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No respite for refugees, IDPs as calamities continue to befall camps

An IDP camp (Pix by Premium Times)

After myriads of  unfortunate incidents that forced them to flee their homes, many refugees and internally displaced persons in Nigeria, are yet to know peace even in the camps where their frayed nerves ought to be soothed.

Despite the presence of security operatives and government officials at the various Internally  Displaced  Persons (IDPs) camps,  terrorists and rapists have relentlessly visited the displaced inmates  with all manner of  terror.

Countless number of the refugees and IDPs have been killed in series of attacks carried  out by members of  the Boko Haram terrorist group and even the military in the course of fighting the insurgents.

The plight of the female folks appears worse as they, apart from dying from attacks by terrorists, are also subjected to horrendous sexual assaults and abuses that further devastate them.

Chronicles of murder in IDP camps

On 17 January 2017, a Nigerian Air Force jet was reported to have   mistakenly bombed an IDP camp near the Cameroonian border in Rann, Borno State. 115 people were reported  dead, with six Red Cross aid workers, and more than 100 inmates injured  after the unfortunate incident.

The casualty figure according to VOA rose to 236 people within a week. The Nigerian military said the bombing was an accident.

Giving a background to the incident, Wikipedia wrote: “Early reporting said that the Nigerian military had received information that Boko Haram forces were gathering in preparation for an attack on a military target. Major General[ Lucky Irabor, the commander of Nigerian forces fighting Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, said that he had ordered an airstrike on the location where the militants were believed to be gathering. The airstrike took place sometime during the day—reports varied from about 09:00 local time] to early in the afternoon[ —and left at least dozens dead.

“The United Nations (UN) and Red Cross jointly deployed a helicopter mission carrying medical personnel and 400 kilograms (880 lb) of supplies which arrived late on the 17th and evacuated eight Red Cross workers. Additional UN helicopters deployed to aid in evacuations,  while MSF said that its workers in Chad and Cameroon were preparing to receive the victims once they had been stabilized for transport from Rann. Some of the injured were airlifted to the Nigerian city of Maiduguri.

General Irabor, conceding for the first time in the fighting against Boko Haram that a government attack had resulted in civilian casualties, said that “[u]nfortunately, the strike was conducted, but it turned out that other civilians were somewhere around the area and they were affected”, while President Muhammadu Buhari said that the incident had been a “regrettable operational mistake”

Mausi Segun, a member of the Human Rights Watch in Nigeria, said that regardless of intent, the group considered the bombing a crime, saying that “[e]ven if there is no evidence of a willful attack on the camp, which would be a war crime, the camp was bombed indiscriminately, violating international humanitarian law.”

Hugues Robert of MSF said “This was a very densely populated place that was full of civilians who already lived there and internally displaced persons who had come there,” while The Economist criticized the bombing for occurring in the camp even though it was under army control at the time.

Less than four months after the questionable military action on the IDP camp in Rann, the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram beheaded four internally displaced persons in Dalori-1 Camp of Maiduguri, Borno State  on May 21.

According to Premium Times online  the four victims, who were buried, by their fellow displaced persons, were reportedly beheaded while hunting outside the camp. It took a search team to find the four beheaded bodies some few kilometres from the Dalori camp, along the Maiduguri-Bama Road.


Sources familiar with the incident said the attacked IDPs, who were also volunteer members of the local vigilante, Civilian-JTF, often go to the bush to hunt for games which they either cooked to beef up their protein needs or sell to earn some cash.

The online portal said it was supposed to be another normal hunting day for the 12 men, who unfortunately ran into a gang of Boko Haram insurgents who attacked and beheaded four of them.

Sources at the camp listed the slain persons to include Wali Fanne, Ibrahim, Chacha, and Baba Karemi. “Six of the IDP hunters managed to run back late afternoon of Saturday to inform us at the camp that they were attacked by Boko Haram fighters,” said an IDP from Bama who identified himself as Alai Goni.

“When we waited for the six others to return and they did not, we decided to go in search for them. About six kilomtres away from the camp, we came to a riverbank and we saw a man watering his horse. The man simply pointed to us where the corpses of the four slain men were dumped.

We became suspicious of him and we had to arrest him and bring him to the security personnel at the gate of Dalori-1 camp. “Unfortunately, we could not immediately find the decapitated heads of three of them; we only found three bodies without their heads, while the fourth one whose head was not separated from his body, had some kind of sharp sword forcefully driven into his forehead.”

On July 25, the country’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)   confirmed  the death of four people after suicide bombers attacked two internally displaced camps in the outskirts of Maiduguri, Borno State.

15 others were injured when two bombers, a male and a female attacked the IDP camp at Dalori, known as Dalori 1 Camp.

Another suicide bomber targeted another camp, Dalori 2, but was intercepted. Only the bomber died in the second attack.

Dalori is a suburban town near Maiduguri, Borno, Nigeria. Since March 2015, it hosts one of the largest internally displaced persons camp created during the Boko Haram insurgency, with more than 15,000 people, most of them coming from the South-East of Borno State.

Dalori camp is located on the road from Maiduguri to Konduga, Bama and the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, 15 kilometers South-East of Maiduguri.

The camp has been targeted by many attacks from the Boko Haram insurgency, including suicide attacks. The worst of these attacks occurred on 30 January 2016, when at least 86 people were killed and at least 62 more injured.

The Boko Haram insurgents have been using suicide attackers, mostly girls, to hit their targets in recent times.

Killings resume in 2018

After some period of peace, mindless killings of refugees and internally displaced in the North East of Nigeria resumed in January 2018.

On the 30th  of January,  about  five persons were reported dead and 39 others injured when  two suicide bombers attacked an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Maiduguri, Borno state.

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Officials of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) who confirmed the incident to journalists in Maiduguri said the attack occurred at about 8p.m.

The chairman of SEMA, Satomi Ahmed, said the two suicide bombers targeted Dalori IDP camp located at the outskirts of capital city near the University of Maiduguri.

“The attack was carried out by two teenage girls, one of them gained access to the camp and detonated herself killing herself and five others, while 39 others were injured in the blast,” said Mr Ahmed.

“The second one could not make it into the camp before his explosive went off, killing only himself.”

In late 2018, the terrorist group killed eight persons, including children, in an attack on a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, Borno State capital.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) gave the casualty figure in a statement confirming the attack, although eye-witnesses said at least a dozen people died.

The attack on Dalori IDP camp started at about 7p.m. and lasted two hours during which the attackers reportedly overpowered soldiers guarding the camp.

Eye-witnesses who spoke to journalists in Maiduguri said they counted up to 12 corpses after the attack.

Solomon Adamu, an official of the Civilian-JTF deployed in the camp, said “a total of 12 persons were killed here and outside the camp.”

“At Gwazari-Kofa, one person was killed, at Dalori IDP Camp II, two persons were killed; and at Bulabulin a village near the camp, nine persons got killed,” he said.

He said the attackers came in seven pickup vans.

“They were about 100 in number and all of them were fully armed. We had to run for our lives.”

NEMA, however, in a statement confirming the attack, said only eight persons died.

Zonal coordinator of NEMA for North east, Bashir Garga, said in a statement he signed that ”six (6) people from Kofa village were killed as a result of suspected Boko Haram terrorists that attacked four villages in outskirts of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

Camp officials told PREMIUM TIMES that some other IDPs are yet to be accounted for at the time of filing this report.

IDPs suffer more attacks in 2019
Boko Haram’s  penchant for  killing displaced people continued in 2019 . On July 25, an old man and a child were reported dead, after motorcycle-riding Boko Haram gunmen attacked a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Maiduguri, Borno State capital.

The Dalori IDP camp, located near University of Maiduguri, came under attack by suspected Boko Haram fighters who broke in through the back perimeter fence at about 8 p.m.

Abba Aji, a top commander of the youth vigilante group known as Civilian-JTF, said the gunmen first attacked the soldiers’ station near the camp before they moved in, shooting sporadically.

“It happened a few minutes after 8 p.m. when they (Boko Haram) broke into the camp and killed two persons, an old woman a very little child,” he said.

He said despite the fact that the camp was well guarded by soldiers, the insurgents, who also broke into shops and stole food items, easily made their way in and left.

“It is really a very sad development that this is still happening,” he said.

Bello Danbatta, a security attache to the State Emergency Management Agency(SEMA) also confirmed the attack.

He said “it was an unfortunate incident but we thank God that not much damage has been done.”

He also confirmed that “a little child and an old man were killed.”

The attack came a few hours to July 26, the date on which the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency started ten years ago.

Dalori camp is one of the largest of such facilities which have come under attacks in the past few years.

Thousands of lives have been lost and over seven million displaced since 2009 when Boko Haram picked up arms against the Nigerian government.

Just two days ago, AFP, reported  how an early morning fire incident on Thursday killed 14 people and destroyed more than 250 shelters at an Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Borno State, North East, Nigeria.

The incident reportedly compounded the woes of  the displaced people as it  rendered , 1250 of them homeless.

The blaze broke out mid-morning in a camp holding some 70,000 people in the town of Gamboru, close to the border with Cameroon, the head of a government-backed militia told AFP.

“We recovered 14 burnt bodies from the gutted shelters and another 15 who sustained varying degrees of burns from the fire,” militia leader Umar Kachalla said.

More than 200 shelters were destroyed, rendering 1,250 people homeless, said a rescue official, who asked not to be named.

“The fire killed 14 people, six from the same family, and left 15 with injuries, seven of them critically,” said the official.

It was not clear what caused the fire but residents blamed it on arson after a suspect was arrested with a lighter in his pocket, another militia member Shehu Mada said.

 

Officials allegedly abusing displaced women, girls

It is a double trouble for females in the IDP camps as reports say they are often sexually abused and exploited.

Amnesty International on May 24, 2018 under the heading ‘Nigeria: Starving women raped by soldiers and militia who claim to be rescuing them’ reported that: “Thousands of women and girls who survived the brutal rule of the Boko Haram armed group have since been further abused by the Nigerian security forces who claim to be rescuing them.

“It is absolutely shocking that people who had already suffered so much under Boko Haram have been condemned to further horrendous abuse by the Nigerian military,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

“Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger.”

Human Rights Watch earlier in  December 31, 2016, published a detailed and disturbing account of how government officials and other authorities in Nigeria  raped and sexually exploited women and girls displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram.

The report said: In late July, 2016, Human Rights Watch documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women and girls living in seven internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. The victims had been displaced from several Borno towns and villages, including Abadam, Bama, Baga, Damasak, Dikwa, Gamboru Ngala, Gwoza, Kukawa, and Walassa. In some cases, the victims had arrived in the under-served Maiduguri camps, where their movement is severely restricted after spending months in military screening camps.

“It is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram,” said Mausi Segun, senior Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them.”

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Four of the victims told Human Rights Watch that they were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance. Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned if they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatization from other camp residents. Eight of the victims said they were previously abducted by Boko Haram fighters and forced into marriage before they escaped to Maiduguri.

A situational assessment of IDPs in the northeast in July 2016 by NOI Polls, a Nigerian research organization, reported that 66 percent of 400 displaced people in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states said that camp officials sexually abuse the displaced women and girls.

Women and girls abused by members of the security forces and vigilante groups – civilian self-defense groups working with government forces in their fight against Boko Haram – told Human Rights Watch they feel powerless and fear retaliation if they report the abuse. A 17-year-old girl said that just over a year after she fled the frequent Boko Haram attacks in Dikwa, a town 56 miles west of Maiduguri, a policeman approached her for “friendship” in the camp, and then he raped her.

“One day he demanded to have sex with me,” she said. “I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon I realized I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So I was too afraid to report him.”

The Boko Haram conflict has led to more than 10,000 civilian deaths since 2009; the abductions of at least 2,000 people, mostly women and children and large groups of students, including from Chibok and Damasak; the forced recruitment of hundreds of men; and the displacement of about 2.5 million people in northeast Nigeria.

Victims’ Accounts by Human Rights Watch

Movement Restrictions, Food Shortages Fuel Sexual Abuse
Most of the victims interviewed lived in camps for displaced people. While victims living at the Arabic Teachers’ Village camp said they were allowed to leave the camp for about eight hours daily, victims from other camps said that their movement was severely restricted. The women and girls became victims of rape and sexual exploitation when they accepted offers of friendship or marriage from men in positions of authority.

Rape
A 16-year-old girl who fled a brutal Boko Haram attack on Baga, near the shores of Lake Chad, northern Borno in January 2015, said she was drugged and raped in May 2015 by a vigilante group member in charge of distributing aid in the camp:

He knew my parents were dead, because he is also from Baga. He would bring me food items like rice and spaghetti so I believed he really wanted to marry me. But he was also asking me for sex. I always told him I was too small [young]. The day he raped me, he offered me a drink in a cup. As soon as I drank it, I slept off. It was in his camp room.

I knew something was wrong when I woke up. I was in pain, and blood was coming out of my private part. I felt weak and could not walk well. I did not tell anyone because I was afraid. When my menstrual period did not come, I knew I was pregnant and just wanted to die to join my dead mother. I was too ashamed to even go to the clinic for pregnancy care. I am so young! The man ran away from the camp when he heard I delivered a baby six months ago. I just feel sorry for the baby because I have no food or love to give him. I think he might die.

An 18-year-old girl from Kukawa, a Borno town 112 miles from Maiduguri, the state capital, said that a member of Civilian Joint Task Force – a self-defense vigilante group working with government forces in their fight against Boko Haram – initially gave her privileges, including passes that allowed her to leave the camp, but then raped her:

The man started with preaching, telling me to be a good Muslim girl and not to join bad groups in the camp. He then sent his mother to propose to me, which convinced me that he was serious. He allowed me to go outside the camp when necessary. When he asked me to visit his newly allocated room in the camp, I didn’t see any reason not to go because I felt safe with him. He gave me a bottle of Zobo [locally brewed non-alcoholic drink] and I immediately felt dizzy and slept off. I don’t know what happened thereafter but when I woke up he was gone and I was in pain and felt wet between my legs. For three days I could not walk properly.

Some weeks later I fell very ill, and was told at the hospital that I was pregnant. Then everyone turned away from me: [He] refused to help me, and my step-mother who I lived with in camp pushed me out, saying I was a disgrace. I reported [him] to the police in camp several times but they have not done anything to him because they work together. Whenever I see him, I wish something terrible will happen to him. It is because of him that I have lost everything. I don’t even think the baby will last because she is always crying and I can’t cope. I pray that God will forgive me for neglecting the baby but I am helpless.

Sexual Exploitation
A 30-year-old woman from Walassa, near Bama, about 43 miles west of Maiduguri, said that she fled into a nearby wooded area after Boko Haram fighters killed her husband and abducted her daughters, ages 12 and 9. She stayed there for three months, hoping to find a way to rescue her daughters, until Nigerian government soldiers arrived in the area and the fighters escaped with their captives:

A few weeks after soldiers transported us to the camp, near Maiduguri, one of the soldiers guarding us approached me for marriage. He used to bring food and clothes for me and my remaining four children, so I allowed him to have sex with me. He is a Hausa man from Gwoza. That is all I know about him. Two months later he just stopped coming. Then I realized I was pregnant. I feel so angry with him for deceiving me. When he was pretending to woo me he used to provide for me, but as soon as I agreed and we began having sex, his gifts began to reduce until he abandoned me. Now my situation is worse as the pregnancy makes me sick, and I have no one to help me care for my children.

A woman from Bama living at the same camp said:

The soldier showed his interest by bringing me food and clothes. He used to wear the green army uniform and carried a gun. I accepted him because I needed help to take care of me and my four children. Feeding in the camp is only once a day so you have to accept any help that comes. We started having sex in my camp tent – my sister who was sharing it with me left – or at night in the open field where soldiers stay in the camp. Five months later when I realized I was pregnant and told him, he stopped coming. I have not seen him since then. I feel so ashamed because my neighbors talk and stare at me. I cry whenever I think about him. I delivered the baby two months ago but he is also suffering – I eat once a day so [am] not producing enough milk to breast feed him well. Things are so bad in the camp, there is not enough water or food.

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An 18-year old girl from Baga said when she met a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force in the camp, she felt she could trust him because he is also from Baga:

He took me from the camp to a house on Baga Road so we could meet freely. I stayed with him in that house for about one month. Then I fell ill, and went to a clinic. The people at the clinic asked for the person I was living with, and invited him. That was when they told him I was pregnant, and he accepted the pregnancy. But immediately [when] we came out of the clinic he took me to a man to abort the pregnancy. I refused and he said if I would not abort we should separate. Then I moved to the camp. I gave birth almost a year ago but the man has refused to take responsibility. Some months ago he followed the military to catch Boko Haram far from Maiduguri. Even when he visits his two wives in the camp he never asks for me and my baby. I go outside the camp to beg so that we can survive.

A 25-year-old woman at from Dikwa said that when she fled Boko Haram’s attack on the town, she lived with her brother in a rented apartment in Maiduguri. When he was no longer able to feed her and her three children, he took her to the camp where he handed her over to camp elders. One of these elders, a local government employee – who are often financially better off than most displaced people because they receive salaries – proposed marriage and regularly brought her food and money. But the marriage did not materialize, and he began to shun her when she became pregnant. He continued to ignore her when she delivered twins and asked him for money to pay for her midwife. The woman said:

If I have a gun, I will shoot him. It is because of him that people call me and my babies names. I am so ashamed that I cannot participate in camp activities and keep to myself because of the jeers.

A 17-year-old girl said that a young man she knew took her home to his grandmother when she arrived Maiduguri from Dikwa in mid-2014:

He told me he wanted to marry me, and his grandmother referred to me as her grandson’s wife. I lived with them, cooking and cleaning the house, until a month later when he disappeared for weeks. The grandmother asked me to leave, promising to come to the wedding… It was a lie. I did not know it but I was already pregnant. Maybe she already saw the pregnancy signs and I was too young to understand. I heard the grandson fled the town because he heard I have given birth. Now I have been left alone to fend for the baby. I don’t know if any other member of my family survived the Boko Haram attack on Dikwa.

Restricted Movement
A 32-year-old woman from the Damasak said:

Life is terrible here in this camp. For the past three days we have not eaten because there is no firewood to cook the food. To make it worse, they will not even allow us to go out to fend for ourselves. Most times you have to beg the camp officials to intervene with the guards before they will give you the pass to go out. Why will you refuse if any of those people ask you for marriage? You have to survive.

Another camp resident, a 47-year-old mother of eight from Abadam, a northern Borno town, said:

We used to get food at least twice a day when I first arrived at the camp in 2014. But now, sometimes we get nothing at all. We can’t even buy food ourselves because they will not let us go out. My relatives in the town have to plead with camp officials for hours before the officials will agree to let them give us some money or foodstuff from the little they have.

A 20-year-old widowed mother of one at a camp for displaced people said:

I have been refusing marriage proposals from the men in camp because I see how they are deceiving others. I am just not sure how long I can remain in this situation. The last time I ate was four days ago when the one cup of maize I was given finished. I am suffering because I have no husband or anyone else to assist me.

A 16-year-old single mother of one in the same camp said:

Life is difficult in the camp, hardly enough to eat. There is food but whoever gets it, gets it. We are not allowed to go out to find work or get extra food. Sometimes I go to the kitchen to scrape pots to get something to eat. They distribute tickets, some get tickets and some don’t get. If you don’t get a ticket you get no food. The IDP elders distribute the tickets, so they distribute amongst themselves, they make sure their families get first. Usually distribution of tickets take place at odd times such as at midnight.

If you are not married, you hardly get anything that comes in. Women who have husbands insult us: “If you want to eat in [this camp], you should get married in [the camp] so husbands can get food for you.”

Sources of information:

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Premium Times, Vanguard Newspaper and Wikipedia

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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. 

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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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