As the novel Coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the world, travel restrictions imposed by about 220 countries have left thousands of migrants stranded in different parts of the world.
From Bolivia to Berlin, Bosasso to Bangkok, tens of thousands of migrants today find themselves stranded in the midst of their migratory journeys as a result of COVID-19, often in precarious situations.
A widow from Myanmar struggles to feed her family in Thailand; an Ethiopian mother of six searches for a husband missing in Somalia; a couple and their one-year-old daughter travel 1,800 km by bus through Chile only to find their passage home blocked.
The reasons are many: roughly 220 countries have imposed over 60,000 travel and mobility restrictions, unemployment in sectors traditionally filled by migrant labour has soared pushing many to make the hard decision to return to their countries of origin, while others face the threat pushbacks, or deportation as visas and permits expire.
While some nations have responded by extending health care and social support services to migrants regardless of their legal status, others have not. Stigmatization and xenophobia are on the rise, and the risk of detention in already overcrowded facilities, and homelessness is growing.
IOM here offers a contemporary snapshot of stranded migrants in 17 countries.
Some of the defining images of the global mobility lockdown were those of the tens of thousands of migrant workers pouring across the Thai border into Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos in late March. In a three-week period prior to sweeping border closures, an estimated 260,000 people left the country and an unknown number continue to do so through irregular routes.
There are between four to five million migrant workers in Thailand, drawn to labour-intensive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries & food processing and construction, and the country’s vibrant tourism industry; roughly 2.7 million are registered with the government.
In early April, the Thai Chamber of Commerce estimated that about seven million jobs had already been lost and that were the pandemic to persist the number could climb to 10 million: there are 38 million people in the Thai workforce.
IOM is trying to meet the basic needs of stranded migrants; over 200 particularly vulnerable families are receiving monthly food and hygiene supplies but, as is the case in all of the countries featured here, the needs are high and there are simply not enough resources available.
EASTERN MIGRATION ROUTE
Scores of migrants, mainly from landlocked Ethiopia, pass through Bossaso in neighbouring Somalia along the so-called Eastern Migration Route from the Horn of Africa, across the Strait of Hormuz, through conflict-torn Yemen to the Gulf, principally the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in search of work every year.
Two-thirds of the 138,000 people who crossed the busiest maritime migration route on earth in 2019 boarded smugglers vessels here in Puntland state.
Despite border closures and other movement restrictions, migrants continue to attempt the journey. IOM documented approximately 600 reaching Bossaso in Puntland in a single day in April. But now, there’s nowhere to go.
“I have been here for around three months,” said 19-year-old Fassil from the Tigray region in Ethiopia. “The coronavirus has changed everything. I cannot continue, I cannot go back because all borders are closed.”
Anti-migrant xenophobia and stigma fueled by misinformation are growing since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Puntland in mid-April.
“We do our best to help them… however, if their numbers increase, and they cannot cross the sea due to the closure of borders, their well-being will be in great danger,” says Ahmed Shirie, the Chairman of the Ethiopian community in Bossaso who are already assisting 400 stranded people.
While the majority of migrants pass through Bosaso, roughly 38 percent of migrants will depart form Djibouti, a second mainland African terminus of the Easter migration route.
As is the case with its sprawling southern neighbour, COVID-19-induced border closures, movement restrictions and a crackdown on smugglers plying the route has stranded over 1,500 Ethiopian migrants in 25 different locations across the country as of April 2020.
Through more than five years of conflict, Yemen has remained the corridor through which tens of thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa pass every year on their journey to Saudi Arabia in search of work.
While the numbers have plummeted from 11,101 in January to 1,725 in April, movement restrictions and increased vigilance along the border have resulted in many thousands of people being stranded in a war zone, unable to advance to their destination or retreat to safety. An increasing number face crowded and often unsanitary conditions in transit, detention and quarantine centres.
As fears of the virus increase and more and more people see their loved ones and neighbours become ill, migrants are being stigmatized as “transmitters of disease”. In the past they have been blamed for bringing cholera to Yemen.
There is no evidence that one group is more responsible for the transmission of COVID-19 or cholera than another. The xenophobia and scapegoating campaigns are leading to retaliation against migrants, including physical and verbal harassment, forced quarantine, denial of access to health services, movement restrictions, and forced movements to frontline conflict and desert areas, leaving them stranded without food, water and essential services.
The economic fallout from COVID-19 has fallen particularly heavily on migrants in Egypt.
Their exact numbers are unknown but the possibility of work has drawn thousands of Sudanese, South Sudanese, Yemenis, Ethiopians, Eritreans and others to Cairo and Alexandrea in particular.
“Food is a grave concern for all right now,” said Muzzamel Soliman, a Sudanese Fulani leader in Cairo. “Many have lost their jobs and had to move houses as they no longer have any source of income. Some can barely feed themselves or their families.”
In cooperation with the Egyptian Red Crescent, IOM Egypt has delivered nearly 1,800 stranded migrant families with food boxes containing rice, pasta, beans, sugar and other essential basic needs like hygiene kits in the country’s two largest cities. The Organization operates a hotline to refer migrants to financial and legal services, medical screenings, and housing allowances for urgent cases.
South Africa is home to approximately 4.2 million migrants drawn by the country’s robust economy from as far away as Ethiopia. The nation-wide lockdown has produced huge socio-economic impacts and social protection needs in a country whose economy was contracting even before the virus was first reported. The migrant labour force which primarily operates in the informal sectors and depend on daily income to meet their needs, face dire food security, shelter, health and protection challenges.
COVID-19 has trapped many thousands along the so-called Southern migratory route. Neighbouring Zimbabwe expects upwards of 20,000 returnees to arrive from Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, and Mozambique in the coming weeks in addition to the 3,500 who managed to enter the country as of May 12, stretching the capacity of provide services in a country already home to more than 43,000 internally displaced people.
A transit country for migrants attempting to travel to South Africa, Zimbabwe also hosts large numbers of stranded migrants. One hundred undocumented Malawian nationals abandoned by smugglers voluntarily returned home by bus with IOM’s assistance in mid-May.
A nearly 6,000 km-wide belt of land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, the Sahel encompasses more than a dozen countries. Here, mobility is a critical millennia-old livelihood and adaptation strategy that allows millions to survive and thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments. Government-mandated restrictions on movement, notably putting a halt to bustling cross-border trade and “non-essential” activities, has impacted households across the region.
Over 24,000 people including migrants hosted in transit centers and herders stranded at borders are currently waiting for their fates to be settled and for the borders to reopen.
To mitigate the disruption to its activities, including the provision of assistance to stranded migrants, IOM is mainstreaming COVID-19 related activities into existing projects and when possible, continuing its lifesaving search and rescue efforts and other critical operations.
It is estimated that more than 1,500 migrants are stranded in Mauritania, primarily Malians and Senegalese. Without any alternative perspective, they are worried about their future and that of their loved ones.
Key will be the timely and responsible reopening of the border crossings into Senegal, balancing the desire of people to return home and the impacts the closures have had on many communities who rely on cross-border trade, and the need to address significant public health concerns related to COVID-19.
IOM is providing training and medical and protective equipment to Mauritanian authorities to encourage the reopening of border posts, shuttered since 25 March.
Almost 3,000 migrants had asked IOM to assist with their voluntary return home prior to Niger closing its borders in mid-March.
While there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among these migrants, frustrations are growing due to lengthy stays in overcrowded transit centres. Niger and some of its neighbours have already agreed to the creation of a humanitarian corridor to organize the safe, voluntary return of migrants, approvals are still pending from countries of origin guarding against the spread of the virus.
Over 1,300 Nigeriens fled clashes in a gold mining region in the south of Burkina Faso in late April, hoping to make it to Ouagadougou, before continuing on to Niamey, the Nigerien capital. IOM has provided cash assistance for food, screened and registered the group, and is working with the national authorities to assist their voluntary return.
The closure of universities in Cameroon stranded more than 2,000 Chadian students for weeks. A bilateral agreement between the two governments allowed the students to return to Chad in early-May, where they were quarantined for two weeks. IOM has chartered buses to help them return to their home communities after negotiating travel special authorization for the groups across several administrative regions.
As well as providing physical support to migrants stranded in Georgia, IOM is also ramping up social media and virtual assistance. A live online consultation session organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs allowed IOM to talk directly to 50,000 migrants in the EU, Turkey, Israel, Russia, and more.
Over 500 questions were asked by stranded migrants during the session, focusing on how to get home, the implications of overstay in the EU, post-COVID-19 travel and employment opportunities back home.
“Migrants stranded abroad due to COVID-19, especially irregular labour migrants, are in need of constant access to updated information about return options, COVID-19-related restrictions and future migration perspectives”, noted Anna Kakushadze who ran IOM’s part of the consultation.
As the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold thousands of Kyrgyz labour migrants found themselves without jobs, salaries or a place to live.
When they decided to return home many became stranded in airports or on the borders of the Russian Federation, Turkey, Kazakhstan and UAE.
IOM’s offices teamed up to distribute masks, gloves, antiseptic, hot meals and provide a place to sleep in airports in Moscow and Novosibirsk.
A statement from IOM Kyrgyzstan noted that stranded migrants were vulnerable to COVID-19 “and also to exploitative practices. Data on past crises revealed that criminals, employers and others can use the opportunity to exploit migrants by cutting or withholding wages, threatening to report migrants to authorities, and exploiting them in other ways.”
In the wake of the 15 March closure of the border between Germany and Poland, all Polish citizens returning home were ordered into a compulsory 14-day home quarantine. That put thousands of cross-border workers and students in a difficult situation as they had to choose between their work and returning home.
At the time, some border regions were offering a Euro 40-65 daily stipend to cover meals and hotel rooms to encourage Polish commuters to remain in Germany.
Regulations have since been loosened to allow Poles who work or study in Germany to avoid quarantine upon their return. However, certain professional groups including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and geriatric nurses, are excluded from the regulation and are still being quarantined.
The significant contributions migrants in the UK are making in critical areas in the fight against Covid-19 are well documented.
However, the crisis has exacerbated the situation for many others who’ve been made more vulnerable due to their status. Despite warnings from IOM and prestigious journals like The Lancet advocating for migrants to be included in national health and social services as a public health priority, an estimated one million undocumented migrants are at risk of not being able to access adequate health care, and cope with the impacts of the crisis.
Those who are employed are typically found in the sectors most affected by the crisis such as hospitality and retail, or to be self-employed with temporary work and precarious livelihoods.
Reduced services are negatively impacting on those applying for the EU settlement scheme, while few public funds are available for needy EU citizens who have lived in the UK for less than five years.
There are roughly 3,000 migrants of different nationalities stranded in northern Chile, among them Bismar Núñez and Eleuteria Barja and their one-year old daughter Jazmín, who traveled roughly 1,800 kilometers by bus from Chile’s capital Santiago, to Iquique 300kms from the Bolivian border.
Like hundreds of their countrymen, the couple want to return home.
Before being taken to shelters provided by the Government of Chile, they spent their nights on the streets or in informal settlements, battling frigid conditions 3,700 meters above sea level while waiting for the chance to cross the border.
In an effort to manage the public health challenge presented by COVID-19 both the governments of Bolivia and Chile have agreed that the groups will be quarantined prior to crossing.
In coordination with the government and civil society partners, IOM Chile has been providing stranded migrants in the informal settlements with emergency assistance, including temporary accommodation for the most vulnerable, food and non-food items like tents and blankets.
IOM has documented approximately 7,700 cases of stranded migrants in Central America and the Caribbean.
Among them are more than 2,500 people stranded in Panama after arriving from Colombia through the Darien Gap. They remain in three overcrowded stations managed by the Panamanian National Border Service in one community in the Darien province.
The migrants are usually kept in these facilities for brief periods and taken to the Costa Rica border as part of a “Controlled Flow” agreement between the two countries which allows for the safe passage of 100 irregular migrants daily from Panama to its western neighbour. That agreement is currently suspended, stranding migrants in Panama for over two months.
Most of the migrants come from Haiti, but there are small groups from Cuba, and from as far away as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen and Bangladesh.
The Government of Panama, with support from IOM and other organizations, is constructing new accommodation centres to provide security for migrants stranded on its territory.
In late April, the Mexican government releasing people from its migrant detention centers based on recommendations from the United Nations, including a group of 74 Salvadoran migrants from the Acayucan Migratory Station in Veracruz state. Local authorities in Oluta city were uncomfortable with the move as the migrants were taken into the shelter late at night, without previous notice.
IOM stepped into a familiar role, working with both the Mexican and Salvadorian governments to organize an Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) effort to get them home safely and in a dignified manner, while ensuring public health concerns are suitably addressed. This group’s movement is still under discussion, but 82 Salvadorian and Honduran migrants have returned home with our assistance, and the option remains available to migrants in Mexico despite restrictions in place in many Central American countries.
In the meantime, they must wait.
ILO, IOM sign agreement to strengthen collaboration on migration governance
The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today signed an Agreement to create a framework for cooperation and collaboration to enhance the benefits of migration for all.
The framework includes joint support for improved migration governance, capacity building and policy coherence at national, regional and global levels. Other areas of work may also be developed.
The Agreement was signed by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and António Vitorino, the IOM Director-General, on Friday at the ILO Headquarters in Geneva.
Speaking after the signing ceremony, Ryder said, “this Agreement seals an important alliance between our two organizations. Together, we will be stronger and more effective in both fulfilling our individual mandates and in collaborating on areas that are crucial for reshaping the world of work so that it is more inclusive, equitable and sustainable.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a brutal impact on economies and societies. Vulnerable groups, particularly migrant workers and their families, are being disproportionately hit. There could be no better time to reinforce our partnership and combine our strengths, so that we can help countries and our constituents build back for a better future.”
DG Vitorino said, “the agreement that we are signing today will help us further solidify our collaboration at the time when joint solutions are so much needed, with a pandemic that is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. As we move towards post-pandemic recovery, we fully embrace the call to build a better world together, tapping into the added value of each partner. With ILO, we have much to co-create and we look forward to future cooperation within the broader UN family, with our partner governments, private sector and civil society.”
The new ILO-IOM Agreement builds on the agencies’ comparative advantages, expertise, and respective constituencies. By encouraging joint initiatives, the Agreement aims to strengthen international migration governance and boost cooperation, capacity building and joint advocacy to promote migrants’ rights and decent work opportunities.
By encouraging social dialogue, it will allow workers` and employers` organizations – who sit equally with governments in the ILO’s tripartite membership structure – to contribute to policy discussions.
A workplan will be developed in the next six months to push forward the collaboration at global, regional and country levels and, more importantly, facilitate the implementation of the Agreement in the field, where both agencies are working directly with affected populations.
It will seek to enhance the agencies joint contribution to their member states, UN country teams, and societies to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Agreement will also allow the ILO and IOM to strengthen support for their respective constituencies in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), and contribute to other global and regional migration policy fora and debates.
Stop enslavement of Africans in other continents- Experts tell African leaders
The second international migration summit by the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) ended on Friday, October 16, 2020, at the Pensioners FM, Ibadan, Oyo State, with a call to African leaders to deliver good governance to halt continued enslavement of the Africans in other continents through irregular migration.
The conference themed: Migration governance and media strategy for development with physical and virtual presentations was attended by hundreds of journalists and other participants across the world.
President of JIFORM, Ajibola Abayomi, in his remark after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Diaspora Innovation Institute (DII), US, on training and investment opportunities for journalists, said the global media body with over 200 journalists spread across the continents as parts of the fallouts of the summit would produce glossary of terminologies for over 10,000 journalists and media houses beyond Africa.
Speaking at the occasion, Governor Oluwaseyi Makinde of Oyo State hailed JIFORM’s advocacy and identified poverty as the root cause of irregular migration pledging commitment to reverse the tide through good governance.
Represented by Barrister Olubunmi Ogunniran, Director General of Legal Administration, Oyo State Ministry of Justice, the governor said apart from rescuing trafficked indigenes of the state abroad and creating diaspora unit, he had inaugurated a task force against human trafficking, sexual offenders with prosecute department and further engagement of the youths through economic activities.
Minister of Labour Sierra Leone, Mr Alpha Timbo; Ghana Ambassador to Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan, Nii Okai Hammond, and the United Nations Youth Ambassador (Ghana), Lilian Addo, all praised what they tagged courageous movement by JIFORM and promised to support the body in its quest to further spread its advocacies.
Chairman of the summit, Patrick Lumumba, rued the faulty labour and trade laws in Africa limiting development and called on the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) for ntervention to remove migration barriers causing undue frictions between Ghana and Nigeria ditto for the African Union to end the xenophobic attacks in South Africa against other African nationals.
He blamed the crisis on misapplication of resources and corruption among African leaders and urged them to retrace their steps to save the youths from desperate migration to other continents through the desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Matters, Tolulope Akande-Sadipe lauded JIFORM’s efforts to eradicate irregular migration and vowed to rescue and end the suffering of stranded Nigerians lured through human trafficking to the Middle East and other Arabian nations through collaborations.
Member of African Union Advisory Committee on Labour Migration, (Ghana) Dr Princess Ocansey urged the African nations to end the Kafala bilateral agreement entered into with some Middle East countres that permitted the en-slavery of mostly African women.
“African leaders must wake up to save the youths from deadly work they are being subjected and replace that with decent work. The Kafala system is a shame and very dehumanizing” she said.
Former Canada Minister of Immigration, Gerry Weiner while delivering his presentation urged the African youths to acquit themselves with the right processes to tap into numerous diaspora opportunities in Canada and elsewhere.
Weiner, who had 12 years working experience in Africa, said only safe and regular migration, would guarantee the actualization of the desire to be part of economic activities in the world.
The summit had participation from several international speaker that Prince Akin Ojomo from DII; included Johanna Mac from Erich Brost Institute, Germany; Barrister Samuel Adeusi and Ms Omotola Fawunmi both from the US; International Organization for Migration (IOM), Nigeria and Gambia; Rescue African Mission; Synergy Rescue Mission; ThisLebanon Lebanon; Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM); National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking In Persons (NAPTIP); Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); Ghana Immigration Service; Diaspora Innovation Institute, New York, America; and Ghana Immigration Service.
IOM, African Union Commission, launch the first Africa Migration Report
Those are among the historic findings of the study, Africa Migration Report: Challenging the Narrative, released today (15 October) by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the African Union Commission (AUC). The work is the first continent-specific report on migration and is being released during a virtual meeting bringing together policymakers, experts on migration and UN partner agencies. This inaugural edition attempts to unpack commonly held misperceptions about migration in the continent.
The AMR is modelled on the IOM flagship World Migration Report produced bi-annually since 2000.
“This report has become even more relevant for us to read in the context of pandemic, and particularly meaningful given that the lion’s share of African migration remains within the continent,” IOM Director General António Vitorino said in his opening remarks. “It reminds us how migration is integrated into every aspect of our societies and economies. It reinforces the critical need to include migrants into our responses to multifaceted crises, and in all our public policies. And it forces us to look beyond the problems of today, and consider where the challenges, and solutions, of tomorrow might be found.”
H. E. Commissioner Amira El Fadil added: “On behalf of the AUC Chairperson. H.E. Faki Mahamat, and on my own behalf, I wish to thank IOM for this collaborative initiative that begins to lay the foundations for important future work on migration policy and operational work in Africa. This is especially important as the continent makes ever greater steps towards integration through the implementation of, among others, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the continental free movement protocol which, as we know, is adopted but is yet to come into force.”
Globally, the salience of migration issues is getting higher on the policy agenda. Stories of desperate Africans on rickety boats trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe or embarking on the perilous Eastern trek to the Gulf States have become mainstream. This trend distorts the public’s understanding that most African migrants are moving across land borders, not across oceans.
Yet the narratives that characterize it are not always accurate, the joint report reveals. To ensure a better understanding of the complex phenomena that spur human mobility, and to reorient the narrative, the newly released Africa Migration Report takes a deep dive into the key issues and trends characterizing the continent’s migration patterns.
In 2019, Africa was the youngest continent for international migrants with a median age of 30.9 years. According to the African Union, intra-African mobility numbers have never been higher, with international migration in Africa increasing from 13.3 million to 25.4 million migrants between 2008 and 2017. Meanwhile, according to IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), 80 per cent of Africans, when asked about migrating in 2017, said they have no interest in leaving the continent, nor of permanently relocating.
Today’s report further notes that 94 per cent of African migration that does occur across oceans takes a regular form. Moreover, the report notes that Africans comprise no more than 14 per cent of all global migrants, while over 40 per cent come from Asia and another 24 per cent from Europe.
Experts from IOM, the AUC and other UN agencies collaborated to produce sixteen chapters covering, migration data, migration and health, migration and development, urbanization, migration and climate change, migration and trade, remittances and managing borders in the age of free movement.
The work was edited by three migration specialists: Professor Aderanti Adepoju, a Nigerian economist and demographer and leading voice in African migration research, served as Editor-in-Chief, assisted by two writers – Ms. Nanjala Nyabola and Mr. Corrado Fumagalli.
“A deeper understanding of the role migration needs to play in an Africa that is moving stridently towards continental integration has never been more urgent. It is hoped that both practitioners and policymakers will find this Africa Migration Report a useful basis for migration policy development,” Maureen Achieng, IOM Chief of Mission to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union and UNECA said. “This inaugural Africa Migration Report presents migration policy makers with the opportunity to reflect on critical policy questions, especially in the impending post-pandemic era.”
IOM works closely with the African Union Commission to advance the migration agenda, recognizing that well-managed migration has the potential to drive development and transformation on the continent.
The Africa Migration Report was funded by the Government of Switzerland and the United States’ Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration’s Africa Regional Migration Program, the African Union Commission and IOM.
ILO, IOM sign agreement to strengthen collaboration on migration governance
Stop enslavement of Africans in other continents- Experts tell African leaders
IOM, African Union Commission, launch the first Africa Migration Report
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