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Not Alone: Providing mental health and psychosocial Support to Nigerians during COVID-19

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Virtual support and counseling enable family members of returnees to share experiences, and draw support from each other to care for their relatives during the lockdown. Credit: Jorge Galindo / IOM

In Nigeria, COVID-19 has posed great challenges to returnees. Among those worst affected are people with mental health and psychosocial needs.

Movement restrictions imposed by the Nigerian government have made assistance to returnees and their families particularly challenging. Due to these restrictions, returnees with psychological concerns face challenges in accessing dedicated mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services. Moreover, as economic activities came to a halt, caregivers observed symptoms of relapse and deterioration of their beneficiaries’ psychosocial wellbeing.

Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, a COVID-19 assessment was conducted via phone in the West and Central Africa region. In Nigeria, responses from over 100 returnees were collected in Edo and Delta States, and more than 90 per cent reported that their emotional wellbeing had deteriorated since the crisis began.

Since the start of the pandemic, false information in the media, and the polarization of COVID-19 issues have reinforced general sentiments of uncertainty and anxiety among returnees, exacerbating their existing psychosocial vulnerabilities.

To promote psychosocial well-being in Nigeria’s migration hotspots, IOM provides, among other MHPSS activities, psychoeducation for returnees and caregivers and facilitate referrals for specialized mental health treatment for those with severe psychiatric conditions. Amid the new reality imposed by COVID-19, interventions have been adapted to host remote MHPSS working modalities.

These activities help returnees understand the negative and, at times, overwhelming psychological reactions that arising from the many stress factors they face during the migration journey or upon return.

In the past few months, IOM MHPSS teams organized virtual family support meetings and counseling to enable caregivers share experiences, draw support from each other and empower families to care for relatives during the lockdown.

Below are two stories from beneficiaries who, like millions worldwide, are learning to cope in these uncertain times while building their resilience towards recovery, one day at a time.

Adaeze

During the lockdown period, Adaeze*, the mother of a 22year-old returnee, feared for her family’s health and well-being. “Information about the virus was not very clear in the early days of the pandemic… I was still trying to understand fully how the virus could be contracted,” says Adaeze. While she knew she had to comply with the government’s disease prevention rules, she worried that her daughter would flout them.

“Libya has changed my daughter, she now gets very angry whenever she is advised not to go out, and I noticed that her hygiene has deteriorated so I was afraid she may contract the virus and bring it home.” These worries haunted Adaeze. She would have trouble sleeping, and at times would lash out at her daughter, forbidding her to go out.

On 5 June 2020, Adaeze, who lives with relatives in Benin City, the capital of Edo State, joined a family support virtual meeting organized by IOM. She was enlightened about the pandemic, the mode of transmission and the ways to prevent it.

After these sessions, Adaeze was also able to develop peer-to-peer support mechanisms and mutual psychosocial support. “In the family support meetings, I listen and learn from people’s experiences, before the meeting we chat and greet each other and ask about the people we are caring for, this makes me feel good. I also use the opportunity to voice my challenges while group members listen to me… You know that we cannot visit people to share our problems because of the lockdown so I share it with the group. And I feel better with the counseling I receive,” she says.

“Being a member of the family support group helped me through the days of full lockdown.” Currently Adaeze continues to be member of a WhatsApp group to help caregivers keep close ties with each other, foster experience sharing, reduce isolation and disseminate timely psychoeducation and counseling.

Bukola

Elijah* returned from Libya after an attempt to migrate to Europe. Upon return, the young man showed signs of distress and received specialized mental health care as part of his reintegration in Benin City. He was assisted to start a clothing business, but just as he was recovering, COVID-19 threatened to erode the progress he had made.

As he was taking on long-term psychiatric treatment, his business not only became a source of livelihood but also helped pay for medication and transportation to the hospital. His mother, Bukola*, realized that if his business went under, neither would be able to afford medication, resulting in Elijah’s relapse. “I was worried, my blood pressure kept rising with each announcement of an extension of the lockdown, I couldn’t go to church, I was all alone with my family problem,” she says.

As the situation worsened, Bukola was contacted by a family support group. “In the online meeting I heard other mothers and fathers talk about similar challenges. In the meeting I was able to enjoy good music, dance and play, these have been helpful to my own health.” She was glad to know that she was not alone.

Bukola’s fears never materialized. The lockdown in Edo State was lifted and businesses resumed shortly after. Her son adjusted to the new normal, became productive and showed renewed optimism once again. Bukola is actively making time for self-care, encouraged by the signs of improvement in her son’s psychosocial well-being and socio-economic prospects.

COVID-19 is still a real danger in Nigeria and beyond. But with proper support, people like Bukola and Adaeze recognize the importance of staying healthy to provide quality care for the people they love.

Approximately 70 per cent of migrants assisted by IOM to return voluntarily to Nigeria have been exposed to violence, exploitation and abuse along their journey. IOM integrated approach to reintegration include the psychosocial dimension and provide tailored support to the most vulnerable.

Through July, 1,627 returnees in Nigeria have received post-arrival MHPSS assistance at the airport thanks to the EU-IOM Joint Initiative. IOM’s virtual family support meetings and counseling are funded by the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, complementing IOM’s wider mental health and psychosocial support to returnees under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.

  • Names have been changed to protect the identity of the beneficiaries.

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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.

READ  EU, IOM, UNHCR to support peaceful integration of refugees and migrants across Latin American, Caribbean communities affected by Covid-19

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.

READ  Trafficked Nigerian girl  relives sexual harassment, slavery experience in Oman

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.

READ  UN agencies welcome first 24 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece

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.

READ  Migrants on Greek islands to receive €2,000 in new voluntary return initiative

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.

READ  Police arrest Bangladeshi, Pakistani, other irregular migrants in Turkey

“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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Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

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