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IOM aids COVID-impacted communities on Haiti-Dominican border, worldwide

Pedernales – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is distributing more than 12,000 food kits to migrant and Dominican families in several provinces affected by the economic consequences of border closures due to COVID-19, part of a worldwide IOM effort to aid communities stranded or impoverished in border zones due to sharp declines in commerce and other cross-border activities.

Besides the vigorous work ongoing on the frontier between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, IOM is implementing similar programs across Latin America. In Argentina, over the past two months, IOM has delivered 42 tons of food items to community kitchens in the locality of San Martin which daily assists 1,210 people in vulnerable conditions, both migrants and Argentine nationals. Food kits also have been distributed with the Argentine Red Cross to 1,200 refugees and migrants living in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires, and three other provinces. Funding was provided by the European Union.

IOM Argentina also prepared 27,600 meals at a Caritas-managed centre in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires, while food items were provided as well for 2,800 migrants assisted by four parish kitchens.

In Peru, nearly 4,000 food kits have been delivered since June this year to vulnerable refugees and migrants and host communities in Lima, the country’s capital, as well as in the border cities of Tumbes (on the frontier with Ecuador) and Tacna (Chile). In just the past week, IOM delivered 587 basic food baskets with its partner Adra, in coordination with the National Institute of Civil Defense, benefitting 2,300 persons in Tumbes.

Border restrictions have been in place here since March to control COVID-19’s spread between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The closure of the four official border crossings along the Haitian-Dominican frontier over these past seven months has affected the nearby populations. According to information from the Ministry of Economic, Planning, and Development of the Dominican Republic (MEPYD), around 90 per cent of formal trade with Haiti flows through these customs posts, which average 227,000 entries each year.

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During September and October, some 20,000 people benefited from the first 4,000 food kits delivered in the border provinces.

Conditions in the Dominican city of Pedernales illuminate the COVID-related setbacks now impacting millions of people in the Americas, many of them migrants. “The COVID emergency has really affected our community because both transportation and food production has decreased,” explained Rafael Pérez Jean, an evangelical pastor and director of The Casa de Luz Foundation in Pedernales. “The way we live in the border area also has changed. As the border is practically closed, products are not allowed to transit through the frontier as before, nor are visas available.”

The Casa de Luz Foundation is one of the civil organizations collaborating with IOM to distribute food in the five border provinces of the Dominican Republic: Pedernales, Independencia, Elías Piña, Dajabón, and Montecristi.

Pastor Pérez Jean has served as a bridge between IOM and the communities that benefited from these food kits. He recalled moments of uncertainty experienced in his town during the pandemic, explaining “People do not have access to food in sufficient quantities, and thanks to the aid that IOM has been providing these days, many people have received food at home. That helps them to have a livelihood.”

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Cristian Nuevo Poché agreed that COVID-19 changed lives in Elías Piña province, where he has been a community leader and schoolteacher for over 20 years. He explained that the pandemic exacerbated an already difficult economic situation in his area.  “Many of these families depended on the informal market trade. Now the market activities are almost nil, so many have had to migrate to work for private households in Santo Domingo,” Mr. Nuevo Poché said. “Food rations helped alleviate prevailing needs in the Pinzón community.”

Miguel Román, coordinator of IOM in the border region, explained that in November 8,000 kits will be distributed nationwide, of which 3,500 are already being delivered in the border provinces of Pedernales, Barahona, Bahoruco, Independencia (Jimaní), Elías Piña, Dajabón and Montecristi.

Another 5,500 kits will be distributed in Santiago, María Trinidad Sánchez, Santo Domingo Province, National District, San Pedro and La Altagracia.
Mr. Román emphasized that the kits being distributed are headed to those considered among the most vulnerable in the population, such as Haitian and Venezuelan migrants, as well as Dominican families with limited economic resources. The new distributions will include hand soap donated by the Colgate-Palmolive corporation to UNDP in the Dominican Republic, masks made by an IOM-supported migrant venture, and information about preventing COVID-19.

This distribution is carried out in two ways: through the IOM border teams and with partners and allied NGOs: ASCALA, FUNCAR / Centro Puente, FEI, MUDHA, CEDESO, Casa Del Caribe, CODHA, Venezuelan Diaspora, and La Merced Foundation. Likewise, the Venezuelan Association in Santiago (AVES), the Venezuelan Emigrants Foundation (FEV), FUNCOVERD, Duendes, and Ángeles Vinotinto, the Venezuelan Association in San Cristóbal and the Churún Merú Association in Bávaro.

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Assistance to the families most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Dominican Republic is possible thanks to the contributions of the European Union and the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

In Argentina, partners included the Human Rights Secretary´s Office of Argentina and provincial Human Rights Offices, as well as the Argentine Red Cross. Besides EU aid, funding was also provided by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the U.S. State Department (PRM).

In Egypt, IOM has distributed thousands of food and non-food items and financial assistance to 2,675 persons in Alexandria, Cairo, Hurghada and Al-Fayoum. IOM estimates that there are 600,000 vulnerable migrants in Egypt who encounter a wide range of challenges, including inadequate access to food, health, and education services in addition to limited access to socio-economic opportunities.

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IOM provides food vouchers to vulnerable refugees and migrants affected by COVID-19 in Brazil

 Nearly 4,000 vulnerable refugees and migrants in Brazil affected by mobility restrictions and the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are receiving vouchers from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to purchase food and other basic items.  The vouchers are one-time offers, valued at about USD 100.

IOM is closely coordinating the activity with local governments and 31 humanitarian partners, prioritizing families with children and elderly persons who face food insecurity due to lack of a regular income.

The distribution of the vouchers is taking place in more than half of Brazil’s states, states which were selected based on those locations where the most vulnerable refugees and migrants are living. In particular, Venezuelans relocated by the Federal Government are a top priority. They reside in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Pará, and the federal district, Brasilia.

Other states have been selected based on the requests by the local governments and civil society organizations, such as the state of Acre. Many are located at the triple border area shared by Brazil, Bolivia and Peru, where migrants and refugees have been stranded due to COVID-19’s border restrictions.

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In September, IOM reported on the hindered mobility that has been one of the most common impacts of COVID-19 on different categories of refugees and migrants across Latin America, especially Venezuelans.

Many migrants are unable to continue their journey and remain stranded in transit countries; many others cannot not leave their countries to embark on the first legs of their journeys. Migrants stranded at airports, land border crossing areas or at sea were featured in multiple reports, as were migrants camping in front of Embassies asking for support from their Governments (for example, hundreds of migrants from the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela have been camping outside their respective embassies in Chile requesting support to return home).

That is the situation IOM is responding to in Brazil.

To Miriangela, a Venezuelan who arrived in Rio de Janeiro two years ago, this support is essential. “I live alone with my 7-year-old son and I’m not working at the moment. With the voucher I can buy food and cleaning products,” she explained.

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In Brasilia, IOM’s activity also benefits some 60 Warao Venezuelans, members of indigenous tribes. “We are very grateful for the help. This is the first time that we have received a food voucher, being able to choose what we will buy,” said Nilda, who had been living in the city for two months with eight other family members.

Vinícius Duque, a coordinator of Policies for Migrants and Promotion of Decent Work from the city of São Paulo, explained: “Networking is essential in this moment of public emergency. More than ever, these partnerships need to be strengthened. This action is the result of a joint effort between IOM and the government, contributing uniquely to expand the different actions and policies that have been developed on different fronts, benefiting immigrant families in situations of extreme vulnerability in the city of São Paulo.”

This initiative is part of the IOM Global Response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has a national partnership with Sodexo Pass do Brasil and the Stop Hunger Institute for the issuance of vouchers.  Financial support is granted by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) of the United States Department of State.

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IOM’s Chief of Mission in Brazil, Stéphane Rostiaux, said: “At this time, when many families have suffered not only from the health effects of the pandemic but also from the socioeconomic impact, this support which allows food provision respecting people’s autonomy is essential.”

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Over 100 stranded Ugandan women provided with return assistance from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

 

On Tuesday (01/12) the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 105 stranded Ugandan women, including victims of trafficking, to return home from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). They were stranded due to COVID-19.

Thousands of Ugandan migrant workers are working in KSA and other parts of the Middle East, mainly as domestic workers and security guards. When COVID-19 started, many lost their jobs. They also faced stigma and xenophobia. Prior to the pandemic, most of the 105 women who returned home safely had been sending money back home to support their families.

The women arrived in Uganda on a return flight funded by German Humanitarian Assistance, in co-ordination with authorities in Saudi Arabia and Uganda. Upon arrival, many looked relieved to be home, despite evident signs of stress.

“At least, I thank God I have returned alive,” one woman said to another as they walked towards the buses taking them to their overnight accommodation.

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“The plight of many migrant workers in the COVID-19 era highlights both the devastation of the pandemic as well as the importance of organized international labour migration,” said IOM Uganda Chief of Mission Sanusi Tejan Savage.

The economic impact of COVID-19 on these women, and on migrant workers in general, has been devastating. Ugandans working abroad contributed approximately 4.5 percent to Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product, placing it above the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 2.8 percent.  IOM is working with the Ugandan and Gulf nations as well as other partners to enhance labour rights and protection for migrant workers.

“The economic impact of COVID-19 is affecting the employment prospects of many, and IOM is offering assistance during this difficult period. We commend the efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which contributed to ‘leaving no one behind’ and helping the most vulnerable to return home voluntarily,” explained Carmela Godeau, IOM Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa.

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The return of these 105 women is the second intervention of IOM Uganda to support the return of stranded migrants since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, IOM in Uganda and Bahrain helped 113 Ugandan women return from Saudi Arabia, following an appeal for help by the Ugandan authorities.

“The information from the Uganda Government indicating in May that more than 2,400 mostly vulnerable Ugandan migrant workers were stranded abroad was distressing enough and, as IOM, we are doing all we can to improve the safety, welfare and dignity of migrant workers from the region,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa.

Many migrant workers from Uganda and Africa remain stranded and without work. They are facing tremendous difficulties abroad, and may face even greater challenges when they return.

These returns are part of IOM Uganda’s support in respect of COVID-19. IOM has also supported the Government with COVID-19 surveillance at the Entebbe International Airport and other points of entry.

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120 Central African, Sudanese refugees resettled to France

Over the past week (starting 27/11), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) facilitated the resettlement of 120 refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) to France. The refugees, including 65 women and 55 men left N’Djamena (Chad) on a chartered flight last Friday morning. Many had spent more than ten years in Chad, awaiting a chance to be resettled and restart their lives.

All COVID-19 sanitary protocols were adhered to during the resettlement operation (including PCR-testing to COVID-19 prior departure). In addition to COVID-19 screening, the refugees were screened for medical conditions and received in-depth pre-departure orientation to ensure their integration in their new society goes as smoothly as possible.

Upon arrival in France, the refugees were welcomed by French NGOs who will provide administrative and social support for a one-year period.

“Resettlement offers refugees a unique opportunity to rebuild their lives in dignity. It is thus an important part of finding durable solutions to refugee situations, of which we are proud to participate,” said Anne Schaefer, IOM Chad Chief of Mission.

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With more than 480,000 refugees living in 14 camps and various urban centres, Chad is one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in West and Central Africa. IOM works closely with Government, non-governmental and UN partners, to ensure that the most vulnerable among them have access to durable and lifesaving solutions such as resettlement to a third country.

This includes eligibility assessment and referral, accommodation in a transit centre (once refugee status has been determined and the resettlement process has been initiated), pre-departure medical screening, vulnerability assessment, flight and support for durable integration in the destination country.

In 2020, IOM in Chad resettled 312 refugees from Sudan and the Central African Republic to France, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Norway.

Djamal’s Story

I arrived in Chad from the Central African Republic with my mother and my seven siblings in 2014. I was 16 years old. We fled because of the violence in our country. When we arrived, we had nothing. We had no money, and we knew no one. We first went to Moundou [Southern Chad]. From there, international organizations helped us contact family members. Afterwards, we went to the Doholo refugee camp [near the border with CAR] to be registered as refugees. It was not easy. In the camp, my mother learnt about nutritional health and started working as an assistant in the health centre. The little that she earned helped us make ends meet. It was this work that helped us survive while we lived in the camp. We are happy to be going to France. I have made some friends here. Some of them work as drivers, others want to go back to school. My dream is to become a pilot. I have always been fascinated by planes, and I hope that in France, I will be able to realize my dream.‎

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