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Migrants challenging returns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

Some 9,000 displaced people from Nagorno Karabakh will receive medical services from an IOM mobile clinic over the next six months. Photo: IOM/Merri Sahakyan

Bayarmaa* has been stranded in Viet Nam since losing her job due to COVID-19. Hungry and facing challenges with her accommodation, the Mongolian national was unable to afford the medical treatment she needed for a recurring chronic disease. Deeply worried and frustrated about being unable to help her daughter, Bayarmaa’s mother back home too became ill.

Day by day, Bayarmaa’s situation worsened until she decided to seek assistance from the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global human mobility due to travel restrictions, border closures and lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus left millions of migrants, including Bayarmaa, stranded across the world.

In a September 2020 report on COVID-19’s Impact on Migrants, IOM’s COVID-19 Return Task Force detailed the plight of nearly 3 million migrants stranded worldwide. Many more migrants are believed to have been stranded in the subsequent months. The Task Force was created in response to the complex challenge of organizing voluntary returns during the pandemic, and to help missions to address challenges effectively.

In 2020, IOM facilitated the voluntary return of more than 50,000 migrants worldwide. Over 1,000 migrants (53% female and 47% male) were supported by the COVID-19 Return Task Force to return home in a safe and dignified manner globally.

Each return was unique in its own way and highlighted the different and extreme conditions the migrants faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic prior to their return.

Among those returning were migrant workers and their families, travelers, international students, unaccompanied children, pregnant women, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, others seeking medical attention, and victims of human trafficking.

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In China, Ronica’s* situation was no different from Bayarmaa’s. She was a young migrant woman from Jamaica, who had been working as a kindergarten teacher in China until she started experiencing mental health problems and was hospitalized. She lost her job, leaving her with no option but to return to Jamaica. Her illness was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, rendering her incapable of travelling the long route back to Jamaica unescorted.

Anna*, a Jamaican migrant in Curaçao, had health complications as well. She had overstayed her residency permit, and had a leg amputated due to diabetes as the situation deteriorated around her. This left her in a wheelchair, stranded with no source of income, no paperwork and no way home.

Humanitarian assistance including medical and psychosocial support, shelter, food, hygiene kits, and protective gear was provided to each returning migrant prior to departure, while following the strictest health recommendations depending on the country’s requirements.

“…IOM guaranteed migrants to carry out COVID-19 tests …from Managua to Belize,” said Ana Cecilia Solís, project coordinator at IOM Nicaragua.

Labour migrants in the Middle East found themselves in an increasingly dire situation with fewer options for safe and dignified work, leaving them unable to afford their rent, food or health care. An assessment of migrant workers in Lebanon conducted in mid-2020 by IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) found that roughly 70 per cent of those surveyed were making plans to return home in the next three months.

Twenty-five-year-old Kame*, a domestic worker from Sierra Leone, experienced several months of hardship at the hands of her employers that led her in February 2020 to jump from the third floor of the house she worked in, to the street below. She survived, but alone and without work she faced destitution as the coronavirus pandemic compounded Lebanon’s economic problems.

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“After jumping I thought I would die, but God made it possible for me. I’m very happy to be going back to Ethiopia and to finally get the chance to see my family,” she said before boarding her flight.

She is one of many migrant workers who, with the support of IOM, managed to return home safely.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), 75 Malagasy women migrant workers were stranded for close to nine months. Some had lost their jobs, finding themselves overnight without accommodation, while others exceeded residencies. Through the support from IOM, they managed to return to Madagascar in December, via a chartered flight. This return movement was the third one of Malagasy nationals supported by IOM, after IOM previously supported the return of 177 nationals from Kuwait (June 2020) and 54 nationals from Lebanon (October 2020).

Some of the migrants, like 23-year-old Joy*, were victims of trafficking who were stranded after escaping. She left her home in West Africa, after being coerced with the promise of steady employment with benefits in Lebanon. In an attempt to gain employment opportunities to support her elderly parents, she and her sister moved to Lebanon, where they were mistreated, forced to work extra hours, paid poorly and, at times, not at all.

She managed to escape and met her sister who was left homeless by her employers after the Beirut blast in August 2020. Joy and her sister were exhausted and wanted to return home to see their father who had suffered a heart attack.

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For two Somali students, Geedi* and Warsame*, the pandemic meant that they could no longer attend classes nor return home, leaving them stranded in Tehran, where they were pursuing their studies.

The COVID-19 mobility restrictions compounded the vulnerability of some migrants and the challenge of returning home. Partnerships with host and transit countries have gone a long way towards facilitating their return, by ensuring that health checks and other measures are incorporated into border management systems.

“Following the migrants’ registration with IOM to voluntarily return – and thanks to the cooperation with government authorities in Cyprus and Nepal – everyone was ready to help the stranded migrants to voluntarily return to their homes,” said Natasa Xenophontos Koudouna, Head of Office for IOM Cyprus.

Joy and over 1,000 other migrants stranded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have been reunited with their families back home through the generous contribution from the Government of Germany to the IOM COVID-19 Return Task Force, as well as the support from other donors such as the US Government, European Union, Governments of Switzerland, Norway, the United Kingdom and Denmark.

* The names of the migrants in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

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IOM launches open South America portal

International Organisation of Migration (

Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Open South America, available in SpanishEnglish and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.

The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.

The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.

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Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.

“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.

“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.

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29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM

The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.

About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.

Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.

He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.

Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.

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“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”

International Organisation of Migration (

Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.

“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.

Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.

The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.

READ  Nigeria Immigration boss subdues Coronavirus

 

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FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK

Kelvin

The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.

Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.

Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.

Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.

“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.

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READ  Five children, 40 other migrants die in largest recorded shipwreck off Libya Coast 
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