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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.

READ  COVID-19: Count us out of evacuation plans, say adamant Nigerians in US, UK, others

“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.

READ  Uganda lifts COVID-19 closure admits refugees escaping escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

“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  IOM, African Union Commission, launch the first Africa Migration Report

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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Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants

The Migration Normalization Plan will allow Venezuelans living irregularly in the Dominican Republic to work, move without risk of deportation, open bank accounts and join the country’s social security system.  Photo: IOM / Francesco Spotorno

 

 

Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.

Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000  Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.

“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018.  “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”

READ  Asylum seekers especially those living in the big camps were deprived of their rights in so many ways during the lockdown

Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.

With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000  registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.

“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.

READ  Canada, Nigeria partner to combat migrant smuggling, human trafficking and irregular migration

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

READ  IOM aids COVID-impacted communities on Haiti-Dominican border, worldwide

Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

READ  IOM aids COVID-impacted communities on Haiti-Dominican border, worldwide

“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  IOM, African Union Commission, launch the first Africa Migration Report

 

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