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Helping migrant shipwreck survivors to deal with trauma

Helping migrant shipwreck survivors to deal with trauma
Psychodrama being used by IOM as a tool to shed light on the mental health challenges faced by returnees
Every year, migrants embarking on sea-crossings see their journey end in tragedy: those who survive and return home can struggle to cope with daily life, and need support. To help migrant returnees, the UN has a range of programs aimed at tackling the mental health side-effects of trauma.
Sulayman*, an 18 year old from the North Bank region of The Gambia in West Africa, says that he will never forget what he saw, the day that he was caught up in a devastating tragedy: the ship he was travelling on sank off the Mauritanian coast, drowning at least 62 people who had left the country, in the hope of a better life elsewhere.
One of the most distressing details for Sulayman, is the fact that other vessels witnessed the tragedy unfolding, but chose to do nothing. “There were two fishing boats who saw we were sinking, but they didn’t help us”, remembers Sulayman. “They knew the area was deadly and yet, they did not help. You don’t forget that.”
Samba, who was also on board, * lost eight family members when the ship went down. Every morning, she says, she and her remaining family wake up and miss the loved ones they didn’t even have the chance to bury.
‘Shipwrecks are among the most traumatic life experiences’

Survivors participate in a focus group discussion., by © IOM

Migration plays an important role in the Gambian economy, where almost half the population (48.6 per cent) lives in poverty. Some 90,000 Gambians live abroad, and the money they send back home accounts for more than 20 per cent of the country’s economy.
The World Bank describes the country as “fragile”, with several long-term development challenges, including an undiversified economy, poor governance, limited access to resources, and a lack of skills.
Every year, the search for an improved livelihood drives many young Gambians to attempt to reach Europe: over 35,000 Gambians arrived in Europe by irregular means between 2014 and 2018.
Data from the UN refugee agencyUNHCR, shows that thousands of migrants have died attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean, often on vastly overcrowded boats that capsize or sink. This reached a peak in 2016, when more than 4,500 migrants died.
Gaia Quaranta is a psychologist working for IOM, the UN migration agency, in the West and Central Africa region. She told UN News that being involved in a shipwreck exerts a heavy mental toll.
“Shipwrecks rank among the most traumatic life experiences. Such events may put one at a greater risk for a wide range of mental health conditions often exacerbated by migration, another high-ranking stressful life experience”.
In late February, some three months on from the shipwreck, IOM led a series of activities in three North Bank communities – Barra, Essau and Medina Serigne Mass – designed to help Suleyman, Samba and other survivors, as well as their families and friends, to cope with the effects that the shipwreck is having on their mental health.
A dramatic recovery

Community members participate in a traditional ‘bantaba’ session, by © IOM

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Led by a trained team leader, groups of survivors took part in discussions, in which they were encouraged to talk through the traumatic event they had been through, share positive and negative experiences, as well as discuss and suggest the strategies they employ to help them cope.
At the same time, family and community members met in separate groups to discuss how to support the survivors, and help to remove the stigma felt by returnees. As Ms. Quaranta explains, they are also likely to be suffering.
“It is important to be aware that the psychological impact of a shipwreck does not affect only those who were directly exposed (the survivors) but also those who witnessed such event or learned about it, (for instance helpers, family and community members). The impact on families is huge”.
Building on these discussions, survivors and other attendees watched actors perform a drama, showing some of the mental health challenges faced by returnees, families and other community members. This acts a form of group psychotherapy, helping the community to gain deeper insights into the way they feel, and make all members more resilient in the face of such tragedies.
These are just some of the ways that IOM helps those dealing with aftermath of traumatic migration-related events. “Different types of psychosocial support interventions have been put in place according to the needs identified”, says Ms. Quaranta, including “individual counselling, psychosocial support groups, referrals to specialized mental health services, psychosocial support to family members including women and children, and facilitation of peer support groups among the survivors and family members. It has been crucial to facilitate the grief process and to support the most vulnerable people”.
Helping communities to help themselves

IOM engages community leaders on how best to attend to the psychosocial needs of survivors, by © IOM

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The initiative involved training volunteers in each community, equipping them with the tools to support families in identifying symptoms of distress, as several different factors determine the likelihood of survivors needing mental health and psychosocial support: “Age, sex, length of time to receive health services, post-migration difficulties, social support, religion, and resilience may be potential predictors or protective factors to psychological distress”, says Gaia Quaranta, adding that they are “essential to identify who could be most at risk of developing trauma-related disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders”.
The activities in the North Bank communities came to an end after three days, but the effects should last much longer. Evans Binen, an IOM mental health and psychosocial officer involved with the project, explained that it could help to build the foundations of a more resilient community, and lead to “healing among survivors, enabling durable family support mechanisms, encouraging community proactiveness to the needs of survivors, and promoting positive perceptions of returnees”.
Nevertheless, even with the knowledge that more people are likely to drown in the hope of reaching a new home, it is likely that Gambians will continue to try:   “it is difficult to predict this but despite the adversities of the migration journey, a few returnees most probably will attempt the dangerous journey again”, says Ms. Quaranta, “especially given the persistence of post-migration life difficulties in their country of origin”.
*The names of survivors have been changed.

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Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants

The Migration Normalization Plan will allow Venezuelans living irregularly in the Dominican Republic to work, move without risk of deportation, open bank accounts and join the country’s social security system.  Photo: IOM / Francesco Spotorno

 

 

Santo Domingo – The first group of almost 100,000 Venezuelan migrants without legal status in the Dominican Republic have received visas allowing them to work, open bank accounts and join the social security system under the country’s Migration Normalization Plan.

Created by the Dominican government and launched with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the plan aims to regularize the Venezuelan population in three stages: application for extension of stay, visa, and residency. Since April, when the first phase began, 43,000  Venezuelans have registered to extend their stay and, on 1 July, the first group of 21 Venezuelans received their work visa.

“Now that I have my visa, I feel that for others like me a lot of opportunities are opening. We will be able to establish more safely and formally to offer a better future to our children,” says Gabriela Rivero, who arrived in the country with her husband and daughter in 2018.  “Once we settled, we did not imagine how difficult it would be to get a job because the lack of documentation closed all doors.”

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Since 2019 Gabriela has led a support organization for Venezuelan migrants in Santiago de los Caballeros called FEV (Fundación Emigrantes de Venezuela), which offers free orientation and helps hundreds of migrants daily to complete their normalization plan applications.

With IOM support, eight Venezuelan migrant organizations have created orientation hubs to assist the Venezuelan population who are applying to the plan. Of the 43,000  registered through the General Directorate of Migration (DGM) web page, around 9,000 have visited the hubs for help on the procedure. The promoters and coordinators of each hub – mostly Venezuelan migrants – have learned the process with the support and guidance of the DGM team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). Besides being trained for orientation, they became the pilot group of the plan to receive their extensions and visas.

“The idea of this process is that we are the ones at the front of the hubs, a migrant helping a migrant, a Venezuelan helping a Venezuelan,” says Iván Carrera, a lawyer from Caracas and legal adviser of FUNCOVERD (Fundación Colonia de Venezolanos en RD). Carrera works as a promoter at the orientation hub in El Sambil Santo Domingo, one of the locations with the most people requesting support for their application.

READ  256 men, women, children die in Mediterranean Sea routes as at April 22

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

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Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

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“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  Displacement goes up by 100 percent as B' Faso crisis rages on

 

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