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IOM, Niger rescue 83 distressed migrants  in Sahara Desert

 83 migrants in distress have been rescued by  IOM’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team operating in Niger’s Northern Agadez region. The exercise took place  on 3 September. IOM worked in collaboration with the General Directorate for Civil Protection (DGPC) in Niger, with support from the European Union.

The rescue took place in a remote stretch of the searing Sahara Desert, where temperatures frequently surpass 38° Celsius (100° Fahrenheit) and where hundreds of migrants are believed to have perished from dehydration, vehicle accidents and assault in recent years.

The migrants IOM rescued had been bound for Libya. They included 42 males – mostly Nigerian, but also several from Togo, Mali and Ghana – as well as 41 Nigerian females, including twin 4-year-old girls.

A week prior, in the transit town of Agadez, the group boarded four pickup trucks taking alternative routes towards Libya to avoid detection by law enforcement and security forces. Witnesses from among those rescued told IOM staff that last Tuesday (1/09), their smugglers made a stopover some 230 km north of Dirkou, another Sahara crossroad.

It is a common occurrence for vehicles carrying migrants to break down in the desert and for smugglers to get lost or abandon their passengers fearing checkpoints or military patrols.

After leaving Dirkou, witnesses explained the smugglers spotted military vehicles on the road up ahead and feared the authorities had spotted them and their migrant cargo. Rather than risk arrest, the migrants explained, their four drivers abandoned their passengers, after first taking all their belongings.

READ  Burkinafaso IDPs, refugees get emergency aid from UNHCR

“We were stranded for three days without food or water. We searched for water, but all we found were dirty wells used by livestock. So, we were not able to drink at all,” recalled one witness, 25-year-old “Dennis”, from Nigeria. “People were collapsing left and right. I started crying when I saw the cars approaching, hoping help was coming.”

When the rescue team found the group, many were dehydrated, injured and in need of immediate medical assistance.

After receiving water, food and medical care, the migrants were transported to a COVID-19 confinement site in Dirkou where they will undergo a 14-day quarantine period. Seven migrants are currently being medically assisted at the health centre in Dirkou.

After their two-week quarantine ends, migrants who wish to return to their country of origin can opt to move to IOM’s transit centre in Dirkou and join the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme, implemented under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.

IOM and the DGPC have been conducting joint SAR missions in Dirkou since 2016. SAR operations around the cities of Agadez and Dirkou are crucial given the dangerous desert conditions.  At regular intervals, teams are dispatched on migration routes to search for migrants in distress.

READ  Why many Nigerians are leaving the country 

Given the vastness of the Agadez region which spans 703,000 km² – desert, for the most part – an area larger than Afghanistan, finding and reaching migrants in distress can be a daunting task. On these routes, migrants and SAR teams are exposed to many challenges, such as scorching temperatures, poor road conditions and a volatile security context.

“The migrants rescued last Thursday were found in an isolated place far from any form of life,” said Boubacar Djaram, Mayor of Dirkou. “Without this collaboration between IOM and Civil Protection, these people would have perished without a trace.”

IOM deploys community mobilizers in strategic locations along the main migration crossroads in Niger to sensitize migrants about irregular migration. They work on the frontlines during SAR operations, assisting migrants with food, water, first aid and information about quarantine, transit centres and AVRR.

“Participating in SAR operations is one of our most important tasks,” said Tijani Boukary, IOM community mobilizer in Dirkou. “Our commitment to migrants goes far beyond disseminating information; we get involved wherever we are needed, even if that means working in insecure contexts.”

So far in 2020, 404 migrants have been assisted through SAR operations in Agadez and Dirkou. Since 2016, 1,876 stranded migrants have been rescued in Niger’s Ténéré Desert through joint operations organized by Niger’s Civil Protection, local authorities and IOM.

READ  UAE gives marching order to Nigerians with expired visas

“It is impossible to know how many migrants have died attempting to cross the Sahara. Many bodies are buried during sandstorms, never to be found again,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Niger. “With support from our partners, IOM and the Government of Niger are making extraordinary efforts to ensure that these life-saving operations can reach migrants in distress in a timely manner.”

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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  Migrants challenging returns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

“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  IOM Supports “Strategic Diaspora Mobilization” During COVID-19 Outbreak in Mauritania

“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  Amid protests, Greece suspends migrants detention plan

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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  IOM Supports “Strategic Diaspora Mobilization” During COVID-19 Outbreak in Mauritania

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  Africans cautioned against accepting  inaccurate information about COVID 19 prevention, treatment

“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  UAE gives marching order to Nigerians with expired visas

“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  Amid protests, Greece suspends migrants detention plan

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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