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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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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.

READ  Concern over worrisome trend of trafficking Nigerian ladies for domestic work, sexual pleasure 

“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  At a climate change crossroads: How a Biden-Harris administration can support and protect communities displaced by climate change

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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.

READ  Key migration terms

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.

READ  Dilemma of Nigerian migrants: Stranded citizens cry to return home as  returnees plan traveling back

“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.

READ  Rwanda vaccinates refugees and asylum-seekers against COVID-19

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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