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COVID-19 driving Nicaraguan refugees to hunger, desperation

Costa Rica. Nicaraguan family that escaped from the political conflict in Nicaragua

A Nicaraguan asylum seeker embraces his children in Costa Rica, March 2019.  © UNHCR/Flavia Sanchez

 

More than three quarters of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica are going hungry, eating only once or twice a day as a result of the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

UNHCR spokesperson, Shabia Mantoo, disclosed this  today, August 28, 2020, during a  press briefing held at the Palais des Nations , Geneva.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is concerned that this could drive returns in adverse conditions.

Before the pandemic hit, and thanks to effective local integration initiatives in Costa Rica, only three percent of refugees were eating once a day or less. Now, this has more than quadrupled to 14 per cent. This is according to a humanitarian assessment conducted by UNHCR in July and August aimed at supporting Costa Rican authorities address the needs of more than 81,000 Nicaraguans who have sought international protection in the country.

The majority of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers in the country, 63 per cent, now report eating only two meals a day.

Refugee hosting communities are facing similar conditions and the economic contraction in these countries will make it even more difficult for refugees and their hosts to recover.

READ  Migrants challenging returns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

Costa Rica generously hosts nearly 80 percent of all refugees and asylum seekers from Nicaragua who have fled human rights violations and persecution, or some 81,000 people. It is among ten countries worldwide that received the most new asylum claims last year, some 59,200.

With a large proportion of forcibly displaced people in Latin America reliant on the informal economy, especially as they begin their integration into the communities that host them, COVID- related quarantine measures are now impacting livelihoods and driving food insecurity.

Only 59 per cent of refugee families in Costa Rica are reporting steady work-related income streams as of the end of July, a staggering decrease from 93 per cent before the pandemic hit. This leaves many also at risk of eviction and homelessness. A fifth of Nicaraguan refugees surveyed in Costa Rica said they now do not know where they will live in the next month.

Hardships faced by Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers, including loss of livelihoods, eviction and hunger, have also been reported elsewhere in the region, including in Panama, Guatemala and Mexico.

Twenty-one percent of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers surveyed said at least one member of their household is now contemplating a return to Nicaragua, mostly due to a lack of income or food. This is despite the risks they reported having fled. More than 3,000 asylum claims in Costa Rica have been withdrawn to date, principally by Nicaraguan nationals.

READ  Greece freezes asylum applications from illegally entering migrants

UNHCR continues to provide impartial information to those considering whether to return to Nicaragua, where the social and political crisis has driven more than 102,000 people to seek protection abroad.

In the face of this worsening situation, UNHCR is working together with governments and partners to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees — for whom return is not an option — receive the support and assistance they need in host countries.

Since the start of the pandemic, UNHCR has stepped-up its cash assistance programmes throughout Central America to support forcibly displaced people in vulnerable conditions. In Costa Rica, UNHCR has assisted 1,221 vulnerable and at-risk families.

Through its partnership with the Costa Rican Social Security System, UNHCR is also ensuring health coverage for 6,000 asylum seekers with serious and chronic conditions. In Panama, UNHCR, through partners, has supported nearly 700 people with cash assistance, and has helped dozens of families with rent payments or mediation to avoid evictions.

However, a severe lack of funding is hampering the ability to address urgent humanitarian needs. UNHCR’s operation in Costa Rica, whose financial requirements for 2020 stand at US$26.9 million, is only 46 per cent funded to date.

READ  IOM, UNHCR announce temporary suspension of resettlement travel for refugees

UNHCR continues to support efforts by States to address the needs of people forced to flee in Central America, as part of the regional framework for the comprehensive protection and solutions to forced displacement in Central America – known as MIRPS. It is also calling on all member States of the MIRPS to step up coordination and support in the face of new COVID-related challenges

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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  Nigerian migrant decries  ‘unjust ‘deportation from Cape Verde

“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  Migrants challenging returns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

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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  How Nigeria 'imports, spreads' COVID-19

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  Paris Police evacuates last big migrant tent camp

“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 sets up pineapple processing factory in Nigeria

“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  COVID 19: 15, 300 Ethiopian migrants return home

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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