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EU-IOM joint initiative celebrates its fourth anniversary: A lifeline to vulnerable and stranded migrants amid COVID-19

Migrants at the Tripoli Airport preparing to board the flight home. Photo: IOM

Brussels – In late August 2020, 118 Ghanaian migrants stranded in Libya due to COVID-19 restrictions were able to go back home. The flight was the first under the International Organization for Migration’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Several VHR flights to different countries in Africa have since followed, providing a lifeline to migrants who were unable to leave conflict-torn Libya by themselves due to COVID-19 related travel and movement restrictions.

They were made possible through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, which marks its fourth anniversary this month. The programme was launched in December 2016, under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa agreed in the Valetta Summit in response to the urgent need to protect and save migrants’ lives and strengthen migration governance along Central Mediterranean migration routes. Sustained investment is needed to consolidate these results and continue providing urgent protection and critical assistance to vulnerable migrants along these routes.

“The EU-IOM Joint Initiative is a concrete outcome of the commitments made by European and African leaders at the Valletta Summit back in November 2015. It builds on a unique partnership between the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN) – through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – and their respective Member States,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino.

“This joint commitment is articulated in a shared objective to strengthen direct assistance and protection mechanisms for migrants and their communities as well as strengthening the capacity of countries of origin, transit and destination to enhance migration governance.”

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Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has been working with governments to ensure that migrants are protected and, where necessary, supported with voluntary return home. IOM has successfully negotiated with the Nigerien government and governments of origin the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow for the voluntary return of close to 2, 500 migrants to Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Six special voluntary return flights organised with support from the Government of Algeria since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic enabled 468 stranded migrants and international students to return safely from Algeria to 10 countries of origin.

As the impact of COVID-19 started to be felt in communities across the Sahel and Lake Chad, North Africa, and Horn of Africa regions, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative stepped in to empower local authorities, residents and migrants to address and mitigate the spread of the virus and prepare for the future.

In Senegal, the programme helped authorities assess the health of cross-border travellers by providing personal protective equipment, training to border agents and community engagement activities along its borders with Mali, Guinea and The Gambia.

In Mauritania, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative conducted training and donated medical and protective equipment in partnership with the World Health Organisation to strengthen the Government’s management of the pandemic.

In Burkina Faso, Chad, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Niger, the programme revised ongoing awareness raising activities to include information sessions and sensitisation on COVID-19 prevention measures.

The COVID-19 outbreak has reinforced uncertainty and anxiety among returnees, exacerbating their existing psychosocial vulnerabilities. In West Africa, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has put in place remote psychosocial support and regular follow-up for vulnerable returnees and other migrants stranded in transit centres to facilitate their reintegration process in the pandemic context.

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In the Horn of Africa, the seven Migration Response Centres (MRCs) in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland continued to fill a critical gap by providing direct life-saving assistance, including medical assistance and psychosocial support to vulnerable migrants.

In Sudan, the programme extended psychosocial support via tele-counselling to returnees and migrants whose situation had been worsened by the pandemic. In Bosasso, Puntland, MRC staff expanded outreach activities to informal settlements populated by migrants. A hotline enables migrants to request information, and to make appointments for medical assistance or assisted voluntary return.

In North Africa, migrants hosted in the two transit centres in Algeria’s capital Algiers benefitted from remote group and individual mental health and psychosocial support sessions during their extended waiting time for departure due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The sessions were conducted in cooperation with the Algerian Association of Psychologists. This support was also occasionally provided in response to urgent needs to migrants outside transit centres.

In Egypt, in response to requests for support from migrants, community leaders, partner organisations and embassies, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative distributed more than 2, 500 food and hygiene kits in Alexandria, Cairo, Hurghada and Al-Fayoum, and increased COVID-19 related awareness raising activities through community leaders.

As COVID-19 restrictions are being gradually lifted across the three regions, the programme is working closely with national authorities in countries of origin, transit and destination to facilitate the voluntary return of vulnerable and stranded migrants that need protection and lifesaving assistance along key migration routes.

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Upon return, migrants are eligible for reintegration assistance, including counselling, referral to existing programmes and services (training, medical and psychosocial assistance), or in-kind support. Additionally, they can join collective or community-based projects to set up a business with other returnees or community members.

Since May 2017, over 87, 700 migrants were supported with voluntary return assistance, while more than 102, 500 received post-arrival and reintegration support.

The EU-IOM Joint initiative provides critical support to local partners, including capacity building for migration data collection and analysis. The programme has a key role in improving coordination among countries of origin, transit, and destination.

Background 

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration brings together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU and IOM around the shared goal of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.

The EU and its Member States have provided €450 million in funding for the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.

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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. 

READ  Hunger may see millions of migrants moving across SADC borders

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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.

READ  Somali migrants return from Iran, after several months of being stranded

“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  Emirates Airlines to fly NIgerians abroad back 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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