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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

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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  JIFORM takes anti -trafficking campaign to higher institution

 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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