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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.

READ  WFP, UNHCR appeal for funding for over 3 million refugees hit by ration cuts in Eastern Africa

“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  Women struggle to get by as Yemen conflict hits six-year mark

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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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.

READ  Paris Police evacuates last big migrant tent camp

“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.

READ  My boss sexually harrasses, starves me- 28-yr old Nigerian trafficked to Oman

“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. 

READ  IOM, UNHCR welcome Colombia’s decision to regularize Venezuelan refugees and migrants

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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.

READ  42 Nigerians, 231 other African migrants arrive Assamaka

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.

READ  Six refugees among 137 killed in Niger’s recent attack

“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.

READ  Women struggle to get by as Yemen conflict hits six-year mark

“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.

READ  IOM, UNHCR welcome Colombia’s decision to regularize Venezuelan refugees and migrants

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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