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UNHCR, WFP warn refugees in Africa face hunger, malnutrition as COVID-19 worsens food shortages

South Sudan. COVID-19 precautions during food and soap distribution

Sudanese refugees observe physical distancing during a food and soap distribution at Ajuong Thok camp in South Sudan, April 2020.  © UNHCR/Elizabeth Marie Stuart

 

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the World Food Programme (WFP) are warning that severe underfunding, conflict and disasters – as well as supply chain challenges, rising food prices and loss of income due to COVID19 – threaten to leave millions of refugees across Africa without food.

“Millions of refugees throughout Africa are currently reliant on regular aid to meet their food needs,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Around half are children, who may develop life-long difficulties if deprived of food at vital stages in their development.”

Unless urgent action is taken to address the situation, levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anemia are expected to rise. In refugee camps in Ethiopia, 62% of children are experiencing critical levels of anemia.

“While the situation continues to deteriorate for everyone, the disaster is magnified for refugees who have absolutely nothing to cushion their fall,” said WFP Executive Director, David Beasley. “In the best of times, refugees live in cramped conditions, struggle to meet their basic needs and often have no option but to rely on outside assistance for their survival. Now more than ever, they need our lifesaving support.”

WFP is providing food assistance to more than 10 million refugees worldwide, including to those in the world’s largest refugee settlements, such as Bidibidi settlement in Uganda, where rations were reduced by 30% in April due to lack of funding.

Refugee populations who were previously able to feed and fend for themselves, including many living in urban areas and those working in the informal economy, are also facing significant challenges. Large numbers have lost their only source of income as work possibilities disappeared due to COVID-19 prevention measures. Most are not covered by social protection schemes, leaving many families destitute and dependent on humanitarian assistance. In South Africa, many refugees are in danger of being evicted and have approached UNHCR helplines in desperate need of food and support.

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At the same time, import and export restrictions are squeezing supply chains. In the mostly landlocked Sahel, COVID-19 prevention measures such as border closures and movement restrictions limit capacity to transport produce in a region where escalating insecurity, violence and conflict – compounded by the impact of climate change and poverty – have disrupted food security and livelihoods for millions of people. Assistance for extremely vulnerable groups, including more than 1.2 million refugees in the region, needs to be sustained.

In Cameroon, WFP was forced to reduce its assistance to refugees from the Central African Republic by 50% in May and June due to funding gaps and, based on current funding levels, will have to stop cash assistance entirely from August. Cuts in rations are also expected for Nigerian refugees in the country from July.

Across East Africa, unstandardized health measures at multiple borders have created congestion, delaying vital aid and trade flows. Lack of recognition of test results in neighbouring countries and the requirement to wait for test results have caused long queues and delays at custom points.  COVID-19-induced transport delays have negatively impacted food prepositioning in South Sudan ahead of the rainy season, requiring WFP to work extra hard to keep roads open during the rains, with an increased risk of having to resort to extremely expensive air operations should overland options cease to be viable.

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In many parts of the continent, food prices are rising, posing a potentially devastating threat to millions of refugees, particularly those who were already living hand-to-mouth on daily wages. In the Republic of Congo, the average price of a basic food basket has increased by 15% while in Rwanda, WFP market monitoring around refugee camps found food prices were already on average 27% higher in April 2020 compared to 2019, and 40% higher than in 2018.

As a result of these challenges, many refugees are resorting to negative coping mechanisms, such as skipping meals or reducing meal portions. More than 80% of refugees in South Sudan are estimated to be resorting to such measures. In some cases, refugees are resorting to begging, transactional sex, or early or forced marriages to be able to afford food.

Amidst severe underfunding, UNHCR and WFP are struggling to meet the rising needs, with the situation expected to worsen in many cases as costs rise, in part due to the unexpected expense involved in providing cooked meals in quarantine facilities. In addition to the recent cuts in Uganda, more than 3.2 million refugees in East Africa are already receiving reduced rations due to underfunding, including in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Tanzania. Significant funding shortfalls threaten, or have already given rise to food cuts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

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UNHCR and WFP are concerned about the negative impact of reduced assistance on refugees and urge donors in the international community to provide further funding to ensure refugees do not face starvation. Globally, WFP activities supporting refugees have a net funding requirement of more than US$ 1.2 billion for the next six months (July-December), of which some US$ 694 million is for operations in Africa.  As part of the broader UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19, UNHCR is requesting some US$745 million for life-saving interventions, of which US$227 million is for operations in Africa.

African governments are urged to ensure refugees and displaced populations are included in social safety nets and COVID-19 response plans, in line with commitments to the Global Compact on Refugees, to ensure they are able to access food and emergency cash assistance

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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.

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

“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  COVID 19: 15, 300 Ethiopian migrants return home

“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  Illegal border crossings at Europe’s external borders drop

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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  Why India is home to millions of refugees but doesn’t have a policy for them

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.

READ  World Day Against Trafficking in Persons: IOM's boss lament's effects of Covid 19 on counter trafficking

“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  IOM' s director orders investigation into sexual abuse of women by aid workers

“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  Help for Italy's refugees and migrants withers with virus lockdown

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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