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Mediterranean deaths, Somali unrest, and the cost of coronavirus: The Cheat Sheet

(Christopher Jahn/IFRC)

 

A grim milestone for the Mediterranean

Refugees became political pawns between the EU, Greece, and Turkey this week, but there was also a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN’s migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000. The rise in deaths has slowed in recent years, but the death rate per crossing has been increasing, as riskier trips are attempted and as search and rescue efforts have been curtailed – by right-wing governments and, latterly, the coronavirus. This week, The New Humanitarian revamped its migration coverage, breaking it down into five sub-themes: Why people moveRisky journeysShifting responsesLife in limbo; and Going home. Do take a look and send us some feedback, or, even better, some story ideas. We’re always open to suggestions on how to humanise those at the heart of displacement crises, who are too often politicised or reduced to statistics.

Somalia clashes stoke regional tensions

Somali troops clashed with forces from the country’s semi-autonomous Jubaland region this week in a flare-up of violence that is raising tensions with neighbouring countries and may play into the hands of the militant group al-Shabab. Tensions have been rising since August, when Jubaland’s incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, won regional elections that Mogadishu described as “not free and fair”. The central government wanted a loyalist candidate to win as it seeks greater control over Somalia’s five regions ahead of upcoming national elections. Neighbouring Kenya, which has troops deployed as part of an African Union peace enforcement operation, is on the side of Madobe, who it sees as an ally against al-Shabab, while Ethiopia has aligned with Mogadishu. On Wednesday, Kenya accused Somali troops of encroaching on its territory and destroying property during this week’s violence, while the US said last week that the clashes are a distraction in efforts against al-Shabab. An estimated 56,000 people have been uprooted, according to the UN.

READ  Trafficked Nigerian girl  relives sexual harassment, slavery experience in Oman

Corona cash

The coronavirus is putting pressure on national health systems, and threatening the wellbeing of markets and businesses large and small. It’s going to be expensive, but there is some funding on the way. The announcement of $12 billion from the World Bank gave a sense of scale. Of that the Bank has set aside $3.3 billion for grant funding for low-income countries. Overall, the big money is going to be in loans and macro-economic intervention; a smaller amount will be for grants. The World Bank will use half of its tranche as lending or for interventionary investments – to help businesses threatened with going under, for example. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) pledged to make $50 billion available. Again, the headline figure is not for grants or humanitarian response: all but a $200 million fraction will be available as loans to governments. The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, has appealed for $675 million for three months of emergency health preparedness and response funding.

READ  Sustainable reintegration: IOM, Edo govt open pineapple factory to engage returnees, others

A rocky road ahead for Afghanistan war crimes probe

The International Criminal Court this week gave the go-ahead for its prosecutor to investigate alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. It’s being hailed as a major step after years of conflict and impunity, but there’s a long road ahead with significant roadblocks – not the least of which is the US government, which opposes ICC jurisdiction. The decision opens the door to potential prosecutions against the Taliban, Afghan, and international armed forces (including CIA members accused of torturing detainees in secret detention facilities). It also sets the stage for a confrontation: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the ruling “reckless” (the United States last year revoked the visa of the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as she pursued the case). For survivors of Afghanistan’s decades of turbulence, however, an ICC investigation is a rare opportunity for accountability. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission called it an “important step for justice”. Amnesty International noted there’s little mention of reconciliation in the recent US-Taliban peace deal.

A coup in Guinea-Bissau?

A political dispute in the late 1990s triggered a full-scale civil war in Guinea-Bissau that cost hundreds of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in a country of just 1.8 million. There’s no suggestion yet that the country is about to descend into renewed conflict, but alarm bells are starting to ring. Guinea-Bissau’s military appeared to pick a side this week following contested elections that resulted in the appointment of two rival presidents – a worrying development in a country that has suffered nine coups or attempted coups since independence. The national election commission declared a former army general, Umaro Cissoko Embalo, as winner of the December polls, but the party of runner-up Domingos Simoes Pereira said the results were invalid and used its majority in parliament to appoint a third politician, Cipriano Cassama, as interim president. Cassama resigned two days later, citing death threats and the risk of civil war, while soldiers stationed themselves outside the country’s Supreme Court – which had called for an audit of the vote – and shut down state television and radio. Opposition leaders said the interference constituted a coup. The standoff follows five years of political turmoil that saw former president José Mário Vaz – eliminated in the first round of the December polls – sack seven different prime ministers. On Monday, the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, called on the army to remain neutral.

READ  IOM, UNHCR: Latest Mediterranean tragedy underscores need for search and rescue

Source: The New Humanitarian

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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. 

READ  Returning to ruins, displaced Iraqi farmers find help to rebuild

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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  15 dead, dozens missing as overloaded Rohingya refugees' boat capsizes

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  15 dead, dozens missing as overloaded Rohingya refugees' boat capsizes

“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  Returning to ruins, displaced Iraqi farmers find help to rebuild

“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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