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Gambian returnee migrants tackle COVID-19 head-on

Since her return to The Gambia, Rosamond’s thriving grocery shop has helped her pay for her daughter’s education. IOM/Alhagie Manka

Resilience? What does it mean for returned migrants who have survived dangerous and traumatic journeys?

“To me, resilience means protecting myself and being able to withstand an unfavorable situation,” says Rosamond Erica Johnson, who returned to The Gambia after a harrowing seven-month journey to try and reach Europe that ended in Niger.

Then COVID-19 hit. The pandemic threatened to turn Rosamond’s newly established life upside down in an instant. The crisis is challenging the resilience she built up over months of struggle, putting her grocery shop at risk — her sole source of income.

In late March, shortly after The Gambia’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported, a national state of emergency was declared. Restrictions imposed on everyday life under lockdown, seen all over the world to prevent the spread of the virus, have hit trade and market activity hard. Rosamond had to act fast to keep her new business afloat.

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“The business I operate sells attaya (green tea), sugar, milk tin, stationery and other similar items. It was going well, and I was using the profit to pay my rent, cover for my daughter’s education and healthcare and support my family,” she says. With schools now closed, stationery, one of her most popular products is no longer profitable.

With her business on the edge of collapse, Rosamond adapted quickly. “I assessed the market to understand what people want now, then invested in products that are marketable.” With the growing demand for ingredients, Rosamond began selling palm oil and gari (tapioca). She also took advantage of increasing reliance on online activities and is now selling mobile phone credit. “This business is not bad at all for me, despite the pandemic,” she notes, with relief.

Rosamond demonstrates resilience, like thousands of other returnees, who survive life-threatening ordeals to try and reach Europe. Rosamond’s attempt left her stranded in the Sahara. With assistance from the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, she returned home. Along with thousands of other returnees, she has made a name for herself, despite the stigma and whispers of being a failure.

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Like Rosamond, Oumie Camara is another returnee grappling with the impact of COVID-19. Oumie is learning how to maximize her profits from a rise in demand for seasonal produce. After nine months of attempting to reach Europe, she returned to The Gambia from Libya. She initially opened a cosmetic shop, using the profits to diversify her market garden. “I was making money growing and selling vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber and lettuce,” says Oumie.

With horticulture as her passion, Oumie continues to work hard at her garden. IOM/Alhagie Manka

Her business has not been spared by COVID-19. “The vegetable markets are only allowed to open for a very short period, and some of my vegetables are perishable.” Ramadan gave Oumie a glimmer of hope. As the demand for vegetables rose, she worked double-time to grow them in her garden. “I explored this opportunity and made as many sales as I could,” she states. “It shows that even amid the pandemic, we need to grab opportunities when they arise.”

As many returnees innovatively adapt their businesses in this difficult climate, others are finding ways to support their communities. Ebrima Sambou now spends his time volunteering. Ebrima established a grocery shop as part of his reintegration package after returning from Libya in 2017. He passed the shop’s management to his brother as he pursued work at a construction company. With the construction industry at a standstill and his brother overseeing the shop, Ebrima has joined the Kanifing Municipality Red Cross Link to deliver hygiene items and health information to the most vulnerable.

“As a former Red Cross volunteer prior to leaving for Libya in 2015, I already had experience in sensitizing people about Ebola during the outbreak in the region. I even utilized this skill along the backway, providing first aid service to fellow migrants on our route to Libya,” explains Ebrima, highlighting how the skills he has learned as a result of his migration experiences are being put to use in this pandemic.

Ebrima, Oumie and Rosamond all share one skill they are putting to use — a gift for public speaking and encouraging people to take positive actions in their communities. After returning to The Gambia, Ebrima and Oumie joined the Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM) association. The organization has embarked on multiple nationwide initiatives to sensitize youth on the risks of and alternatives to irregular migration. Meanwhile, Rosamond has participated in a number of radio programs covering migration.

Ebrima is incredibly passionate about sharing his story to young Gambians, to help them make informed migration decisions. IOM/Alhagie Manka

All three have joined the Migrants as Messengers volunteer network, through which they have eagerly participated in digital COVID-19 campaigns. “I did a handwashing demonstration video,” Ebrima says. He reveals with pride that his friends called him to say they watched his video. “I encouraged them to further learn the proper procedures from the World Health Organization.”

Rosamond accepted the “Stay Home Challenge”, inviting volunteers to show how they stay busy and healthy at home while respecting distancing protocol. Her advice? Sing and be joyful. Oumie took on the challenge as well, displaying her passion for horticulture in a clip of her gardening at home.

“There are people in The Gambia who do not believe the reality of the virus,” laments Oumie. “We are glad to participate in awareness-raising initiatives to counter some of these myths.”

Despite the continuing threat COVID-19 poses to communities, it has done little to quash Ebrima’s, Oumie’s and Rosamond’s resilience.

Ebrima Oumie and Rosamond received return and reintegration assistance through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. Their participation in digital COVID-19 campaigns is supported through the Migrants as Messengers initiative.

This story was written by Lamin W. Sanneh, IOM The Gambia’s Media and Communications Assistant

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Over 140 migrants perish in deadliest shipwreck of the year

A group of suspected migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent after a number of small boat incidents in the Channel in September. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

At least 140 people have drowned after a vessel carrying around 200 migrants sank off the Senegalese coast, the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020.

According to media sources, the Senegalese and Spanish navies, and fishermen who were nearby, rescued 59 people and retrieved the remains of 20 others.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply saddened by this recent tragedy, which follows four shipwrecks recorded in the Central Mediterranean last week and another in the English Channel.

“We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth,” said Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal Chief of Mission.

“It is also important that we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life.”

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Local community members told IOM the vessel left Mbour, a coastal town in western Senegal on Saturday (24/10) bound for the Canary Islands. The boat caught fire a few hours after departure and capsized near Saint-Louis, on Senegal’s northwest coast.

The Government of Senegal and IOM have arranged a mission to travel to Saint-Louis to assess the needs of survivors and provide immediate psychosocial assistance.

The number of departures from West Africa to the Canary Islands has significantly increased in recent weeks.

IOM Senegal has been monitoring departures from the coast with the assistance of members of the community since the beginning of September. In September alone, 14 boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the Canary Islands. Of these departures, 26 per cent were reported to have experienced an incident or shipwreck.

IOM estimates there have been roughly 11,000 arrivals to the Canary Islands this year compared to 2,557 arrivals during the same period last year. This is still far below peaks seen in 2006 when over 32,000 people arrived.

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With this tragic shipwreck, at least 414 people are known to have died along this route in 2020 according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which recorded 210 fatalities there in all of 2019.

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Displaced Yemen children at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity  

Migrants near Budapest

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition analysis released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners is extremely concerning. With limited access to food, humanitarian services and health care, displaced children in Yemen are at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity.

Around 26 per cent of the more than 156,000 people newly displaced this year, in the areas where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has access, cited food as their main need. This is the second most cited need after shelter and housing, which 65 per cent of people reported as their main need. In areas where there are higher levels of displacement, like Al Hudaydah, Taizz, Al Dhale’e and Marib, higher levels of food needs have also been reported.

“Displaced Yemenis leave their homes with nothing and often find themselves seeking safety in locations where there are no job opportunities and barely enough services, including health care,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Chief of Mission for Yemen.

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“This can leave vulnerable people without enough food to feed their families. Given that UN partners are reporting that acute malnutrition rates among children under five are the highest ever recorded in parts of Yemen, we are extremely worried about children in displaced families.”

The situation in Marib is particularly concerning given that an escalation in hostilities has displaced over 90,000 people to the city and caused a drastic shortage of services. Displaced people in Marib report food to be one of their most urgent needs. Of the displacement sites assessed by IOM in October, some reported that food shortages were a major concern for approximately 50 per cent of their residents.

In response to food insecurity, the emergency aid kits distributed under the Rapid Response Mechanism by IOM to newly displaced families include emergency food rations. IOM also carries out livelihood support activities for displaced communities to help them generate income. Most recently the Organization supported displaced women in making face masks which help their community combat the spread of COVID-19.

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IOM also operates a health centre in Al Jufainah Camp, Yemen’s largest displacement site, and multiple mobile health clinics. In addition to providing primary health care services to over 55 per cent of displaced people in Marib, IOM’s mobile health clinics provide community level access to malnutrition screening for children under the age of five and referral for treatment, in coordination with UNICEF. Given the high demand for such nutritional support, early intervention is vital to reducing avoidable morbidity and mortality among displaced children.

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Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide

Nigerians resident in Spain have kicked against bad governance and brutalitalisation of innocent citizens by security operatives in Nigeria.

They are in solidarity with the #Endsars protesters.

The #Endsars protest  started by young Nigerians to say no to brutality, impunity and gruesome killings in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the government in the country saw security operatives using live bullets on the protesters last week, October 21, 2020.

In a statement signed by Afolabi Oloko, the Nigerians in Spain said: “In every part  of the world, including Nigeria, we believe protesting is a fundamental right of all citizenry that we can exercise whenever we deem it fit as long as it is civil and devoid of violence but such is not the case in Nigeria where the young future of the country are murdered by their very own government just because they made demands that there must be a reform to the notorious Police department and that the country be reformed in general. Have they asked for too much from a responsible and responsive government?

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“It is so disheartening that after Ten days that the youth refused to back down they resorted to killing, maiming of their own future generations just because they asked and begged for good governance and good policing. It’s a shame that young people are being killed all around the cities of Nigeria from Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ondo , Benin, Porthacort just to mention a few. It was horrendous seeing over seventy people being murdered at night while still protesting unarmed peacefully in Lekki area of Lagos state. They organised by switching off the street light while they carried out their evil deed against defenceless young people of the country and also took away the CCTV. The commander-in-chief of the Armed forces in person of President Muhamodu Buhari must be tried at the International court for genocide against it’s own people.

“We the compatriots far away in Spain are with our young brothers and sister on the streets saying no to bad governance as you’re in our hearts and prayers. We support you in the just cause you’re are fighting. Fighting for one’s future should not be seen as an affront to the authorities, rather they should look inward and realise that the system is rotten and should be cleansed but not killing innocent young men on the streets with Army being deployed to take lives of vibrant and resourceful, frustrated and change hungry citizens.
“Today, we came out in multitude in solidarity with our compatriots back home to say #ENDSARS! #ENDBADGOVERNANCE #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDCORUPTION #ENDTHEGENOCIDE”

READ  Horrors of asylum seekers (iii) The Nation’s intervention saves stranded female deportees, children

 

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