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Somali migrants return from Iran, after several months of being stranded

Mogadishu – Eleven Somali nationals and Muhammed Hussein Abukar, Somalia’s ambassador to West Africa and Special Envoy to Iran, safely returned to Somalia after nearly six months of being stranded in the Islamic Republic of Iran due to COVID-19 global movement  restrictions.

Their return, completed on Saturday (1 August) was facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Special Envoy on Migrant’s and Children’s rights in Somalia.

Mohammed, a 20-year-old from Mogadishu had been in detention for over a year by the time his family reached out to IOM for support in February. Like others in the same predicament, the young Somali could not communicate regularly with his family since he left the country.

Mohammed could not contain his excitement as the plane bringing him home landed just days ago. “I would like to spend time with my family especially my mother whom I have missed so much,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated governments to take various containment measures, designed to limit the spread of the virus. These extraordinary measures, including travel and mobility restrictions, are having an impact on all people, but some are exacerbating the precarious situations and vulnerabilities of migrant populations and in particular, leading to a large number of migrants being stranded. Loss of jobs and income, lack of employment, loss of residence permits and lack of resources to return home have all impacted mobility

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This is unprecedented historically. Migrants are stranded for various reasons beyond restrictions on travel and the related drop in international flights.

As visas and permits expire migrants are also facing deportation. This increases the possibility of further limiting access to health care and social support, stigmatization and xenophobia. This also raises risks of detention in already overcrowded facilities, as well as homelessness

The 11 migrants and the Ambassador had been under lockdown for several months in a hotel in Tehran, as they eagerly waited to be reunited with their loved ones in Somalia.

Two of the returnees were studying at a university in Tehran when the country went into lockdown for physical distancing in an attempt to stop further transmission of the virus in the country. All of a sudden, the Somali students could not attend classes, nor return home.

The rest of the group had been intercepted by the Iranian authorities and detained whilst trying to reach Europe. While in detention, migrants and the family members contacted and sought help from IOM.  To facilitate their return, the Ambassador flew into Iran right before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. As a result, their return flights were cancelled unexpectedly.

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Thanks to the efforts of IOM and the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the migrants were able to depart the Islamic Republic of Iran and finally arrived at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu.

Mohammad Safari, Officer in Charge and Program Development Officer, IOM Mission in the Islamic Republic of Iran, described some of the obstacles the returnees faced.  “We tried to arrange return flights from Tehran several times with different airlines when the opportunity arose, but all the flights were cancelled as the COVID-19 situation and movement restrictions took place around the world,” he explained. ”I am really thankful for the support of Iranian authorities to issue exit permit six times over the weekend and holidays.”

There were also COVID-19 positive cases in the facility where the migrants stayed, which further delayed their return.

Besides the final flight home, IOM also coordinated officials in with Ankara, Turkey, and Doha, Qatar, for Laissez-Passer for the migrants, to ensure that all carried appropriate travel documents.

While waiting to return, IOM provided the migrants and the Ambassador with accommodation, meals, and other basic items, as well as regular health check-ups prior to their travel to ensure the safety of the group, including four COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and fit-to-fly tests.

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Now in Somalia, IOM will assist the returnees to reach their final destinations across the country and will be ready to offer basic healthcare support and psychosocial assistance to those that need it.

“Many migrants continue to be stranded all over the world unable to be with their friends and families during this difficult time due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. IOM will continue to support Somali nationals stranded across the world to safely return home and calls for all governments to help stranded migrants,” said Richard Danziger, Chief of Mission, IOM Somalia.

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Biden reverses Trump’s travel ban on Nigeria, Yemen, Eritrea, others

Mr Biden has now nullified the entry ban on citizens from over a dozen countries, including Eritrea, Yemen, Nigeria, and Sudan.

Newly sworn-in American president, Joe Biden, on Wednesday, issued an executive order nullifying a travel ban imposed on citizens of some Muslim-majority countries by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Before his exit from White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump-led administration was notorious for its harsh policies against immigrants and asylum seekers, one of his many election campaign promises.

He tightened the policies amidst the coronavirus pandemic which rocked the globe, claiming his decision was to protect American populace.

However, Mr Biden, immediately after his inauguration on Wednesday, issued a number of executive orders undoing some of the policies and projects of his predecessor.

Reversals
Mr Biden has now nullified the entry ban on citizens from over a dozen countries, including Nigeria, Eritrea, Yemen, and Sudan.

“There’s no time to waste.

“These are just all starting points,” he said before signing the 17 executive orders in the White House, a statement that connotes the possibility of many more to come.

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Mr Trump’s strict immigration policies have been condemned by leaders and civil groups in the past.

The American Civil Liberties Union, on Wednesday lauded Mr Biden’s decision berating his predecessor’s travel policy a “cruel Muslim ban that targeted Africans.

 

Culled from Premium Times

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Frightened residents brace as Cyclone Eloise approaches Mozambique

IOM is assisting the Government of Mozambique’s preparations for the arrival of Cyclone Eloise, moving people to safety in accommodation centers in Buzi. Photo: IOM 2021

 

Roughly 160 International Organization for Migration (IOM) staff in central Mozambique are working to prepare local communities for the imminent arrival of Cyclone Eloise, which is currently packing winds of at least 150 km/h.

“The people are scared,” said Cesaltino Vilanculo, an IOM Mobile team leader in the provincial capital Beira, who helped hundreds of families evacuate from unsafe temporary settlements to two accommodation centers.

“The water is rising in their zones and people are frightened, bracing for yet another storm.”

Eloise is expected to make landfall in Beira late Friday or early Saturday. By mid-afternoon today shops across the city are closed and flooded streets, empty.

IOM personnel will be ready to respond immediately with specialists in camp coordination and management, shelter, the distribution of non-food items, health and protection services and data mapping under IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM).

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The Port of Beira is set to close on Friday for a period of about 40 hours in expectation of dangerous winds and rain from the afternoon of 22 January through the morning of 24 January. Beira is the main entry point for goods bound for north coastal Mozambique.

A limited supply of emergency non-food items had been stockpiled in Beira, including tarps and water tanks. However, resources are stretched, as IOM is actively responding to the crisis across Northern Mozambique.

At the same time, over 900 people are already displaced in Beira City due to recent heavy rains and the impact of Tropical Storm Chalane, which hit nearby Sofala Province on 30 December.

“The government is working, identifying the safe places to bring the people who are most vulnerable,” explained Aida Temba, a protection project assistant with IOM Mozambique.

“The rain is coming, and the water is rising and it’s not easy to reach all the people who need assistance. But we do our best to respond.”

Hundreds of families were evacuated to two accommodation centres, sheltered in tents provided by Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction (INGD). One accommodation center was today closed, in favor of moving families to schools, which provide more stable structure. Those families’ needs include food, potable water, hygiene kits and soap.

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IOM Mozambique also has reported that due to heavy rainfall and the discharge of water from the Chicamba dam and the Mavuzi reservoir—both in the Buzi District west of Beira—over 19,000 people have been affected and hundreds are being moved to accommodation centers. Their needs include food, hygiene kits, and COVID-19 prevention materials.

IOM staff are supporting the Government of Mozambique with the movements in both Beira and Buzi and actively working to improve drainage ways in resettlement sites in preparation for further rains.

IOM’s DTM, working jointly with Mozambique’s INGD, is poised to produce a report on displacement and damages within the first 72 hours of the cyclone’s arrival.

Tropical storms historically are common in these early months of rainy season. Cyclone Idai struck the country in March 2019. It is considered one of the worst tropical cyclones to hit Africa on record, claiming hundreds of lives, and affecting three million people across wide swaths of Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe. A second powerful storm, Cyclone Kenneth, hit Mozambique just weeks later.

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Total property damages from Cyclone Idai have been estimated at some USD2.2 billion. Almost two years later, roughly 100,000 people remain in resettlement sites, which also have been battered by the recent rains.

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IOM commends United States’ inclusion of migrants in COVID-19 vaccine roll-out

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) welcomes the inclusion of migrants in the new US Administration’s national strategy for COVID-19 response and its commitment “to ensuring that safe, effective, cost-free vaccines are available to the entire U.S. public—regardless of their immigration status”.

In light of this announcement, IOM calls on all countries to adopt similar migrant-inclusive approaches, to ensure that as many lives as possible can be saved.

“COVID-19 vaccines provide the opportunity we have been waiting for, but only if we use them wisely and strategically, by protecting the most at-risk first, no matter their nationality and legal immigration status,” warned IOM Director General António Vitorino. “I applaud those Governments choosing the path of inclusion and solidarity for their vaccine roll-outs.”.

According to the COVAX Facility – the multilateral mechanism created to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines – immunization campaigns have already started in over 50 countries.

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Many countries have yet to release their prioritization strategies for the vaccine roll-outs, but the United States, Germany and Jordan, among others, have already announced various measures to provide access to the vaccine equitably, including to asylum seekers, migrants in irregular situations and forcibly displaced persons. Last year, similar migrant-inclusive approaches were adopted for COVID-19 testing, treatment and social services in Ireland, Malaysia, Portugal, Qatar and the United Kingdom.

To facilitate truly effective and equitable immunization campaigns, IOM is working closely with the COVAX Facility, Member States, the World Health Organization, and other partners, and recommending that national authorities adopt practices to account for all migrant, such as:

Ensuring an adequate number of vaccine doses is planned for and procured to include migrants in-country, and that delivery systems are fit-for-purpose;
Reducing the number of administrative hurdles for migrants to access health care and vaccines, including high costs and proof of residence or identity.
Actively reaching out to migrant communities through linguistically and culturally competent communication methods to build trust, inform and engage in programming;
Offering guarantees that vaccination will not lead to detention or deportation;
Strengthening health systems and setting up mobile vaccination mechanisms where needed to ensure last-mile distribution.

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“Migrants play an enormous part in our socioeconomic development and collective well-being.  Despite this, many migrants have remained disproportionately exposed to excessive health risks through their living and working conditions and have continued to face tremendous challenges in accessing COVID-19 and other essential health services,” said Director General Vitorino.

“If we are not careful and deliberate about including migrants in vaccination plans, we will all pay a higher price.”

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