Connect with us

News

COVID-19 Compounds Families’ Painful Search for Missing and Disappeared Migrants

By Marta Sánchez Dionis, Kate Dearden, Gabriella Sanchez
Due to COVID-19, more people are dying away from home and away from their families.

Often, bereaved families have no opportunity to mourn their loved ones. However, their experiences have been paid meagre attention. With the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (IOM GMDAC) is carrying out qualitative research with families of missing migrants to better understand how people cope with the uncertainty and tragedy of loss and death, and what governments and other actors can do to better support them. The geographic focus of the research is the Western and Central Mediterranean routes to Europe and the findings will be published in the last quarter of 2020.

COVID-19 and the mobility restrictions and border controls passed to prevent its spread affect everyone. Despite the constraints, migrants continue to embark on clandestine journeys, fleeing violence and poverty and seeking to improve their lives. COVID-19 responses have increased the precarity of these journeys, pushing people into more perilous and deadly situations where humanitarian support and rescue may be unavailable.[1] Families and communities of origin are also affected, including how they search for the missing and grieve for those who have died away from home.

Over the past few months, devastating examples of the harrowing journeys people embark on due to the reduction in safe and legal pathways to migration have kept making headlines: 64 migrants dying in the back of a lorry in Mozambique on 24 March[2] and a boat carrying at least 43 people shipwrecked on its way to the Canary Islands on 3 April.[3] Rohingya refugees rescued on 15 April by the Bangladeshi Coast Guard after a two month ordeal aboard a wooden fishing trawler reported that up to three people were dying each day due to dehydration, starvation and violence during which no country would allow them to disembark. At least 12 men died in the Central Mediterranean over the Easter weekend when their boat was returned to Libya allegedly with the assistance of the Maltese authorities.[4]

The restrictions imposed in many countries and the focus on the COVID-19 response have also limited the ability to collect and report information on migrant deaths and disappearances. The number of reported deaths on migration journeys since the beginning of the pandemic is a minimum estimate and we know that deaths and disappearances continue in remote and dangerous areas and the probability of victims or survivors being identified and accounted for is slim.

Each person unidentified or whose remains are not recovered is leaving behind loved ones without answers.

When families stop hearing from their loved ones, they begin a painful search for information that can take years or a lifetime.

The circumstances have not stopped families’ demands for information on their missing mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children. Yet fieldwork in the context of this project shows that the response measures and the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 will have a detrimental impact on their mental, social and physical well-being, and on their ability to search for their missing loved ones. Restrictions on mobility are making it harder for people to access or receive information concerning the whereabouts of their friends and relatives.

Even under normal circumstances families searching for information face many obstacles. Preliminary findings from our research in the UK show that the participants’ undocumented status coupled with difficult socioeconomic conditions are key challenges in trying to find missing loved ones. Many family members who participated in the research in the UK hold challenging and underpaid jobs which have been adversely impacted by lockdown measures. These precarious financial circumstances and difficulties finding secure accommodation further undermine their ability to trace missing relatives.

Similarly in Spain, strict lockdown measures have severely affected the ability of migrants working in greenhouses and agricultural fields to search for loved ones. Fieldwork conducted by the research team in Almería, Southern Spain, showed that COVID-19 restrictions have led to a reduction and suspension of harvesting activities and the loss of income. Many migrants are currently relying on the assistance of local NGOs to access basic supplies and food. While official restrictions in Spain have by now been lifted, many migrant families are still confined to their homes – in the case of Almería, often makeshift settlements on the periphery.[5]

We know from past research in the Mediterranean migration context that it is rare for families to be present during the burials of relatives who died in the course of their migration journeys.[6] The already uncommon process of repatriating the remains of migrants during this period is further complicated by sanitary restrictions concerning the propagation of the virus and vastly restricted mobility.

For example, the bodies of 26 Bangladeshi and four Sub-Saharan African migrants massacred in the Libyan city of Mezdah in late May were buried in Libya, despite the desperate requests from families who were hoping for the remains to be returned to their homelands.[7] As other Missing Migrant Project reports and publications have shown, these restrictions are extremely distressing for families, and exacerbate their grief.
Another example involved the relatives of migrants who went missing in the 3 April shipwreck between Morocco and the Canary Islands, who told Le Monde that the impossibility to respect burial and mourning traditions have added even more pain to the loss of their loved ones.[8] “My mother mourned him as if his body was next to us, she is convinced of his death,” shared the brother of Alseny Kouta, a young Guinean who went missing during the shipwreck.

“I can’t say if he’s dead or not, if he was buried somewhere or not. And we have no one to turn to.”

Despite the lack of certainty about his fate, Alseny’s family wanted to organize a ceremony “so that his soul can rest in peace if he is dead or that God can take care of him if he is still alive”, his brother said.

However, the prohibition on gatherings of more than twenty people due to the COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for such a ceremony to take place. In the end, the ceremony was held in private.  “It’s odd to say goodbye to someone like that.” Ibrahima Sylla, Alseny’s brother, told Le Monde.

What has been made painfully clear these last months are the collective and intimate experiences with loss that the pandemic has brought about as it moves across the globe. Faced with an uncertain future, the disruption of everyday life and the loss of loved ones in the time of physical distancing, people around the world are experiencing reactions frequently associated with ambiguous loss and grief.

For families of missing migrants, these feelings of profound grief and loss are not new, but they have been amplified by the increased isolation and precarity brought by the pandemic

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
* are compulsory
cardlogos
READ  IOM, UNHCR welcome Colombia’s decision to regularize Venezuelan refugees and migrants
Advertisement
2 Comments

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
29 − 7 =


News

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.

READ  Many Ethiopians seeking jobs in S’Arabia unaware of Yemen's degree of conflict

“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  Without safe migration, economic recovery will be limited

“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. 

READ  Safe Migration Campaign Targets Border Communities in Nigeria and Benin

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
* are compulsory
cardlogos
Continue Reading

News

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  Immigration & emigration statistics: Migration data relevant for the COVID-19 pandemic

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.

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
* are compulsory
cardlogos
Continue Reading

News

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.

READ  IOM, UNHCR, seek support for Venezuelan refugees, migrants

“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.

READ  Deportation laws in Germany — what you need to know

“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  Ailing migrant dies as IOM supports 13 stranded travellers along Cote d’Ivoire –Ghana border

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.

Support Voice for African Migrants


Support VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS journalism of integrity and credibility.

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to VOICE FOR AFRICAN MIGRANTS, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
* are compulsory
cardlogos
Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2019 Voice for African Migrants. Site Design: Semasir Connect