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Thousands of migrants forced to sleep rough after closure, destruction of Bosnia camp

Lipa camp on fire earlier today. The camp had just been closed by local authorities forcing over 1,000 migrants onto the streets. Photo: Ervin Causevic@IOM2020

Bihac – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is stepping up its assistance to the thousands of migrants who will be sleeping rough tonight in Bosnia, which has become a bottleneck as people try to reach the European Union. A humanitarian emergency was caused when the Lipa Emergency Tent Camp, run by the local authorities with support from IOM, was closed earlier today. Minutes after the closure, it was destroyed by fire.

“This camp was built earlier this year in response to over-crowding and unsuitable conditions elsewhere,” said IOM Chief of Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, speaking from the scene.

“For several reasons, mostly political, it never got connected to the main water or electricity supply, and was never winterized. And now, with this fire, it never will be.”

Days of negotiation on the camp’s future ended without a positive solution, meaning 1,400 people will join the growing number of migrants sleeping rough in Una Sana Canton, on Bosnia’s border with EU member Croatia.  IOM estimates an additional 1,500 migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees —including women and children—also are stranded in squats and forest camps nearby. The lack of immediate solution raises the overall number of people in dire need of humanitarian aid to almost 3,000.

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As Lipa closed, the United Nations expressed its concern and pledged its support in efforts to find solutions. A statement called on the authorities to “immediately engage in the winterization of the Lipa Emergency Tent Camp and offer an alternative shelter option while the work is being conducted, to identify and make available new locations for people stranded outdoors with temperatures below freezing.”

IOM’s Van der Auweraert noted that, while migrants were still in the local area, some were planning to head to Sarajevo, while others would find places to sleep rough locally. “What concerns us is that many have said they will go to Sarajevo or Velika Kladuza, but we already know that there is zero additional capacity at any of the shelters for single males. This is likely to drive people to move closer to the border.”

Warm clothes, sleeping bags, food and hygiene kits have already been distributed to 1,500 rough sleepers by IOM, the Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council. “We are going to step up the number of distribution teams and the quantity of items to try and cover this new caseload”, said Van der Auweraert. “This is a nightmare scenario: these people should be inside in warm conditions, just as the rest of Europe is doing at this holiday time.”

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IOM assists border control on route linking Ethiopia, Kenya

IOM has helped to establish a new Border Control Post between Ethiopia and Kenya. Photo: Rahel Negussie/IOM

Addis Ababa – Ethiopia, Africa’s second largest country (by population) after Nigeria, is also one of the continent’s largest sources of international migrants.

Along its vast national circumference –some 5,311 kilometres, connecting Ethiopia to Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia– government control posts are limited. Lack of adequate staffing and modern technology impedes proper migration management, a matter of concern for national governments as well as for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

At the start of this new year, IOM has helped open a new Border Control Post (BCP) between Ethiopia and Kenya. The post, at Neprumus in Ethiopia’s Dasenech district, straddles one of the 830-kilometer Ethiopia-Kenya frontier’s most frequented migratory routes, alongside a major route for Ethiopian migrants trying to reach South Africa. Ethiopians normally pass through Kenya into Tanzania, then travel further south.

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In March 2020, at least 60 Ethiopian irregular migrants were killed after being trapped in a lorry along this route. Hence, the urgent need for better and improved border control posts in the region.

“Supporting the establishment of modern and efficient BCPs will facilitate safe and orderly migration of citizens, enhance the relationship between bordering countries, provide protection, and increase the political and socio-economic stability between Ethiopia and Kenya,” explained Kederalah Idris, IOM’s Better Migration Management (BMM) Project Officer.

IOM is also supporting Ethiopia’s Immigration, Nationality, and Vital Events Agency (INVEA) with training to enhance the capacity of immigration officers, and at the same time supplying infrastructure and office equipment, computers, and generators to establish new border control posts.

“Strengthening BCP will play a great role in facilitating safe movement of community members to neighbouring Kenya and will create job opportunities for the community. In addition, it will have a big contribution in facilitating regular migration, while monitoring irregular movements,” said INVEA Director-General, Mujib Jemal, during his opening speech. He also recognized IOM and the zonal administration’s efforts in facilitating the opening of the BCP.

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At stake is more than improved border efficiency. IOM sees hope for improved trade benefiting the regional economy and raising livelihoods for some 48,000 people living in the Dasenech District.

Health checks are also being integrated into the BCP, which is a timely development given that COVID-19 continues to affect the nation. As of 18 January, there has been 131,546 confirmed cases in Ethiopia leading to 2,033 deaths. Against this COVID-19 backdrop, IOM looks forward to these new controls reducing mobility restrictions and facilitating movement of goods, services and skills. Beyond commerce, IOM also views BCPs as vital for protecting people from falling prey to human smugglers and traffickers.

Plans are to open more BCPs in the Pagag, Kurmuk, and Fefrer border towns in Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz, and Somali regions, bordering South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia respectively.

During the inauguration attended by representatives from IOM and senior officials from INVEA, IOM Ethiopia received a ‘Certificate of Recognition’ from the Ethiopian authorities for the support to strengthening Ethiopia’s border management and control efforts.

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The establishment of this important BCP is supported by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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Amid 2020 pandemic IOM supported over 2,500 migrants with voluntary return from Greece

Dudu and his family taking some selfie pictures before departing to Georgia. Photo: Konstantina Mintzoli/IOM
A family from Iraq receiving transportation assistance from IOM to the airport in Athens. Photo: Konstantina Mintzoli/IOM

Athens – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) supported the voluntary return of some 2,565 people from Greece to their home countries in 2020, in coordination with the Greek authorities and respective countries’ diplomatic representatives.

Amid hardships and challenges induced by COVID-19 in the past year—including mobility restrictions and closed borders—many migrants living in Greece expressed interest in returning voluntarily to their home countries.

“It is extremely important to be able to continue offering the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration support during this challenging period, as for many migrants, COVID-19 posed additional challenges to their stay in the EU,” explained Gianluca Rocco, Chief of the IOM Mission in Greece.

The 2,565 Returnees from Greece through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme originated from 46 countries, with the largest contingent (734 migrants) coming from Pakistan. This was followed by Georgia (529 migrants), Iraq (489), Afghanistan (188) and Iran (163). Thirty per cent of migrants assisted were males between the ages of 22 and 29.

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The number of returns fluctuated throughout 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, from 868 in the first quarter to 300 per month at the end of the year.  Since launched in Greece in 2010, IOM’s AVRR programme has assisted more than 50,000 people to voluntarily return to their home countries.

In 2020, IOM developed initiatives to overcome challenges, mitigate negative impact on migrants and ensure that Ministry of Health protocols were applied to all without discrimination. IOM medical teams provided assessments and medical examinations, including COVID-19 testing. In addition, relevant information was communicated through online outreach activities, and the dissemination of leaflets and posters to migrant communities. In parallel, helplines operating in 13 languages supported remote counselling as needed.

“We worked intensively with the Greek authorities and the Embassies of countries of origin to develop new cooperation mechanisms to overcome mobility restrictions and make the returns possible, particularly for the most vulnerable,” said IOM’s Rocco.

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IOM Greece also established an Online Scheduling Appointment (OSA) platform through which potential beneficiaries were able to book counselling appointments online.

When commercial flights were not available, IOM organized charter flights to Georgia and Iraq for 433 people in total in close collaboration with all relevant actors in Greece and the two destination countries.

Prior to their departure from Greece, migrants who applied for AVRR had the opportunity to access temporary accommodation facilities including the Open Centre for migrants (OCAVRR) in Athens.  IOM also provided a cash grant to cover returnees’ initial basic expenses after their departure.

Upon return, 1,008 migrants who qualified under the programme for in-kind reintegration assistance were able to use the support to set up small businesses (individually or in partnership), training programmes, temporary accommodation, job placements, medical support and material assistance.

IOM reiterates the importance of promoting the systematic inclusion of reintegration assistance as a force for stability in communities of return and as a bridge between migrant return and sustainable development.

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Download here for a snapshot view of the programme’s main 2020 highlights.

The project “The implementation of assisted voluntary returns including reintegration measures and operation of Open Center in the Prefecture of Attica for applicants of voluntary return (AVRR/OCAVRR)” is 75 per cent  co-funded by European Funds (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) and 25 per cent by Greek National Funds.

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Human trafficking: PJI  urges proper trauma management for returnees

The Pathfinder Justice Initiative (PJI), a Non-Governmental Organisation, has called for proper trauma care for migrant returnees to prevent them from becoming vulnerable to subsequent trafficking.

Evon Benson-Idahosa, the Executive Director, PJI, made the call at a Rehabilitation Workshop for Providers Serving Survivors of Human Trafficking held in Benin on Thursday.

The workshop was organised by PJI and funded by INSighT- Building Capacity to deal with human trafficking and transit routes to Nigeria, Italy and Sweden.

Benson-Idahosa said that a majority of returnee-migrants usually undergo different traumatic situations and needed to be properly rehabilitated before being integrated back into the society. She noted that if the migrant returnees were not properly rehabilitated, they would not be able to put into good use any form of skills acquisition or empowerment received.

“Providers serving survivors should know how to handle traumatised victims because many of them, especially females, have been raped and have gone through horrible experiences during their trafficking journey.

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“The providers should know that there are best practices in terms of handling trafficked victims; they need to use a survivor centred approach to prioritise the needs of the victims,” she said.

She called on the government at all levels to partner more with NGOs on providing best traumatic care for returned migrants in the country.

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