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IOM commends United States’ inclusion of migrants in COVID-19 vaccine roll-out

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) welcomes the inclusion of migrants in the new US Administration’s national strategy for COVID-19 response and its commitment “to ensuring that safe, effective, cost-free vaccines are available to the entire U.S. public—regardless of their immigration status”.

In light of this announcement, IOM calls on all countries to adopt similar migrant-inclusive approaches, to ensure that as many lives as possible can be saved.

“COVID-19 vaccines provide the opportunity we have been waiting for, but only if we use them wisely and strategically, by protecting the most at-risk first, no matter their nationality and legal immigration status,” warned IOM Director General António Vitorino. “I applaud those Governments choosing the path of inclusion and solidarity for their vaccine roll-outs.”.

According to the COVAX Facility – the multilateral mechanism created to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines – immunization campaigns have already started in over 50 countries.

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Many countries have yet to release their prioritization strategies for the vaccine roll-outs, but the United States, Germany and Jordan, among others, have already announced various measures to provide access to the vaccine equitably, including to asylum seekers, migrants in irregular situations and forcibly displaced persons. Last year, similar migrant-inclusive approaches were adopted for COVID-19 testing, treatment and social services in Ireland, Malaysia, Portugal, Qatar and the United Kingdom.

To facilitate truly effective and equitable immunization campaigns, IOM is working closely with the COVAX Facility, Member States, the World Health Organization, and other partners, and recommending that national authorities adopt practices to account for all migrant, such as:

Ensuring an adequate number of vaccine doses is planned for and procured to include migrants in-country, and that delivery systems are fit-for-purpose;
Reducing the number of administrative hurdles for migrants to access health care and vaccines, including high costs and proof of residence or identity.
Actively reaching out to migrant communities through linguistically and culturally competent communication methods to build trust, inform and engage in programming;
Offering guarantees that vaccination will not lead to detention or deportation;
Strengthening health systems and setting up mobile vaccination mechanisms where needed to ensure last-mile distribution.

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“Migrants play an enormous part in our socioeconomic development and collective well-being.  Despite this, many migrants have remained disproportionately exposed to excessive health risks through their living and working conditions and have continued to face tremendous challenges in accessing COVID-19 and other essential health services,” said Director General Vitorino.

“If we are not careful and deliberate about including migrants in vaccination plans, we will all pay a higher price.”

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IOM assists over 10,800 Haitians returned from the US, Mexico and Caribbean in past month

Port-au-Prince –The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has given post-arrival assistance to a total of 10,831 Haitian migrants returned over the past month from the United States, Mexico, Cuba, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, or returned by the Coast Guard.

At the two main reception points Port-au-Prince Toussaint Louverture Airport and the Cap-Haïtien International Airport, returnees receive hot meals, juice and water, hygiene kits and pocket money, while IOM protection teams conduct rapid screenings to identify vulnerable returnees and offer medical and psychosocial support. Returnees can contact relatives by phones at their disposal, while IOM’s 8840 free hotline remains open for feedback and questions.

Details about IOM’s Response here.

IOM supports the National Office for Migration (ONM) with the coordination and provision of post-arrival assistance, including the registration process and referrals to specialized services. Haiti’s Ministry of Health and Population (MSPP), supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), performs rapid COVID-19 tests upon arrival.

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“The on-arrival reception activities conducted in the past month are the result of a coordinated effort between the Government of Haiti, IOM and all partners,” said Giuseppe Loprete, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Haiti.

“Migrants returned to Haiti need immediate assistance, as many of them have been out of the country for years, while others only recently attempted to leave due to the (14 August) earthquake. IOM remains committed to supporting all of them in returning home, joining their families or resettling in Haiti while the root causes are identified and addressed by governments in the region.”

Adult men represent 61 per cent of the total number of returnees, while women make up 23 per cent  and children 16 per cent. Among those returned specifically from the US, adult men also represent the majority (56 per cent), especially among those arriving to Cap-Haïtien (74 per cent).

Most of those returned from the US who were assisted by IOM had been living in Latin American countries for several years before starting their journey towards the US. Over a quarter of the children returned were born outside Haiti and acquired a foreign nationality, mostly Chilean and Brazilian.

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Among the 1,789 children returned, 15 unaccompanied migrant children were travelling by sea to the US or Caribbean islands when they were identified and sent back to Haiti. Family reunification has been possible through IOM’s collaboration with Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR).

Some returnees – particularly those travelling by sea – had started their journeys in recent years motivated by various factors, such as lack of income or job opportunities, insufficient access to services, the August earthquake, insecurity, and political instability.

The precarious conditions that Haitian migrants face while transiting the region, particularly in the Darien Gap, make them vulnerable to protection risks, including gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, migrant smuggling and other forms of abuse or violence, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100,000 people have made the perilous jungle crossing this year.

The assistance for Haitian returnees is currently funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

READ                                                                                         Nigeria Immigration Service  temporarily suspends processing of passport, migrant e- registration 

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IOM appeals for $74.7M to provide humanitarian assistance for highly vulnerable migrants transiting Americas

So far this year more than 100,000 migrants have crossed the perilous Darien Gap, many stopping in migrant reception centres in Panama before heading farther north.  Photo: IOM/Jose Espinosa Bilgray.

San José / Buenos Aires - The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is appealing for USD 74.7 million to respond to the humanitarian needs of the growing number of vulnerable migrants moving from the Caribbean and South America and then crossing through Central America towards Mexico and the United States. These highly vulnerable migrants are mainly Haitian nationals, as well as Cuban, Brazilian, and Chilean. Others are nationals from Asia and Africa.

More than 100,000 migrants so far this year have irregularly crossed the perilous Darien Gap jungle to Panama from Colombia after trekking through several countries in South America.  The figure for the first nine months of 2021 triples the previous record of 30,000 on the same route during all of 2016. From Panama, migrants continue north on a journey that is particularly hazardous for women and children.

The Directors of IOM’s regional offices in San Jose and Buenos Aires said that the more than 200,000 Haitians who had already settled in Argentina, Brazil and Chile after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake also were increasingly vulnerable.

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‘’The worsening socioeconomic conditions, the tightening of visa regulations, the difficulties in obtaining information and documents to regularize their status, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing xenophobia, among other factors, have profoundly impacted the well-being of the Haitian community in these countries and reduced opportunities for integration.

“The large flows of Haitians, Cubans and migrants of other nationalities have also stretched the capacity of many host and transit countries, some of which have become hotspots for rising incidents of xenophobia and violence.”

Funding is needed to provide life-saving assistance and to address some of the drivers of mobility, as well as the impact on 75,000 migrant, host and transit community members. The assistance would include food, clothing, health services and psychosocial support, safe shelters, and protection for victims and people at risk of gender-based violence and trafficking in persons.

The appeal also seeks to establish region-wide migration flow monitoring systems, alert migrants to dangers ahead, such as trafficking and smuggling, and to kick-start community-based reintegration. Minimizing protection risks through sensitization and social inclusion, working with authorities to strengthen management of these flows and to address the drivers and longer-term impacts of crises and displacement are also key goals.

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IOM’s appeal also aims to provide humanitarian transportation assistance. In Brazil, for example, stranded migrants often require help to return to their previous host communities. In other countries, migrants may need assistance to reach designated temporary accommodation centres. IOM would cover the needs when required by authorities.

As returns to Haiti continue, the funding request also comprises post-arrival humanitarian assistance, including the improvement of reception facilities at the two international airports of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien. IOM is also working closely with partners in Haiti on long-term community stabilization, targeting migration-prone areas and including a reintegration plan to prevent repeated irregular migration patterns.

The appeal will cover activities in 14 countries of origin, transit, and destination: Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru. The appeal is not broken down by country breakdown as the situation remains very fluid and calls on donors to provide flexible funding based on the Grand Bargain commitments.

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Risking it all crossing the Darien Gap, a treacherous trek no one should tackle

 In the notorious Darien Gap spanning the Colombia-Panama border, a young pregnant woman and her husband from Haiti were left alone to face the unforgiving jungle along one of the world’s most dangerous irregular migration routes.

No roads, poisonous snakes, steep mountain ranges, raging rivers and groups of armed robbers had  deterred Jean Horima, 25, and his wife Rose from risking their lives as thousands of desperate people from countries such as Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh or Somalia do every year trying to reach the United States, Canada or Mexico.

More than 42,000 Haitians, including thousands of children, have tackled the perilous journey so far this year, hoping to gain refugee status and better futures. Many have not made it and Jean and Rose know they are lucky to have survived, especially as the baby came early.

“The jungle is brutal; it’s really, really tough. The hardest thing for me was to climb the mountains and cross the water,” says Jean. ”There are also people in the forest who will rob or kill you. I know some who got killed. Yes, people who left before me and when I arrived, I found them dead in the woods.”

The couple had started the week-long slog from the Colombia side with 50 others, but when the first hill loomed, the group abandoned them. After several days tackling the dense rainforest, Rose went into labour in the middle of nowhere.

“I was with my wife, and she told me what to do to help and save her,” says Jean. She gave birth and told her husband to cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors. “I also had a black string, so I told him to use it to tie the baby’s umbilical cord. Then, we used a t-shirt to make a bag to put the baby in,” says Rose.

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Jean Michelet hugs Alejandro, who has not wanted to eat since their arrival at the station three days ago, while his other children play. Photo: IOM/José Espinosa Bilgray

Wesley and Michelanda, the middle children, play on the playground slide. Photo: IOM/José Espinosa Bilgray

The birth of a healthy baby boy gave them the courage and strength to continue and three days later, the exhausted but relieved family emerged at the Migrant Reception Station (ERM* by its Spanish acronym) in San Vicente, Panama, which is managed by the Panamanian Government with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

Vertulo Renonce and Guerline Mettelus from Haiti have also survived the Darien trek. They had travelled from Chile with their three-year-old son Louvertir, and crossed Colombia’s border with Panama in February. The couple has five other children and hope to join their two eldest in Guatemala. The other three are still in Haiti.

The parents have had difficulty communicating with their children since they arrived at the migrant reception centre in Lajas Blancas, but life there is not just an emotional drain.

Jean François and his childhood best friend travelled from Brazil with their families. They cook rice and beans in front of their tents in Lajas Blancas. Photo: IOM/José Espinosa Bilgray

“The can of milk Louvertir drinks costs USD 4.50 and about every two days I have to buy a new one,” says Guerline. The room in the Guatemala hostel where her children are staying is USD 20 a night, and her children in Haiti have missed school for more than a month because their fees have not been paid.

They arrived in Panama with USD 400 they had hidden from three armed attackers who had robbed their group of 14 people along the way and have only USD 3 left.

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Lajas Blancas looks like a small neighbourhood where up to 500 people can be sheltered. Near the only entrance is a small kiosk where people gather to buy refreshments and biscuits and to charge their mobile phones. Off to the right are tents, showers and toilets. Down by the river is the quarantine and care area for people with COVID-19, where access is restricted.

Outside his tent, Jean François, who left Haiti in 2015, is grateful for the respite in his journey from Brazil with his four children. He greets a childhood friend who dumps firewood collected from the riverbank to prepare rice and beans.

A member of the National Border Service walks to IOM’s tent in San Vicente. Photo: IOM/José Espinosa Bilgray

“The food they give us here is not bad, but it is not made with love. That’s what we need,” says Jean François. They had survived a week in the jungle with very little food and travelled from Necoclí, Colombia. “Among the 230 people who crossed the jungle, there were around 100 children. It hurts to see them; the children don’t deserve this,” he says.

In the San Vicente ERM, Jean Paul, his wife and their four children are taking a breather on their way to the United States. After the perils of the Darien Gap, they must still travel through Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

They travelled by boat to the border of Colombia and Panama, where they paid a “coyote”, or migrant smuggler, to walk them through the jungle in groups of hundreds of migrants, most of them Haitian nationals.

Jean Kerens, Rose, and baby David are standing inside their tent at the ERM in San Vicente. They travelled from Chile and arrived in Panama in the middle of July. Photo: IOM Panama

On the swings and slide in San Vicente, three of Jean’s young children play.

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It’s noon. The officers of the National Border Service are handing out the food and people are crowding at the entrance waiting for their turn. Jean Michelet is sitting with a plate of food in one hand and, lying in his arms, is one-year-old Alejandro, who has not wanted to eat since they arrived at the station three days earlier.

Jean Michelet made sure the three eldest children had eaten and took them to play, giving his wife who sleeps in one of the houses a break. Unsuccessfully, he keeps trying to get his baby to eat. In his face you can see anguish – concern for the future and the pain of remembering the nightmare of the merciless Darien Gap.

*The ERM was built by the Government of Panama with support from international cooperation, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and private enterprise to reduce overcrowding in La Peñita, another ERM. San Vicente provides dignified conditions in which physical separation and other biosecurity measures can be maintained to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Story written by José Espinosa Bilgray, IOM Panama.

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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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