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Journalist Marvin Hokstam speaks about migration, opportunities during COVID, racism and media

Marvin Hokstam, is an award winning international journalist of repute and  founder of AFRO Magazine based in the Netherlands. In this interview with voiceforafricanmigrants.com, expressed concern about the deportation of migrants in the face of the ravaging corona virus pandemic, and also shared his thought on how African leaders and others nations of the world can take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to prevent surge in irregular migration.

  1. Tell us a bit about your background.

I was born in Suriname, that’s a small country on the north eastern shoulder of South America, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brail to the south, Guyana to the west and French Guiana. To the east. It’s a former Dutch colony, the only Dutch speaking country in South America.

I always wanted to travel and I grew to hate borders. In 1975 Suriname became independent from the Netherlands; after a coup d’état in 1980 and subsequent political murders of 15 prominent citizens by the then military Government, The Netherlands instituted a visa requirement for people from Suriname. And to me it felt like I was locked up, because I needed visa for nearly any country that I would want to visit.

And I hated that. I felt that when the Netherlands gave Suriname its independence, it cheated people like me out of our birthright. We are descendants of people who were stolen and taken to Suriname, where they worked, bled and died to make the Netherlands rich.

To me it always felt like the Netherlands just skipped out with a cheap independence and got away without making sure that it left all infrastructure in place for its people in Suriname to proper. To me it felt like they had had their fill after centuries of raping Suriname’s wealth in natural resources, but they had  not left behind the infrastructure that they set up for their citizens in Europe. All the colonizers did that.

And now, not only were they telling me I was Surinamese and less than them, but I had to ask their permission to visit Europe and other countries that benefited from my ancestors.

My dad was a firefighter at the airport in Suriname. It’s located near the forest, so this is where I was raised, in a village of about 100 people. My world was small then, but I vowed that I would travel and see the world. I owed that to my ancestors who were stolen and enslaved, and died to make the world rich. The world stripped me off my identity and my culture, so I felt that the world owed me a lot in return.

  1. Why did you opt for journalism as a career and what marks have you made in the profession?

I always loved to write the things that I experienced. I’m always writing a story in my head. And again, I dreamed of traveling. To me a career in journalism combined those two things.

I took some journalism classes for about two years and then I was asked to come work for a local newspaper “De West” in the early nineties. And I was hooked, especially after I started traveling for the job.It would be years later that I finished my journalism and media degree at the University of Bournemouth in the UK.

 

  1. Why did you relocate to the Netherlands despite your success back at home?

I did not relocate straight from Suriname to the Netherlands. I went around the world first.

My first real big international assignment was to write a series of articles about Suriname’s membership to the Caribbean Community (Caricom), which is a union of Caribbean countries with their own single market. I felt right at home amongst my Caribbean people and it turned out that aside from writing in Dutch I had a real flair for writing in English as well.

Being among the few journalists from Suriname with dedicated interest in Caribbean matters, I did quite a few assignments for Caricom as consultant.

Then in the late 90’s I was offered a job with The Daily Herald, a newspaper in Saint Martin, a small island in the Caribbean that is half Dutch and half French, where they speak mostly English. I lived there for a little over 15 years; at first working as a journalist for The Daily Herald, then as Editor in Chief of The Saint Martin Today newspaper (the competition J ) and then as communications consultant for the local airport. In that time I also worked as a freelance stringer for the Associated Press, Reuters and what was then Cana, the Caribbean News Agency.

I specialized in tourism reporting so I travelled a lot in that time; I practically visited every island in the region.

And I won four regional journalism awards during that time. (Five to be exact, but the fifth I threw out because the organization that gave it to me pissed me off. I know that sounds really cocky, but yes, I was a bit cocky back then)

Anyway, it was a beautiful time, considering where I was born and where I grew up.

And I also continued doing a lot of communications consultancy for companies and organizations, like Special Olympics Caribbean. But most of all, I traveled

Then I relocated to the Netherlands in 2012. Private reasons, but also because I wanted to explore Europe

  1. As an immigrant in the Netherlands, what was the attitude of the people to you?

Well, when you migrate to a new country when you’re 44, it’s different from when you migrate as a child. I had travelled the world and that had changed my attitude. I was no longer that little black boy from near the forest in Suriname and I had not learned to accept a position in the back of the bus.

And honestly, I did not feel like I was a migrant. Remember I was born when Suriname was still a colony of the Netherlands. And I I truly believe like the Netherlands owes Suriname a lot more than the independence it gave Suriname. I felt like I had every right to be here, just as much as any other person who was born here. In fact, even more than some, because the ancestors’ blood is attached to the wealth of this country.

So if someone would try to treat me like I did not belong, I had my response ready.

 

  1. What inspired you to found AFRO Magazine?

I was shocked when I arrived here, to find that the media was treating Black people like we did not exist. Coming from the Caribbean, Black people were the dominant factor, so I was accustomed to seeing us in the newspapers all the time. I did not expect to see Black people dominating then media, but it was totally not in proportion with the number of Black people that live here. It’s improved now, but when I arrived (and that’s really not long ago), the only time I would see a story about a black person would be if they were a criminal or a celebrity, like a famous football player.

And since I look at the world as a journalist, I saw so many beautiful stories that were never being told. I believe that this is why racism exists by the way. People resist each other because they don’t know each other’s stories. For most people it’s difficult to mistreat anything that they know and have grown to appreciate.

So as a media producer I saw a business opportunity in starting a magazine that would tell the untold, story of the underreported afro community of the Netherlands. And I really wanted to tell those beautiful stories that I saw. I remember one of my first stories was about a guy from Sierra Leone who came here as a refugee, took classes to learn the country and its language, met a Chinese woman who he married, got his accountancy degree and now runs his own accountancy firm. I remember sitting in a train one day and across from me was this beautiful man; beard groomed perfectly, clothing on fleek and he was just sitting there looking like a dime. And I thought to myself, that guy belongs in a magazine!

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But aside from the business opportunity I also thought it would be important for the community to have its own mouthpiece, a safe space where it could tell its own stories and share its opinions.

But honestly, I love doing what I am doing with AFRO Magazine, but at the same time I also hate that I have to do it … if we were living in a perfect society where the mainstream media would dedicate the same amount of time to the stories of every part of the community it serves, then I would not have had to start AFRO Magazine. In fact I believe that the mainstream media has a better role to play in mitigating conflict and telling everybody’s story, so everybody knows everybody’s story.

 

  1. You are a frequent speaker on diversity and racism matters. What have been your experiences since you have been doing this?

I write a lot more about racism than I speak. I started doing that when I came here. Social media is a tool to amplify stories. I do not share pictures of my family or frivolities, but I use my private platform to inform and educate people on my viewpoints.

The Netherlands has been pretty good at keeping the myth alive that it is a liberal country, but Black people will tell you different stories. Most people do not share their experiences -for all sorts of reasons-, but since these things that I met here were new to me, I could not keep my mouth shut. The difference is that I am a writer, a journalist and my pen is as sharp as a razor blade. I knew how I wanted to be treated and I demanded it. Publicly. So every time I had another experience, I would tell the story; about that little pig-faced girl in the supermarket who was rude to me, to the guy who didn’t believe I deserved proper service. I wrote long rants on AFRO Magazine and on my Facebook page; and people started to take notice.

 

 

I have sided with anti-racism activists and here my specific goal is to change the subjective way journalism is practiced when it comes to reporting racism. Honestly, when it comes to racism, I am subjective myself, proudly. I have had disagreements with other journalists about this because I believe that you cannot be journalistically objective when it concerns racism!

Many people appreciated it, but many also people were also saying that I was whining.

Ironically enough I have lost friends over this, who didn’t seem to realize that they were angry at me for demanding that I be treated like everybody else is being treated. That my Black Live Matters. Imagine that.

I had people tell me that Black people should accept their place in this white man’s country, or that if I did not like it here, I should leave. There was this woman who said last year that she used to have respect for me when I was just a journalist, but that she could no longer appreciate me. And sometimes it were not white people, but Black people who were disagreeing with me when I was being vocal and taking a stand and demanding respect for myself and people like me.

The thing is, they want me to go back where I came from and go be racist to visitors there? What are we doing then. I joked once that I wonder where some people go on foreign holidays, if they hate foreigners so much?

But like P. Diddy said: won’t stop, can’t stop. History is supposed to favor those that were right, no?

 

 

  1. What are the challenges of immigrant students from your experience?

Okay I must also explain first that I manage an organization called Weekend College, which is an educational support activity for immigrant children in south east Amsterdam. Every Saturday we have about 150 students, mostly Black children, who come for help with their schoolwork; it’s truly a blessing to be allowed to work with these motivated young people who are willing to voluntarily go to a school building on Saturday to work on their future.

My team is mostly young people who study at universities here and who are also from the neighborhood. I always tell them that they should understand that the students don’t just come for help with their schoolwork, but also to be able to interact with people who they want to grow up to be like. I think it’s important for my team to understand that they are role models for these children who don’t often see Black doctors, Black architects, Black school managers, male Black teachers.

So a lot of my students are of immigrant background, and they experience subtle systemic racism too. One of the things that I have found is that schools sometimes want to place these children at lower educational levels because of where they come from. I remember a girl who had fled the war in Syria, who they wanted to drop to vocational school, even as this child was proving to us that she could handle math and biology and other beta subjects with ease. They wanted to hold her back because she was lagging behind on Dutch language lessons.

So I pleaded with them to reconsider with the promise that we would give this child the TLC that she needed and that we would make sure she could handle the higher levels.

Well, it’s three years later and she is about ready to graduate and enroll at a university next year!

 

If I had not intervened this child would have been held back and her potential could have gone to waste, which would have kept her family in a cycle of mediocrity. Every year there are at least three of these types of students that I have to go fight for.

Last December, just days before our current lockdown here, I was supposed to go meet with a school director who wanted to expel a 15-year-old boy from Ghana. This boy wants to be an accountant later and they wanted to expel him and drop him to a lower grade, because he fought a couple of other boys who were bullying his little brother. His entire future in jeopardy because he wanted to be a big brother!

I haven’t been to the school yet because of the lockdown, but my experience is that schools back down when people like me show them that we’re watching.  We all have a role to play

  1. What can you say about how migrant workers especially from Africa are treated abroad?

Anytime anybody who looks like me is treated unfairly because of how we look, it pisses me off. No one is supposed to be treated unfairly because of their skin color, where they are from, their gender, sexual preference or religion. That is just plain wrong.

I don’t really make a distinction. We are not okay until all of us are okay.

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Still I must admit that even while ignorance often reigns here, the Netherlands does do better than some other European countries that I have visited.

Yes, there is systemic racism; the Netherlands and Belgium do still have that annual festivity called Sinterklaas where white people go around in blackface to portray a slavish character called zwarte Piet; there is regular mis-assignment of immigrant students to lower track classes.

But the Netherlands is still very much a social welfare society, where the state does its best to provide for all its citizens. It fails where it comes to racism and marginalization, but the ceiling is cracking because Black people are pounding against it.

Of course, everybody knows the Black players (many of them from Suriname) who dominate Dutch football, but we’ve also for years had leading Black politicians and so on.

I know several second-generation migrants from the Continent who are doing well here, for instance Amma Assante who a few years ago became the first Ghanaian born Parliamentarian.

We have come a long way and we’re cracking the ceiling, but there is still a long way to go before all obstacles are removed. We’re not there until all of us are there. Countries should understand that.

It brings me back to what I was saying earlier about hating borders and travelling. There is wealth in diversity and migrants bring that cultural wealth with them. A diverse country is a rich country, but if you’re sitting on a gold mine and refusing to mine it, you’re still poor … and that sentence is meant both literally and figuratively.

 

  1. How can the developed world help Africa to tackle the challenge of irregular migration?

 

I was interviewing William Gois a few days ago -he is Regional Coordinator of the Migrant Forum Asia (MFA)- about irregular migration and I liked very much what he said. Countries must learn to understand that migrants have many reasons why they leave their country of origin and just as many reasons why they sometimes enter stay as undocumented immigrants.

It could be that they are trying to escape conflict or hunger, or that they are looking for better economic prospects than the ones in their own countries.

And sometimes the real cause lies in a history of developments gone wrong, which sometimes can be because foreign investments, or multilateral institutions like World Bank dictated strategies that went wrong. Farmers have lost land because of these things. We all know the histories of conflicts that were supported by the west; western arms dealers selling weapons to armies in other countries. So much has gone wrong and created an impetus for people to move out for survival. We need to understand why people move and not think of it as something that we must contain. That these people will enter and destroy our way of life and our culture.

Countries should rather be thinking of what triggered illegal migration and how they can improve these people lives. That is where the answer lies.

How did the developed world become the developed world? By taking advantage of the natural resources of continents like Africa. They have been doing it from the time of the colonization. They took away millions in natural resources, but also millions of people whose descendants have been giving their potential to help other countries grow. And often they are still being marginalized in the countries where they live. Black Americans are still appealing to America that Black Lives Matter!

Anyway, I digress: the developed world needs to look at the root causes of irregular migration and help fix those, because often the root causes have been caused by the west. They have been taking advantage of countries in Africa and making them dependent; what about helping them become economically independent. What about helping these countries make their economies stronger so their citizens have less reasons to leave?

 

  1. Migrants have always been viewed as unwanted pests by many host countries. Do you consider this to be true?

Oh I actually just answered this question earlier, not knowing it would be asked here; when I was talking about the wealth in diversity. There is a co-dependency between migrants and the countries that they migrate to; often in wealthy countries, local residents do not want to do certain jobs. Who do you think does those jobs then? Pests do not contribute.

I wrote an opinion piece a few weeks ago about just that. I started with a story.

Last weekend I did something that I have been wanting to do for some months. I tallied up all the money that I have spent on gas since February 2020. That month I got into an argument with a gas station manager over some nonsense and he decided to treat me like a nobody and I felt that it was because I was an immigrant and black!

So after I was done cursing him I left and I never went back to his gas station. The next gas station is 15 kilometers down the road, but I make that effort to not have anyone earn my money who does not show me the respect I deserve as a customer. I truly believe that every cent in my wallet is economic power that I can wield.

So last weekend I tallied all my gas expenses over 2020 and it came to 2000 and 76 euros. That’s more than 2000 euros that this A-hole did not earn. Now imagine if more migrants would start to realize that they can wield ‘economic power’

A UN report that was published last week estimated that the number of migrants globally has reached 281 million. Multiply that by 2000 and 76 euros …

But also think about my students who they wanted to hold back. Imagine the wealth in earnings, in contributions to the GDP, the wealth in remittances that they would be able to send back home to help their families survive … to boost their country’s economies.

Imagine if all of that does not reach its full potential because people are held back? And then multiply that by 281 million.

Yes I know I exaggerate. Not all immigrants are held back.

But humor me.

 

 

 

 

  1. What contributions do you think migrant workers from Africa make to the development of their host countries?

I can think of so many things. From the restaurants where you can eat the “exotic” food from the migrants’ home countries, to the wealth in human resources that they bring. And think about migrants having children with local partners; I am not a medical professional, but if I’m not mistaken, doesn’t adding new breeders strengthen the gene pool? The Nazi’s believed in the purity of race, but isn’t inbreeding a bad thing? I crack myself up here

 

  1. Many migrant workers from African are being deported amidst the ravaging corona virus pandemic. Do you consider this a good decision?

At the GFMD webinar on January 19 where I spoke briefly, there was one gentleman from Portugal who told us that from the beginning of the pandemic, his country gave resident papers to all undocumented residents. Because they realized that you cannot fight a disease like this if you treat only some of the people in your country. So they made sure that everybody would be registered; that’s forward thinking, because now it will be easy to make sure that everybody can be vaccinated.

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Deporting people in the midst of a ravaging pandemic is not helping. COVID is global and to battle it, it is better to contain people and discourage travel. But here they are sending people back, spreading the virus.

 

  1. The pandemic has exposed the inability of many African countries to help their citizens when the chips are down. Do you foresee a surge in irregular migration after the pandemic?

The pandemic has exposed many flaws in systems throughout the world. Education, government, energy provision, tourism, capitalism. We have always been patching these broken systems, but the crisis has caused systems to crash and like you’re saying “the chips are down.” This could have been the time to reboot and fix these flaws. Irregular migration is caused by one of those flaws. People choose to go underground in their host countries, because they were fleeing something in their own countries that was worse. This should be the time that countries should band together and look at these things from a broad perspective; and fix them.

Create opportunities for people to thrive in their own countries, so they don’t feel the need to flee into an undocumented status in other countries. Mind you, the crisis is already upon us and it will only get worse … but a crisis is also an opportunity.

We have seen so many companies take advantage of the new social-distancing/working-from-home reality to create inventive business. A friend of mine was telling me a few weeks ago about interior designers who help you arrange your home office in such a way that you have an interesting backdrop for Zoom meetings. Here there’s been a boom of open-air coffee shops since the lockdown started. That’s thinking outside the box. That’s making the best out of the worst.

African countries, all countries, should be taking advantage of the pandemic to reboot and create new inventive opportunities for their citizens, so they do not leave. There’s a lot of unchartered territory in digital business. Help your people diversify so they can earn a living in new ways, different from what has failed them in the past. Because again, the crisis is upon us and the poorer have been getting poorer and rich countries have been getting richer. This could indeed prompt a surge in irregular migration and now is not the time for that.

Right now we have an opportunity to leave the world better than we came and found it; we did not inherit this place, but we have a chance to leave it better for the people that we borrowed it from.

 

  1. How well would you say the Global Forum on Migration has positively impacted the lives of migrants across the globe?

Here again, I must refer to the wisdom of William Gois who is a veteran GFMD delegate. The forum has been in dialogue for 14 years now; a lot of experience and wisdom has been gathered and now it’s time for action. That will make an impact. And personally I believe that we always fail to listen to the people on the ground; in this case governments should be listening more to the Civil Society; to the grass roots organizations with their feet planted firmly on the ground.

 

  1. As a widely experienced journalist, how can the media help in shaping the migration narrative?

I am a member of the Black Members Council (BMC) of the British National Union of Journalists; in the BMC we discuss matters that relate to Black journalists throughout Europe and I always find it amazing how similar our stories and experiences and frustrations are.

The (mainstream) media has an important role to play in changing narratives in the countries that they serve. Journalists are the educators of their society. The way a journalist writes about a subject is how that subject is perceived by his audience.

If the media calls people “illegals”, the community will treat them like illegals. A journalist who writes an opinion piece in which he tells a Ghanaian-born anti-racism protestor to go back to his country -this literally happened here a few years ago- is telling his audience something. In 2017 anti-racism protestors on their way to protest in a city, were forced off the road by racists. So they never made it to the city. A big newspaper wrote “(city) remains free of annoying activists. We also had a newspaper a few years ago that published a two-page spread in which it portrayed anti-racism protestors as terrorists and thugs … in other words as pests.

So I tell people to think about it: What does it say about your country if anti-racism protestors are annoying pests? What does it say about you when racists are your heroes?

I wrote a statement a few months ago for BMC, in which we called on media owners to consider that they are serving an entire community and not just the right-wing portion that wants migrants to go back. They should consider that all their readers are media consumers who pay for their service; what if half of these consumers would no longer pay for their service because they know that they deserve better reporting in which racism is not tolerated?

I want the media to understand the role that they can play. That they can do better, because better relations amongst people in the country would benefit all, not just some.

The reason why I joined the BMC three years ago, was because I really appreciated the fact that the NUJ actually made an effort to create a body that looked after the interests of Black journalists. The BMC had actually created a whole booklet for the NUJ, with guidelines on how to report migrants.

The guidelines literally tell journalists that they have a responsibility to stop racism being expressed in the media, that media organizations should not originate material which encourages discrimination on the grounds of race or color, that they have the right to withhold their labor when their employers are providing a platform for racist propaganda and that they do not have to report on racist organizations.

In the meantime, the Dutch National Association of Journalists NVJ is very hesitant to discuss racism in reporting. They told me that they would not, because journalists should always remain objective.

I called BS, because I believe that you cannot be journalistically objective when it concerns racism!

We’re still in that battle, but luckily, I know that this is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. In the end we will win the war. Like I said, history favors the righteous.

 

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IOM appeals for lifesaving assistance to over half a million displaced and vulnerable migrants in Niger

International Organisation of Migration (

Niger, one of the Sahel region’s busiest transit countries for migrants, faces multiple emergencies. COVID-19, ongoing security threats and generations of deeply embedded poverty have contributed to a growing humanitarian crisis, with over half a million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and their host communities in need of essential services. Another 135,000 vulnerable migrants also need assistance in Niger in 2021.

To be able to provide much-needed assistance, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today is appealing for USD 121 million to provide essential support to migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities in 2021.

Continuous returns of migrants from Algeria—as well as migratory movements through Niger, both to and from Algeria and Libya—leave migrants lacking shelter, food, water and health assistance. In addition to these essential humanitarian interventions IOM is equally committed to promoting stability and social cohesion between host communities, IDPs and migrants.

Despite the official closure of land borders since 19 March, migrants continue to travel to, through and out of Niger on longstanding migration routes mainly to Libya and Algeria. IOM assists stranded migrants through its humanitarian operations (on the border with Algeria) and with search and rescue operations in Niger’s northern Agadez region, after which many migrants receive assistance in one of IOM’s six transit centres in Niger.

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An IOM assessment last year concluded at least 2.7 million migrants were stranded unable to return to their country of residence by COVID-19 mobility restrictions.

“In 2020, IOM assisted more than 9,000 stranded migrants in Niger, the majority of whom were from countries in the West and Central Africa region,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM Niger’s Chief of Mission. “Many of these migrants have been supported with voluntary return to their respective countries of origin, despite the official closure of the borders, through a humanitarian corridor established with the Government of Niger.”

Over 2,100 returning Nigeriens were also assisted with their COVID-19 isolation and onward assistance to their areas of origin once they arrived in Niger. Official convoys for stranded Nigeriens have been organized from various countries in West Africa by other IOM offices in collaboration with Niger’s government, including its consular missions.

Some 3.8 million Nigeriens will need assistance in 2021 according to the Humanitarian Needs Overview released by the Humanitarian Country Team in Niger. IOM Niger plans to scale up its level of assistance in areas that have been affected by different crises, including natural disasters and insecurity as a result of increasing activity by violent extremist organizations in Niger.

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IOM’s Global Crisis Response Platform provides an overview of IOM’s funding requirements in 2021 and beyond. The Platform is updated regularly.

Support Voice for African Migrants


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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.

For continued free access to the best and latest migration, trafficking, displacement and humanitarian reports including thorough investigative reports in these areas, we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

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UNHCR appeals for immediate rescue of Rohingya refugees in distress on the Andaman Sea

This news comment is attributable Indrika Ratwatte, Director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
BANGKOK, Thailand – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees in distress on the Andaman Sea today.
UNHCR received reports of an unconfirmed number of Rohingya refugees aboard a vessel in distress as of the evening of Saturday 20th February. The refugees report having departed from Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf, Bangladesh, approximately ten days ago. Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours.
Refugees have told us that the vessel ran out of food and water several days ago, and that many of the passengers are ill. The vessel has reportedly been adrift since the engine broke down, more than a week ago. We have not been able to confirm the number of refugees or their precise location at this time.
In the absence of precise information as to the refugees’ location, we have alerted the authorities of the relevant maritime states of these reports and appealed for their swift assistance, should the vessel be found in their area of responsibility for search and rescue. Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy.
As always, saving lives must be the priority. In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status. We appeal to all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress.
UNHCR stands ready to support governments across the region in providing any necessary humanitarian assistance and quarantine measures in the coming days for those disembarked, in line with public health protocols.
The fact that refugees and migrants continue to undertake fatal journeys accentuates the need for immediate and collective regional response to search, rescue and disembarkation

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Migrants play key role in disaster response, IOM explores diaspora’s engagement in humanitarian assistance

Stronger diaspora coordination has the potential for better and more effective humanitarian assistance in countries affected by disasters. Photo: IOM/Muse Mohammed

Many people, when they consider the contributions of migrants to their countries of origin, think first of remittance flows —the billions of dollars travelling annually between high income, “developed” destination countries to lower income regions in the Global South.

For decades, remittance flows have been larger than total official development assistance levels in low- and middle-income countries, and more stable than private capital flows. In 2020, which experts forecast as a year when a global pandemic would decrease remittance levels globally, the decline was nowhere near as considerable as predicted. Migrant workers and diaspora members —many employed in essential services— continued to send money home. Mexico, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh all even saw rises in incoming remittances.

Yet, diasporas provide much more than financial support. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, diasporas have forged creative, transnational responses to support their communities in both their new countries of residence and those of origin. Diasporas provide supplies to hospitals; they equip communities with tutors and translators for school age children. They create helplines for families affected by the pandemic, developing campaigns to combat misinformation. And so much more.

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To increase the scope of humanitarian assistance around the globe, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has implemented a project aimed at developing and piloting a framework for diaspora engagement in humanitarian assistance.

In cooperation with the Haiti Renewal Alliance, IOM has begun conducting remote consultations with key actors worldwide. IOM also has launched a survey for diaspora organizations to explore best practices migrants can leverage to strengthen their engagement.

“The results of the survey will allow us to dissect the challenges and interests of Diaspora organizations when delivering assistance in their country of origin,” said Magalie Emile-Backer, co-founder of the Haiti Renewal Alliance, an organization actively working to integrate Diasporas in the humanitarian system.

This effort comes at a crucial time, when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic stretches resources for assistance.

“Diasporas’ engagement already is a critical component of humanitarian assistance, unlocking doors and knowledge that might not otherwise be available. Engagement contributes also to increasing communities’ resilience,” said Luca Dall’Oglio, IOM Chief of Mission in Washington, DC. “Diasporas’ involvement has the potential to further scale up all aspects of humanitarian response, preparedness and recovery matters.”

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Ecuador
Founded by Ecuadorians and Spaniards, the Rumiñahui Association supports the needs of the migrant community in Spain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of 30 experts stepped up to provide psychological assistance to migrants across Spain, especially to women who have been victims of gender-based violence. Additionally, the Rumiñahui Association coordinated with an organization in the United States to donate 5,000 food kits to vulnerable households in Ecuador.

Pakistan
The Pakistani Diaspora Health Initiative developed a digital platform where the Pakistani diaspora health community around the world register to provide online consultations. The organization also promotes webinars to share knowledge between local and overseas health professionals on the latest, evidence-based COVID-19 practices.
Closer coordination and cooperation with other humanitarian actors can maximize this potential. Funded by the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Affairs, the IOM project builds on several decades of work with diaspora communities. It aims to build the capacity of diasporas to better address disasters and to strengthen coordination with one another and with institutional humanitarian actors.

As seen during numerous man-made and natural disasters, diasporas have immense capacity for good. They can leverage their financial contributions, network with each other and offer technical skills and local area knowledge to quickly address humanitarian needs on the ground in communities of origin.

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After analyzing the survey results, IOM will join with partners to develop a framework for Diaspora engagement as well as a set of operational tools that diasporas and institutional actors can use across sectors and locations. With the right skills, resources and partnerships, diasporas can enhance humanitarian efforts, ultimately increasing the reach and support towards affected communities.

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