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IOM empowers women business owners in Somalia to recover from COVID-19 Impact

 

Mogadishu – The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives—and economies—across continents, sparing neither high-income countries, nor the low-income ones whose citizens often seek jobs abroad to escape economic distress. Few countries are as migration-dependent as Somalia. And few have been treated as harshly by the global downturn.

Somalia’s informal economy—based largely on remittances, imports, and agriculture—has been heavily impacted by COVID-19. It is estimated that 40 per cent of households in Somalia are dependent on remittances, and pandemic-related travel restrictions have cut remittance flows sharply.

An IOM study on remittances this past August reported Somalia’s Department of Diaspora Affairs had noted a decline in remittances based on reports received and consultations held with a number of mobile transfer operators indicating a sharp decline. IOM research indicated a decrease of remittances by over 60 per cent.

Woman-owned businesses have been especially hard-hit, with disruptions in supply chains and reductions of cashflow. The flow of customers also has been disrupted as curfews and social distancing put many customers off.

A recent study, conducted in Mogadishu by IOM and the local research firm Raagsan Consulting, found that, of 320 women-led businesses surveyed, over 300 reported reduced revenue and sales. About half reported having to put their operation on hold with about the same number saying they faced difficulty paying back loans or rent. Almost 60 per cent said they had been forced to shut down during the pandemic, with about one third of that group closing permanently.

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Nimco Yusuf, 45, is one businesswoman feeling the pain. She started her kitchen utensils business in Mogadishu ten years ago hoping to address new market demand after years of conflict. She started by offering cooking utensils.

“When I started my business, Somalia was coming out of many years of conflict,” she explained. “Families started returning, and there was a need to restart their homes, including kitchen items.”

By the start of 2020, Nimco was doing well enough to support 15 children. She was even able to hire outside help, putting two full-time employees to work in her shop.

Then, in March, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Somalia. A government-imposed curfew and other mobility measures impacted her business, along with thousands of others.  “I experienced a 62 per cent decrease in sales and a shortage of supplies.” she said.

Today, Nimco is one of 185 Somali women being supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to deal with the financial impact that the COVID-19 had on their businesses.

IOM Somalia, with funding from the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), began partnering with Somalia’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) to support women-led micro and small enterprises (MSEs) impacted by COVID-19 in Mogadishu.

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Cash assistance is the key component, with grants ranging from USD 650 to USD 2,000, depending on the size of the business and its needs. Cash grants are designed to help these entrepreneurs restock supplies and may address other needs, such as paying rent, electricity, or loans.

IOM estimates that the grants to 185 beneficiaries will directly improve the lives of 1,122 family members. The financial stimulus that supports these small businesses will also positively impact the local economy.

The women also receive five days of training in business continuity, including basic financial literacy. Most of the women receiving this support present high vulnerabilities, including having large numbers of dependents, living in rented places or informal settlements, being displaced, having members of the family with disabilities, being unable to write or read, or having children at risk of child labor.

The support of IOM and the national government comes at a crucial time. With remittance flows declining since the start of the pandemic, many families have been pushed deeper into poverty. This risks reversing decades of progress on development and poverty alleviation.

“Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on Somalia’s economy is imperative to reduce push factors for migration that can put at further risk individuals in vulnerable situations, especially women and children,” says Richard Danziger, IOM Somalia’s Chief of Mission.

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This kind of support in Somalia addresses not only the most urgent needs of the women, but also empowers them to be agents of change in their communities and an inspiration for future generations.

“Please continue to support us, not with money, but with skills training,” said Nimco.

This activity is possible thanks to the generous funding of the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO).

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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.

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“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.

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“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. 

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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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