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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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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

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Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

READ  29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  Pope defends migrants, calls for peace in Christmas message

 

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FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK

Kelvin

The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.

Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.

Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.

Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.

“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.

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