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How one diaspora pediatrician is trying to reduce neonatal deaths in Somalia

Dr. Ubah and her one of her peers, Dr. Abdi in Mogadishu’s Banadir Hospital, Somalia in January 2021. Photo: IOM/Spotlight

 

For Dr. Ubah Farah Ahmed, returning to Somalia was not an easy decision to make, but she knew it was the right thing to do.

“I have two children who are now in their mid-twenties still in Rome, but they understand why I had to return,” she says.

With an elderly father living in Mogadishu, the 48-year-old pediatrician had always known she would be back one day “to do my part to help.”

She left Somalia in 1991 due to the civil war and lived in Italy for the last 29 years, where she also studied medicine.

In the wake of the central government’s collapse in 1991, Somalia continued to face conflict across many parts of the country. A lack of livelihood opportunities also forced thousands of people, including skilled professionals,  to flee and settle in many parts of the world.

Almost three decades later, many Somalis are returning to fill the gap created by the war. Among them are experts like Dr. Ubah.

“As diasporas, we’ve had the privilege of studying in very good institutions around the world and it is vital that we advance the development of Somalia by applying our experience and skills to the new generation who do not have the opportunity,” Dr. Ubah says.

She is fully aware that pockets of instability remain.

“Some areas can be dangerous, but we realized that the country needs its best people to return,” says Dr. Ubah, who is working in the women and pediatric department of Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu.

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Her return to Somalia was facilitated by the Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) FINNSOM programme, implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

IOM mobilizes donor resources which make it possible to recruit specialists from the diaspora. They are then deployed to state institutions where their skills contribute to the strengthening of capacity while also transferring their knowledge to young local professionals through a mentorship programme.

To date, close to 500 individuals have returned to Somalia through MIDA and provided support in a wide range of areas, including education, health, public finance, migrants rights, justice and the rule of law, and many others.

Dr. Ubah joined MIDA in 2020 with the intention of sharing her skills in pediatrics with other health care professionals. “I noticed that there was an immense hunger for my specialty and knowledge,” she says. “My dream is to contribute to reducing the neonatal deaths in Somalia.”

There are about 6,000 health workers in the country, according to Somalia’s National Development Plan 2020 – 2024. Many of them have little experience in dealing with critical cases due to the lack of training institutions and support programmes.

Dr. Ubah stands in front of the emergency pediatric room in Mogadishu’s Banadir Hospital in January 2021. Photo: IOM/Spotlight

 

Dr. Ubah remembers with pride part of her first week on the programme, when she started to train junior doctors on neonatal best practices: “Before, when infants were in an emergency situation, the doctor would take five or 10 minutes to arrive because they were in another area of the hospital. Now a doctor is always available right when a mother gives birth.”

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The head of Banadir Hospital, Fartun Sharif Ahmed, spoke on the excitement surrounding the arrival of Dr. Ubah. “We were very pleased when we heard she also had experience with newborn babies, which was a qualification that we desperately needed,” she says. “The impact has been huge on mothers and their newborns.”

The country’s health system had many setbacks over the past 30 years and Somalis are excited to see more diaspora professionals like Dr Ubah coming back to support them to bring the country back together. “Without her, we wouldn’t be able to provide this quality service. Dr Ubah helps us with anything the hospital requires, not only for the pediatric unit but with anything that will help progress the hospital,” Fartun Sharif Ahmed adds.

The MIDA programme also recruits local junior professionals and interns to learn from the diaspora specialists and to ultimately continue applying their new skills once the experts are gone.

Dr. Ubah (right) stands with the head of Benadir Hospital, Fartun Sharif Ahmed (centre) and Dr. Ayaan Abdinur Elmi, the junior professional that she trains, in January 2021. Photo: IOM/Spotlight

Dr. Ayaan Abdinur Elmi is one of the professionals learning from the senior pediatrician.

“She understands and accepts the context in Somalia in the most respectful way. For her to leave a peaceful environment in Rome and then to come over to Mogadishu is truly inspiring,” says Ayaan Abdinur Elmi.

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Dr. Ubah’s immediate future is in Mogadishu, where she plans to continue contributing to the upliftment of the health sector while also showing fellow counterparts abroad what is possible.

“There are many Somali doctors based all over the world who are more experienced than me that are now seeing me as a role model,” she says. “I hope my steps will inspire others, not just doctors, but all professionals to come back and pass on their skills to our sprightly country.”

Dozens of testimonies collected over the past years demonstrate the far-reaching impact that Somalis are having on the development of their own country. The passion and determination of the Somali diaspora is driving recovery in the country and contributing to the National Development Plan, the Global Compact on Migration and 2030 Development Agenda.

Dr. Ubah’s assignment was possible thanks to the generous funding of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland through the MIDA FINNSOM programme. For 12 years, the programme’s main goal is improving the health and education outcomes in Somalia, through the active engagement of qualified Somali diaspora professionals from Finland and elsewhere.

Text by: Claudia Barrios Rosel and Erin Bowser, IOM Somalia.

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Opinions

Response capacities stretched with hasty return of 40,000 Ethiopian migrants

International Organisation of Migration (

Ethiopia – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is urgently appealing for funds to respond to the needs of 40,000 Ethiopian migrants returning from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Over 30,000 have arrived in Ethiopia over the last two weeks, at the rate of over 2,600 people a day. More than 20,400 (68 per cent) are from parts of Tigray and Amhara regions which are in the midst of conflict in Northern Ethiopia that has displaced nearly two million people.

The returns of Ethiopian migrants follow a bilateral agreement between the governments of Ethiopia and KSA.

According to IOM, USD 740,000 is needed to provide assistance for every 10,000 migrants returning. This is for essentials such as medical treatment, supplies for babies and infants such as diapers, clothing, help with finding and tracing family members, and reunifying them or providing alternative care arrangements as appropriate, as well as to respond to protection concerns.

“This sudden upsurge in returns poses a major challenge to our ability to assist the returnees – many of whom require medical and psychosocial assistance, support reuniting with their families, and livelihood options that would help to diminish the appeal of irregular re-migration to KSA and other countries of destination,” says Maureen Achieng, IOM Chief of Mission in Ethiopia.

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“Our response is seriously underfunded and barely reaching the needs of returnees in the provision of essential basic and specialized assistance, including for unaccompanied migrant children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and victims of trafficking.”

Many of the migrants will require help to return and reintegrate back into their communities.  Reintegration assistance is therefore vital to supporting the returnees psychologically, and to find work and stability, to help them avoid irregular migration, and exploitation by trafficking and smuggling rings.

The returning migrants are among the target population included in the Regional Migrant Response Plan  2021-2024 (MRP) for the Horn of Africa and Yemen, a USD 99 million appeal launched by IOM and 39 partners in March 2021 to address the protection needs, risks and vulnerabilities of migrants along this route. The MRP is underfunded and urgently requires additional resources to carry out its response, including for this target population.

While recognizing the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law, IOM, as part of the United Nations Network on Migration, reaffirms its commitment to keeping everyone safe. It means that all Member States need to ensure that collective expulsions of migrants and asylum-seekers must be halted; that protection needs, including international protection, must be individually assessed; and that the rule of law and due process must be observed. It also means prioritizing protection, including every child’s best interest, under the obligations in international law.

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IOM provides over 1,300 migrants with emergency shelter and assistance on the Canary Islands

International Organisation of Migration (

Madrid – As more migrants arrive in the Canary Islands, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has provided shelter, protection services, medical, legal and other types of assistance to 1,361 migrants on Tenerife.

The arrival of more than 23,000 people in the Canary Islands by sea in 2020, particularly in the last three months of the year, strained the reception capacity and COVID-19 has further complicated the response.  In November 2020, the Government of Spain announced “Plan Canarias” to renovate and expand the archipelago’s reception facilities to accommodate and assist 7,000 migrants.

Since 26 February this year, IOM has been operating at the Las Canteras Emergency Reception Facility (ERF) on Tenerife to support the Spanish government in managing the site. The EU-funded facility is an open centre which can accommodate as many as 1,100 people.

“Our priority is to support Spain with site management to provide safe and dignified living conditions and tailored services for migrants who have arrived via extremely treacherous journeys to the Canary Islands,” said Maria Jesús Herrera, Head of IOM’s Office in Spain.

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Today, some 300 migrants are staying at the facility from Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Sudan, The Gambia, Mauritania and Côte d’Ivoire.

At Las Canteras, IOM provides meals, core relief items, water and sanitation, maintenance, and Multipurpose Cash Assistance. The Organization also offers protection assistance, which includes vulnerability assessments, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS), primary health care, legal information and counselling for family reunification or international protection, and assistance with transfers of eligible vulnerable migrants to the mainland.

IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) is also available to migrants who wish to return to their country of origin.

Marouane, a 27-year-old from Morocco, had arrived at the facility on 6 March. One year ago, he risked a harrowing sea journey towards the islands.

“For three days, you hang out with death, you see it. But if you don’t die, then you get there,” he told IOM in May.

To date, IOM has provided legal counselling to more than 780 people seeking asylum, in cooperation with UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. IOM also ensured – through close collaboration with the Spanish authorities – the referral and transfer of some 682 migrants to other specialized centres on the islands and the mainland.

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The Organization also works closely with the municipality of La Laguna to engage with neighbourhood associations, the Tenerife council, civil society, citizens and local actors in the interest of transparency, mutual exchange, and social cohesion.

“We consider the people hosted in Las Canteras centre as citizens of La Laguna municipality. We therefore try to collaborate as much as possible so that they also benefit from the activities organized by the City Council,” said José Luis Hernandez, Environment Councillor from the La Laguna City Hall.

Arrivals to the Canary Islands on the Western Africa-Atlantic Route this year have reached 7,309 – more than double the number of arrivals at the same time last year. Some 23,848 migrants have reached Spain irregularly via all land and sea routes so far this year.

The project at Las Canteras,“Supporting the Spanish Authorities in managing an Emergency Reception Facility on the Canary Islands”, is funded by the EU (European Commission, DG Home). The overall management of the ERF is under the coordination of the Site Manager of the Spanish Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration. 

 

READ  IOM's Global Migration Data Analysis Centre releases report on 'Migration from and within West and North Africa'
  • IOM staff welcome a group of newly arrived migrants at the Las Canteras facility on Tenerife, Spain. Photo: IOM

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IOM Ethiopia appeals for USD 40 million to assist additional 1.6 million people in Northern Ethiopia

Addis Ababa – Nearly two million people affected by the crisis in northern Ethiopia desperately need life-saving assistance, including water, medicine and shelter, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today as it issued an urgent appeal for USD 40 million to help internally displaced men, women and children, including newborn babies.

Since the outbreak of the conflict eight months ago in Ethiopia’s Tigray Regional State, millions of people are enduring unimaginable suffering, including forced displacement, hunger, death, and destruction of private and public property.

In Tigray, IOM has been providing support to more than half a million people, including displaced children, women, men, and vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and persons with disabilities. This includes shelter and provision of essential items such as food, water, clothing, medicine and supplies for babies, as well as sanitation and hygiene services.

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IOM has also been supporting camp coordination and management efforts, providing mental health care to those in need, and producing Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) reports to shed light on the evolving situation.

Nearly USD 70 million (USD 69.3M) is needed to respond to the needs of internally displaced populations in northern Ethiopia but only USD 28.7 million has been received this year. IOM needs an extra USD 40.6 million for the remainder of 2021 to be able to continue and further expand its response to help the displaced.

“The nearly two million people displaced by this crisis continue to live in inhumane and undignified conditions and require critical and urgent support,” said Maureen Achieng, IOM Chief of Mission to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union and UNECA. “IOM Director General António Vitorino said it before, and we say it again: we must act without delay to meet the needs of people in the region.”

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The situation in Tigray remains volatile. In partnership and coordination with other UN agencies, IOM is committed to delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance, to continue reaching people in need. IOM is planning to significantly scale up response programming and increase the deployment of senior IOM staff in the region despite the severe shortage of funding.

IOM’s response is aligned with the Inter-Cluster Coordination Group’s (ICCG) – a cooperative effort among sectors and the Humanitarian Country Team to improve the national response – Northern Ethiopia Response Plan, which estimates that 5.2 million people are in dire need in the worst-case scenario of this escalating humanitarian crisis.

 

IOM’s Global Crisis Response Platform provides an overview of IOM’s plans and funding requirements to respond to the evolving needs and aspirations of those impacted by, or at risk of, crisis and displacement in 2021 and beyond. The Platform is regularly updated as crises evolve and new situations emerge.

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