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

We’ll rather die here than return home’
  • …as requests for evacuation rise to 2,000

With only a few deaths from coronavirus cases in Nigeria, the country ranks among the nations with the lowest causality figures in the world. But despite the appreciable management of the pandemic in the country, many Nigerians based in badly hit European and American countries have vowed to shun the plan by government to evacuate them and bring them back to the country, INNOCENT DURU reports.

Abike Dabiri Erewa

The world is literally under siege from the ravaging impact of the deadly coronavirus. In China, the US, the UK, Spain, Italy and other countries, infected people are dying in thousands.

Although Nigeria is not spared by the virus that has already infected close to 300 people, its impact has been much less than it has been in countries like the US, the UK, Italy and Spain where many Nigerians are resident.

The serious nature of the disease in the aforementioned countries prompted the federal government to declare last weekend its intention to evacuate its citizens from the worst hit countries.

According to a statement issued in Abuja by the Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed all its missions abroad to compile the lists of Nigerians who wished to return home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As reported by The Nation yesterday, no fewer than 1,000 Nigerians in the US and some European countries have applied for evacuation back to the country, prompting the Federal Government to issue two conditions the applicants must meet before they are evacuated: they must undergo COVID-19 tests in their host countries and subject themselves to a 14-day quarantine once they arrive Nigeria.

Requests for evacuation rise to 2,000

The Head of Media and Public Relations Unit of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Balogun Rahman, said yesterday that about 2,000 Nigerians resident abroad have applied to return to the country.

In a telephone interview with our correspondent, Rahman said the government would not shift ground on its request that everyone intending to return home must present a valid COVID-19 test result before they would be allowed to return.

He said: “The Nigerians who have indicated interest in coming back home include those in West Africa, North Africa, US, UK, China and Australia. We have some people from India too and others.

“Our missions in those places are the ones collating the figures. The test is compulsory. They must subject themselves to test.  It is a compulsory requirement. If you don’t have it, just stay where you are.

“The screening is compulsory, both overseas and here.  There may be a waiver for those who come with clean bills of health. They may not be subjected to quarantine if they have really tested negative.  That is why they have to check them at the airport, especially those who are coming from far distances that will take some hours.”

child refugees in UK

Count us out of evacuation plans, Diaspora Nigerians tell FG

However, some foreign-based Nigerians our correspondent spoke with on the planned evacuation have asked to be counted out of it, with some of them saying they would rather die of coronavirus in Italy, Spain, the US or the UK than return to Nigeria where the spread of the disease is milder.

The various respondents believe that the governments of the various European and American countries are handling the matter with more seriousness and in more transparent ways than the Nigerian government possibly can.

Germany, France, Israel and the United States of America have been evacuating their citizens from Nigeria despite having worse challenges.

Nyong Inyang, a Nigerian based in Italy, admitted in a WhatsApp chat with our correspondent that the rate of infection and death toll in the European country had been very high, but he said it was no justification for a return to his motherland.

“Take me back to Nigeria when they are still struggling to fix themselves?” Inyang wondered as he responded to a question from our correspondent.

“I have a son here; he is an Italian citizen. The government would not even permit me to take him out of the country. Nigeria is not doing well. What would they provide for me? My protection is not guaranteed. Our leaders are looking for a way to run away from the country. What would I come to do there?

“They should fix Nigeria. Here, since the outbreak of COVID-19, the annex government (Nigerian High Commission) here in Italy has not checked on her citizens. Is this a reliable government? What are the basic amenities in Nigeria? They are here to make money for themselves; exploiting people without conscience.”

  • NIGERIA RETURNEE FROM EUROPE

Commending the decision of European and American countries to evacuate their citizens from Nigeria, Inyang said: “It shows to a good extent that they are responsible governments who care about their citizens and would do anything to protect them.

“This singular act has also exposed their intention towards us as black nation: they are only interested in our natural resources. The Nigerian government should know that they are incapacitated. Her counterparts don’t trust her system.”

NIDOE Vice Chairman in Italy, Fidel Wilson, said: “I will not come to Nigeria if the authorities make moves to evacuate us from here. This is my personal position and not that of the group that I represent.

“The conditions here are far better than what obtains in Nigeria. Nobody here is crying to be taken back to Nigeria. We have been sticking to the rules and regulations of the authorities here. Nobody is messing around.”

Titi, the migration expert, was furious when asked if she would come back to the country if the government provides such an opportunity.

“Why would I contemplate coming back to Nigeria where there is no power supply and basic infrastructure?” she queried. “Even people with dual nationality in Nigeria are asking the UK government to come and take them away from Nigeria.

“Here, we have freezers and steady power supply. We can afford to buy things in large quantities and store them for as long as the lockdown lasts.

“There is no way of knowing how many people actually have the coronavirus. How about the poor? How do they get checked? The rich people who contracted it would have been home and had encounters with the househelps and others.

“Here, younger people get ventilators for their treatment ahead of the older irrespective of their status. But I don’t think the same standard applies in Nigeria. Nigeria is all about self-interest.

“In Nigeria, a rich 70-year-old victim may be given ventilator while a poor young person who has the chances of surviving is abandoned.  It is not a fact but my opinion.”

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She further said: “How many Nigerians were able to buy and store foodstuffs before the lockdown? We have also seen videos of police and soldiers beating up people in Nigeria.

“I saw videos of food that was being distributed and I wondered if that was what would take the people for two weeks. That is something that cannot take a family for more than a meal.

“They are not just distributing food, they are distributing coronavirus.”

For workers whose company have shut down and could not pay salaries, she said: “Here in the UK, the government pays 80 per cent of salaries for workers whose companies have not been operating and consequently incapable of paying salaries.

“People who are self-employed will get three months salaries based on the information that they have provided over the last three years.

“Why are all the rich men and big companies just making donations now? If they had done all these before now, the situation wouldn’t have been as bad as it is now.  Here a lot of charitable organisations are helping the vulnerable people.

“I came to Nigeria for two weeks and it was like the worst period ever for me. You are even more likely to survive Coronavirus in Ghana than in Nigeria.”

On the postponement of planned hike in electricity tariff, she said: “The government here has put embargo on any plan to increase bills for the next one year because they know that the economy will not recover immediately after the pandemic. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria where they merely postponed hike in electricity tariff for just three months.”

Toeing the path of fellow Nigerians abroad, Omotola thumbed up the countries that have evacuated their citizens from Nigeria, saying: “It is the responsibility of every nation to care for her nationals. It is the right thing to do.

“Every responsible government should make sure her citizens have access to the best possible kind of healthcare. It is the smart thing to do. No one understands the virus, so governments picking up their nationals is a step in the right direction.”

Like other previous respondents, she said she would not return to the country if offered the opportunity.

She said: “A government that has not yet taken care of the people at home? These countries you mentioned evacuating their nationals have better healthcare systems yet they are dying. If the Nigerian government asks me to return, my questions is to where and to do what?

“If I leave the US COVID-free, there is a higher chance of me getting it when I arrive at the MMIA.

“Airports should have been closed five weeks ago. China had this thing since December and we know how many Nigerians travel to China for business, but we didn’t act. Nigerian borders didn’t close until the US cases became extremely scary. Why didn’t we learn from Italy, Spain, China and the UK?

“I have been in hibernation now for 18 days as required both by my school and my employer here. In Nigeria, people are still attending parties, arguing about why they should not go to church.

“When I learnt the CMD of UCH was COVID-positive, I worried for my uncle who owns a pharmacy in UCH, and as a family, my cousins in Sweden and US who are medical doctors got on a zoom call to ensure we redesign his business process to minimise his risk of exposure.

“He is an essential worker, but if he gets positive, he won’t be prioritised. How many respirators do we have? How any volunteers are available?”

President of The Concerned Nigerians in Germany, Hon. Chuks Lewis Ehiwario, swiftly said “Never” to the question about returning to Nigeria.

Horrors of asylum seekers

Deportees from Germany 

He added: “Nigerians based here but currently in Nigeria are making plans to return to Germany. Germany offers one of the best medical services in the world with strong social system.  Returning to Nigeria at this time will be suicidal I guess. Nigeria has nothing to offer her citizens.”

For Rex Osa, it is not the responsibility of the Nigerian government to ask Nigerians to come back.

He said: “I am ashamed that Nigeria with all the endowment cannot offer special benefits to the citizens at this point. Here the government is trying as much as possible to make sure that nobody is stranded or frustrated. In Nigeria, nothing seems to be in that direction.”

Among all the people the reporter spoke with, only Italy based Olomu expressed some level of willingness to return home.

“I wish I had known that this problem would escalate to this extent, I would have returned to Nigeria and go to my village. But when I put myself in the shoes of other people, I will also want to know who pays my bills when I am sick. Will the government protect me when I come? What will be the fate of the jobless if they come back to the country?” he wondered.

Scary infection, death statistics

Some Nigerians who spoke with our correspondent in different interviews during the week, expressed concern about the high infection rates and rising death toll in their host countries.

Italy-based Inyang told our correspondent that the rate at which the disease was spreading in Italy was scary.

He said: “My brother, the rate at which coronavirus is spreading here in Italy is very scary. You know, Italians never saw it coming.

“The onslaught is disturbing. It is traumatising looking at the toll on a daily basis. One of my ex-colleagues has contracted it and is now in an isolation centre.

“There have been very few deaths here in Campania, Southern part of Italy, and none of them is close to me.

“The hospitals are transparent about it. The follow-up process is very open to the media for actual situation report for the citizens to know the situation of things

“Every treatment centre is open. The number of affected persons, deaths or recuperating patients could be accessed without any cover-up report.”

With Italy locked down since March 9 and not expected to be unlocked any time soon, Iyang admitted that life in the European country has been tough.

He said: “It is actually very tough. Everything is shut down. A lot of people have exhausted their purses.

“But the government just made a decree called CURA ITALIA Emergency Economic Support because of the pandemic. The decree has been approved and the application procedures will start from April 1.

“It is meant to give 600 Euro to each person to support the stay-at-home order.”

Iyang’s compatriot, Samson Olomu, who is based in Sicily, presented a disturbing picture of how the country has run out of space to bury the high number of people dying as a result of the pandemic.

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“We are feeling very bad and paralysed,” he said. “People are dying without any space to bury them again. People are not buried here the way it is done in Nigeria. They cremate, but that is not immediately somebody dies.”

Explaining how burial is done in Sicily, Olomu said: “They have a place as big as a palace where they keep dead bodies.

“When someone dies, they would put his body in a coffin and keep it somewhere there. The body could be there for as long as three years. There are dead bodies that have stayed for 500 years.

“Whenever the family deems it fit to have them cremated, they would do it and throw the ash into the sea. They could as well take it home. There is a day specially designed for going to greet the families of deceased persons. The relations would go with flowers and other things.”

Asked how he has been coping since the country was locked down, Olomu said: “We have been eating what we stored up. The system here helps you to manage. If you have a stay permit, the government makes provisions for you, but it is not every day.

“If you are working, you don’t fit into that programme. But if your income is below a certain level, you can get help.

“Churches and other organisations have also been supporting the people. Some groups give credit card for people to make calls. The government, as we speak, is planning to give 600 Euros to the people.”

The Public Relations Officer of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Europe (NIDOE) and Vice Chairman of the body in Italy, Fidel Wilson, also described the Coronavirus challenge in Italy as worrisome.

He said: “The death rate has been scary. I can tell you that there is panic as a result of this.

“We have so far recorded the death of two people who previously had health issues. One was a lady who was on a wheel chair while the other was an elderly man who was diabetic.

“Our fears have always been for the elderly. By our organisation’s record, seven Nigerians have so far died in United Kingdom, and one in Spain. Three of our people are recovering. We are having a fund raiser to get facemasks, sanitisers and other preventive items for our people.

“For now, we are all managing the situation. We are only hoping that it gets better. Businesses are badly hit but the government is also looking into it seriously.”

The statistics provided by Wilson about the number of Nigerians who have died in the United Kingdom slightly increased shortly after he spoke with The Nation.

A 68-year-old Nigerian-born medical doctor, Alfa Sa’adu, who until his death was a physician at Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, and a young mother of two, Chidinma, reportedly passed on in the United Kingdom penultimate Tuesday.

Another Nigerian woman from Delta State, Mrs. Sheba Ogheneovo Kudehinbu, née Eferoghene, was reported to have also died of the pandemic in the United Kingdom.

The deceased who was a native of Ughievwen Kingdom in Ughelli South council area of Delta State, was said to have died last Friday morning, after battling with the disease for days.

The Consul General of Nigeria in New York, Mr Benaoyagha Okoyen, said that three Nigerians had died from the coronavirus disease in the United States.

Okoyen, in a statement he made in New York last Saturday evening, said: “It is regrettable to announce that three Nigerians have died of COVID-19 in the United States of America.

“The first case was a 60-year-old lady, Hajia Laila Abubakar Ali of Kano descent, who died on March 25, while receiving treatment at the Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York.

“Secondly, 25-year-old Bassey Offiong from Calabar, a final year Chemical Engineering student of Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, died on Saturday, March 28, at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

“Unfortunately, the last case was a medical practitioner, Dr Caleb Anya, from Ohafia in Abia State.

“He died while rendering service to humanity on the forefront of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic in New York on April 1.

“On behalf of the Consulate General of Nigeria in New York, I wish to extend our condolences to the families of the deceased Nigerians in this tragic circumstance.’’

Contrary to beliefs that everybody in Italy will benefit from the government’s 600 Euro meant to cushion the effect of the lockdown on the people, Frank Obidike, founder of Ikenga Voice of the World, a group that sees to the welfare of Africans in Italy, said: “We have 2,000 people here in Palermo, but only about four people will access the money promised by the government because they have not regularised their stay.  They don’t have work contract that can give them pension in the future. Many Nigerians here are hungry. The same applies to Moroccans.

“After my wife and I exhausted our personal money we were supporting them with, we did fund raising and got some money to give them foodstuffs and credit cards. A good number of them are not working in the farms like the citizens of other countries do. They just want to do something small and make money.”

It’s not better here, say Nigerians in UK, US

Away from Italy, Nigerians living in the United States of America and the United Kingdom have also described the causality figures of the coronavirus pandemic as disturbing.

A migration expert based in the United Kingdom, Titi Solarin, said: “It is better to be locked down here in the UK than in Nigeria. The death rate here is scary but people have more chances of dying in Nigeria than here.”

In the United States where three of the citizens have been confirmed to have died from the pandemic, Omotola Fawunmi, a Nigerian studying at the Eastern University, USA, said: “It is painful as you read the data. I am not panicking but taking precautions. I am currently on day 18 of hibernation staying indoors and making the best of the situation. My School continues online so I am incredibly busy, writing my papers.”

Asked how people have been coping staying indoors, the Urban Promise International Fellow, said: “I cannot speak for the American government, but I see so many organisations, Faith-based NGOs providing various supports. The state and city provide meals for the kids free.”

Nigerians in Germany recall anxious moments

With 79,465 cases and 959 deaths as at Thursday, Nigerians in Germany said they went through anxious moments when the pandemic started. Rex Osa, the Coordination Activist for Refugee4Refugee, a political platform for refugees/migrants based in Stuttgart, Germany, said: “The very first days were very tense. There was a lot of tension just as it was all over the world. You could see that the streets were empty. But after some days, everything started moving slowly but we still maintained the rules.

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“There has been no recorded death of a Nigerian here but I cannot say there might not be.  The only problem that may come up now is that of classification of people. We have Nigerians who have residency and we have Nigerians who live in refugee camps.

“Refugee camps are where the social distancing cannot really work because we have two to three people living in the same room.

“In the kitchen, you have up to five to 10 people at the same time. That is where it can be explosive, because once one person contracts the virus it is going to spread very wide.  But right now, I think that the camp administrators are already giving rules that not more than two persons should be in the kitchen at the same time.”

President of The Concerned Nigerians in Germany, Hon. Chuks Lewis Ehiwario, said most of the deaths in Germany occurred among the elderly ones with pre-existing conditions.

“We don’t have any confirmed case of Nigerians infected with Coronavirus or death as a result. We have a well organised and coordinated crisis response in every district of Germany. Every resident has access to healthcare facilities.

“We are monitoring the activities of all Africans in Germany in cooperation with TANG E.V. (The African Network of Germany)

“We are always calling all Nigeria community leaders to monitor the situation of Nigerians in their vicinities and also pass useful information to them regarding the precautionary measures put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus and where to get medical or financial assistance when necessary.”

Domestic violence spiked by mental health challenges on the rise — Italian journalist

An Italian freelance journalist, Giacomo Zandonini, echoed the concerns raised by Nigerians in a chat with our correspondent, saying: “There’s a big uncertainty about the future, and this causes mental suffering in some people, while, for example, organisations say that domestic violence has increased.

“Homeless people, undocumented migrants, people who are cut out from the job market… those are the ones suffering the most.

“Generally speaking, there’s, of course, some panic among the population. Many lost their jobs all of a sudden. Many got sick at the workplace until last week a government decree forced a shutdown of all activities not considered essential.

“But still, about 50 doctors and nurses died after being contaminated because of lack of proper protocols in hospitals and of protection gears. People working at post offices, supermarkets, factories, were contaminated as well.”

Recounting the challenges the pandemic has brought his way, Zandonini said: “Coming to my work as a freelance journalist, some publications were frozen, other work opportunities and projects vanished or have been suspended for some time, partly because the media’s attention goes to covering only the pandemic, especially in Italy and partly because of travel restrictions.

“The Italian government put up a series of measures to support independent workers who lost their sources of income, and this includes journalists, which is a positive thing.

“We’ll apply in the coming days and see if this type of support works. Unfortunately, many irregular workers who didn’t have a public retirement plan were left out of these measures.

“These are those who can’t pay their house rents or even buy food. Solidarity movements were organised by citizens. For example, in my district in Rome, there’s a group that raises funds for those who have problems buying food or medicines, and also supports with home delivery those who can’t go out to shops by themselves because they are in isolation for suspected COVID-19 or some other health issues.

Regarding social life, he said: “I can’t visit my friends or see my family which lives in another area of Italy, in the North. So we are resorting to lots of social media platform such as Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom.

“I’m having a weekly family meeting with relatives scattered all over Italy, talking with my father and mother, and taking the opportunity to call old friends to know about them.

“You can still go out for some sport activity, like running. But public gardens are closed and, of course, all other sport facilities. So there’s a flourishing of online sport lessons.

“I go walking and sometimes running in my house’s rooftop.

Commenting on why European and American countries are taking their nationals away from Nigeria, Zandonini, who visited Nigeria recently, said: “Well, in terms of access to health services, those countries have probably higher standards of treatment, and this depends also on your insurance (in France, the system is public and free, as a rule).

“Then I noticed that Europeans living in Nigeria or in other countries in the region are afraid that this pandemic will lead to increased violence because of food shortages, economic crisis, which is a risk, at least in some areas.

“There’s also an idea that authorities in Africa are underestimating the real diffusion of the virus, but is it true, What is true for sure is that it is increasingly difficult to make international travels, so if you prefer to reach your home country you need to recur to government-organised flights, in some cases.”

No statistics about Nigerians who died abroad — Foreign Affairs Ministry

Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwoye, has said the country does not have the statistics of Nigeria nationals who died abroad.

He said: “We don’t have statistics of Nigerians who have died abroad. I think the Federal Government is thinking in the direction of evacuating the citizens from overseas, but it has not come to us officially.

“But that is if Nigerians over there want to come back.”

Asked if the countries that are evacuating their nationals from Nigeria gave any reasons for doing so, Nwoye said: “They can’t give anybody any reason. May be they want to be close to their people. It is left for them.”

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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  30 trafficked Nigerians due home from Lebanon August 12, 16 - NAPTIP DG

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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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