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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dominican Republic, IOM clear hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan migrants
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.”
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.
IOM launches open South America portal
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 Spanish, English 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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