their minds off the violence they may have witnessed and interact socially with peers. Books and toys were provided for the activities.

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“Violence is a general problem in children here,” explained LibAid’s Jamal Bashir, head of psychosocial support programmes at the GDF. “In the programme, we worked to improve behaviour.”

“We tried to create routines for them to bring a sense of normalcy … because they have not had the chance to live a normal life.

Most of the youngsters have also lost out on schooling – either breaking off their studies when they left home, or in many cases never having attended classes at all. This can also be an issue causing them a high degree of stress – the knowledge they have missed out on opportunities for a better future.

Children clearly enjoyed attending the sessions, opening up about their family experiences in the safe environment it provides. One nine-year-old boy, Mohammed*, told the psychotherapist that he does not like war, explaining that his mother and brother were both killed.

“We want to go to Europe … because everyone died,” he said. “Now it’s me and my dad only.”

Parents have seen positive results from the programme, reporting their children are calmer and more motivated. Yusuf*, a single parent following the death of his wife, said he had seen improvements in his son since he began attending.

“We’re very happy with the programme,” he said. “Before, my son had more aggressive behaviour, but now he behaves normally and respects everyone.”

READ  Returnees, health workers join hands to improve psychosocial well-being in Nigeria

LibAid’s Bashir said that when they began the new programme, children were so keen that they began turning up an hour early for the classes. “We see the children are passionate; this is something new for them.”

“The poor conditions they grew [up] in, the trauma of the journey – it all affects them,” he added. “The children are just observers who see what happens. You notice that there’s clear sadness in all the kids that are here. They can’t express it and let it out. That’s why we created these activities: to help.”

Due to worsening security in Tripoli, the psychosocial programme for children is being put on hold for the time being. UNHCR hopes to be able to find new alternatives to continue this important work.­­­­­­­­­

*Names have been changed for protection reasons.

(www.unhcr.org)

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Human trafficking: PJI  urges proper trauma management for returnees

The Pathfinder Justice Initiative (PJI), a Non-Governmental Organisation, has called for proper trauma care for migrant returnees to prevent them from becoming vulnerable to subsequent trafficking.

Evon Benson-Idahosa, the Executive Director, PJI, made the call at a Rehabilitation Workshop for Providers Serving Survivors of Human Trafficking held in Benin on Thursday.

The workshop was organised by PJI and funded by INSighT- Building Capacity to deal with human trafficking and transit routes to Nigeria, Italy and Sweden.

Benson-Idahosa said that a majority of returnee-migrants usually undergo different traumatic situations and needed to be properly rehabilitated before being integrated back into the society. She noted that if the migrant returnees were not properly rehabilitated, they would not be able to put into good use any form of skills acquisition or empowerment received.

“Providers serving survivors should know how to handle traumatised victims because many of them, especially females, have been raped and have gone through horrible experiences during their trafficking journey.

READ  IOM refutes allegations Eritreans held, processed for forced return

“The providers should know that there are best practices in terms of handling trafficked victims; they need to use a survivor centred approach to prioritise the needs of the victims,” she said.

She called on the government at all levels to partner more with NGOs on providing best traumatic care for returned migrants in the country.

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How Nigerian-American police officer burst human trafficking syndicate in US

A retried Nigerian American Police officer, Samuel Balogun  narrated how he  burst a human trafficking syndicate that specialized in using minors for prostitution.

“My biggest accomplishment was bursting a human trafficking crime,” Balogun said.

Giving details of how he executed the task,  the dark skinned retired police officer said: “ There was a guy that was using minors for prostitution on the internet.  I have an accent and when I speak people know I am an African. So, I had to go undercover and had to call the guy on the internet.  I said ‘ hey! what is going on, I am in town. I am a truck driver and I want some girls.’ I asked  how old? He said the younger they are, the more money. I said about 15 to 16 years. He said ok.  I asked  how many he could bring and he replied two. He said which hotel was I and I gave the name to him. He told me to hang up and  he called back  the hotel. He subsequently called me and asked if I was there and I said yes. He said he would be there in 20 minutes.

“We were waiting for him to come but he was smart too. He dropped the girls down the street and made them walk to the room. The girls asked how much I was ready to pay and wanted to take off their clothes but I said not yet.  In the next room were officers listening to our conversation. When I make a signal, that means it is time for them to come in. but before you make the signal, you have to make sure they have mentioned the price, they have given the reason why they were there, so it doesn’t look like you are entrapping them.  When I made the signal, the officers burst in and arrested everybody including me.

Thereafter, Balogun said  the police  processed the girls and after that, “they said look, you are minors and we know somebody is pushing you to do this. Now we don’t want to arrest you but tell us how to get to the boss.  The girls cooperated and  made as if they were leaving. When the man pulled up to pick them up, and that was how we arrested  him. That stopped a lot of those crimes.”

READ  Returnees, health workers join hands to improve psychosocial well-being in Nigeria

Balogun said he was in Nigeria to bring his wealth of experience to bear on the disturbing security situation in the country. “ I am trying to bring back  my experience as a  police officer in the states to Nigeria. When you look at the #endsars period, the performance of the police was something that hurt my feelings. How can we make it better? How can we make the police job something that people will look with respect  and want to join?”

He hinted that his  security firm is involved in training not only police officers but “ I also train private security companies. I am in touch with a lot of private security companies in Nigeria.  There is another concept which Nigeria is embracing right now.

“It is called community policing. In the states it is called neighbourhood policing or community policing. It works in a way that in every street, there would be a police officer that lives in that neighbourhood.   You get to know the people and the people know you. In some apartments, they will give you a discount just for the police officer to be there because they know once a police officer is living there, the police car is outside and the crime level will reduce. People are more likely to talk to that officer because they know him. They are more able to tell him’ hey we know who committed that crime.’  For every crime, you need people to tell you what happened. You can have all the gadgets but if people are not talking, you can’t solve the crime.”

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He further said: “I am training police officers, security companies and executive protection. What my security company is doing is to free the police officers from attachment to chiefs, politicians and all that.  We train civilians to represent those officers so that they can go back to the street and do their normal jobs.  We have what we call executive protection/training. We have people that follow the president.  We can train you on how to be efficient and sometimes using less force, description tactics.”

Further expatiating on what his security firm does, the soft spoken officer said: “What my company is trying to do is to bring people to the table.  We are trying to train companies that there is a better way of security where we can teach you how to defend yourself, how to prepare for any emergency, and how to use less force. I have a guy, a navy seal that worked for the United States of America. You will be amazed about what he can do. He can disarm you in a minute even when you come with AK 47.    I am also bringing Hostage Negotiation, people that can talk to you when ransom has to be paid. In the US, we call it Hostage Negotiation.  They can talk to these people, and know their psyche. It is a full package. When you come  to my firm, you can see the whole spectrum  and choose.”

As a vastly travelled person, Blagun said: “I travel a lot and in all the African nations is where you see officers with AK 47. They said it is more intimidating. Criminals use AK 47 in America too but we still don’t carry it.  Is that the right weapon for the police officers, I leave that question open. “

READ  Allegations of extortion, delays trail issuance of passport by Nigeria Immigration Service

On the attitude of the Nigerian authorities his plans, he said: “I have talked to a lot of people in higher positions. In some places I don’t want to mention, I have got good responses.  My firm has done some things with certain private firms and the police. I have dealt with some highly placed security firms. So, this is not my first time here.  We are   looking at having training in Sheraton around July/August this year. It is going to be a big one. I am bringing a retired FBI agent, a navy seal, a retired marine , myself and may be two other officers.

“This is my country, I am proud of it. I am sad sometimes when you look at the security aspect of it.  With my experience, I am trying to make it a better place.  It has always been my passion to come back home. I am retired and don’t really need to work again. My benefits are okay untill I die.  But why die with all this experience when I can pass it to the next person.”

 

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Hundreds of thousands of people leave Britain due to pandemic

 

Hundreds of thousands of people have left Britain as a fallout  of the pandemic on the economy, according to a study released yesterday.

There is an “unprecedented exodus” of workers born outside Britain, researchers at London’s Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence said.

“It seems that much of the burden of job losses during the pandemic has fallen on non-UK workers and has manifested itself in return migration, rather than unemployment,” said the authors.

The study is based on labour market data.

The trend was particularly notable in London, where one in five residents was born abroad.

The capital’s population has fallen by 700,000, the study said, adding that nationwide, the figure could be more than 1.3 million.

If these numbers are accurate, this is the largest decline in Britain’s population since World War II, according to the study.

No evidence suggests that similar numbers of British people who live abroad are returning to Britain.

However, this could be a temporary trend, the researchers said, noting that workers from abroad might return after the pandemic.

The British economy depends on workers from abroad and it is not only threatened by migration due to the pandemic.

Many industries fear the loss of skilled workers due to Britain’s departure from the European Union and stricter migration laws.

A further trend in 2021 is also causing concern, described as a “baby bust” by consultancy PwC, which said many couples were postponing having children due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

This could lead to the lowest birth rate since 1900, PwC said in early January.

READ  Returnees, health workers join hands to improve psychosocial well-being in Nigeria

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Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

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