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Humanitarian activities hindered as violence in Sahel region worsens displacement

Hamidou, 14, an internally displaced Burkinabe, pictured in Kaya, Burkina Faso, February 2020. © UNHCR/Sylvain Cherkaoui

 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is distressed over escalating violence in the Sahel region. The crisis according to the UN Refugee Agency has seen hundreds of innocent civilians targeted in recent weeks, triggered more displacement and seriously hindering humanitarian activities.

The UNHCR said attacks by armed groups and ensuing counter-security operations have led to more people fleeing their homes for security and put even more pressure on stretched host communities, already facing immense hardship from dealing with those displaced, often relatives from previous violence.

The latest attack on the Binedama village in central Mali’s volatile Mopti region, on June 5, killed 26 civilians.

Armed groups also targeted a refugee hosting area  at Intikane in western Niger and killed two refugee leaders and one leader from the local community on 31 May.  This resulted in more than 10,000 people seeking shelter further inland around Telemces where UNHCR and partners have assisted in the rapid provision of some 1,180 temporary shelters. Nevertheless, living conditions there are “deplorable” with water and health major concerns.

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‘’The continuing attacks on civilians in the Sahel which have crippled life in the border towns and areas are unfathomable, incomprehensible. People are being displaced multiple times and are in desperate need of our help. We are doing the best we can to bring in assistance inspite of the challenging times’’ said Millicent Mutuli, UNHCR’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the limitations which arise from the response.

Refugees finding themselves in the Liptako-Gourma, the border triangle where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger converge, are seeking safety in areas that are also plagued by violence and poverty. Many have been displaced several times.

In response, UNHCR has provided shelter assistance to over 25,000 families and aims to conclude the distribution of relief items to 16,500 families by the end June 2020. However, humanitarian activities are seriously hampered by escalating insecurity, the impact of COVID-19 and a lack of adequate resources.

READ  Migrants' remittances drop by over  $100b - UN Chief 

Since an initial outbreak in northern Mali in 2011, armed conflict has spread to central Mali, to Niger, to Burkina Faso.

Now one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world, millions have fled indiscriminate attacks by armed groups against civilians such as summary executions, the widespread use of rape against women, and attacks against state institutions, including schools and health facilities.

In Burkina Faso in particular, the number of IDPs rose from 560,000 in early February to 848,000 at the end of April, representing 288,000 additional people in approximately three months.

‘’The humanitarian situation is extremely dire in the central Sahel.  Displaced families live in overcrowded sites, access to basic services is minimal and we are racing against time to scale up our response in the face of new needs growing faster than available resources,’’ UNHCR’s Mutuli added.

To highlight the immense needs in the region and continue the ongoing response to the deepening crisis, UNHCR will be launching its Sahel Crisis Appeal this Friday, 12 June.

UNHCR staff working with partners and the authorities in the region are assisting desperate populations, but increased insecurity and COVID-19 measures mean our ability to reach all in need in the remote parts of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali is extremely challenging.

READ  IOM aids COVID-impacted communities on Haiti-Dominican border, worldwide

All three countries have weak social infrastructures, which means shelter, food, health and delivery of water to refugees and displaced people remains a priority. Many arrive without any belongings and welcomed by host communities – which despite their generous welcome are at a breaking  point and need supp

 

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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.

READ  IOM aids COVID-impacted communities on Haiti-Dominican border, worldwide

“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.

READ  Greece begins deporting refugees to ‘isolated camps’

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.

READ  Human trafficking generates billions in profit at the expense of victims- A-TIPSOM

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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