Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has followed with concern the unprecedented arrival of an estimated 9,000 migrants in Spain’s Ceuta enclave between Monday and Wednesday (17-19 May).
At least 1,500 children between the ages of seven and fifteen were among those who crossed into Ceuta in the span of 48 hours. While many have already been returned through family reunification and tracing assistance, some 800 remain accommodated in a warehouse in Ceuta.
The Organization encourages the ongoing efforts to provide assistance to minors and maintains that best interest of the child and protection safeguards must be the guiding principles in identifying solutions for them. IOM stands ready to support Spanish authorities in providing children with the needed tailored assistance, in coordination with partners on the ground.
“Our response has to prioritize the safety of people and guarantee access to protection and other forms of assistance regardless of the reasons that forced or prompted them to move,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino.
“For migration management and the response to the needs of people on the move to be effective, collaboration and dialogue between host, transit and origin countries should be maintained.”
IOM recognizes the longstanding cooperation between Spain and Morocco and their mutual efforts to improve migration governance and encourages further efforts in this regard.
Some 26,400 people have arrived in the European Union via Mediterranean Sea routes since the beginning of 2021. While the numbers have increased compared to the same period last year, IOM believes the arrivals are manageable through better migration governance, including increased pathways for safe and dignified migration, and improved solidarity mechanisms amongst EU Member States as outlined in the currently discussed European Pact on Asylum and Migration.
Afghanistan: Addressing child labour through a protection response for undocumented returnees
Child labour is a priority protection concern in Afghanistan with some estimates showing that more than half of children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in work of some kind (AIHRC, 2018). Children in Afghanistan endure some of the worst forms of child labour from being recruited into the armed conflict, to the production of bricks and carpets, as well as in agriculture, mines, and most visibly on the streets as beggars, shoe shiners and porters/vendors.
High rates of poverty, insecurity, displacement, and natural disasters mean sending school-age children out to work is often essential to the survival of families, placing children across Afghanistan at significant risk.
The 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) for Afghanistan indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation further as loss of livelihoods, coupled with school closures to contain the spread of the virus, likely precipitated increases in child labour.
The economic downturn has seen poverty skyrocket in Afghanistan and, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), almost half the population is now in need of humanitarian support – 18.4 million people – , with 90 per cent of Afghans living below the poverty line (less than USD 2 a day). This poverty, coupled with the upsurge in insecurity since intra-Afghan peace talks began in September 2020, has seen unprecedented numbers of undocumented Afghan migrants crossing the border from Iran.
Between January-May 2021 alone, more than 490,000 Afghans returned – an increase of 65 per cent on the same period in 2020, of which more than half are deportees.
Undocumented returnees often return worse off than before they left, having sold property and assets or borrowed money in order to pay for their passage. 19 per cent of returnees surveyed in a Whole of Afghanistan Assessment (2020) were found to have taken on catastrophic levels of debt predominantly to cover food and healthcare needs.
The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Protection Monitoring data shows that undocumented returnees increasingly turned to child labour to support their households during the course of the last year (from 19% reported in May-July 2020 to 35% in January 2021). This presents a key protection risk for children – exposing them to physical, sexual and economic exploitation including trafficking, and putting their physical, psychological and emotional development at stake. It constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights and compromises their ability to reach their full potential.
Like many fathers across the country, Noorullah* (40) took the tough decision to go abroad for work when he couldn’t make ends meet. For two years, he worked in Iran as a casual labourer in agriculture, picking fruit and sending remittances home to support his family of seven.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Noorullah was deported for not having any legal documentation at a time when lockdowns and movement restrictions meant finding work in Afghanistan was harder than ever. For 11 months, the family survived on casual labour and the charity of neighbours, living in a damaged house without windows or a door, with no electricity or heating source. The one small solar light they had was stolen by robbers.
The casual farm work he had managed to pick up dried up when winter started, and the family slipped more and more into debt, borrowing from neighbours and using credit to get food from the shop.
To cope with this dire situation, Noorullah resorted to taking his children out of school. His teenage son was sent to work as a live-in servant for another household, and his two younger sons started to beg on the streets, collecting plastic and wood to meet the household’s heating and cooking needs.
The boys had previously been enrolled in the local government school but were forced to stop, joining some 3.7 million (48% of boys and 59% of girls) of all school-age children across Afghanistan who are estimated to be out of school – returnee and internally displaced children even worse off with 55 per cent of boys and 67 per cent of girls out of school (Afghanistan HNO, 2021).
To address protection risks faced by undocumented returnees, IOM’s Protection Programme works in provinces of high returns and opened a new office in Noorullah’s home province of Badakhshan in January 2021. Having received IOM assistance at the border, Noorullah approached the office for support and the Protection Programme caseworker visited him at his home to discuss his situation in depth and draw an action plan that would allow the family to re-enrol the children in school.
To mitigate the protection risks faced by Noorullah and his family, including child labour, the caseworker provided cash assistance enabling them to buy some essentials for their home – a buhari [a traditional wood-fired heater] and fuel for heating, a solar lamp for lighting the home – and enough to pay back their debts. Together with his wife, Noorullah bought enough flour so they could start a small bakery in their home.
“We started our bakery and, with the support from IOM, we can rent a house in the future and possibly extend our business, so we have income and are able to save for any future needs,” said Bahar*, Noorullah’s wife.
By reducing the economic vulnerability of the household, the protection risks associated with child labour and diversion from education were averted.
The support provided by IOM enabled Noorullah and Bahar to send their children back to school, helping to secure their futures. The two youngest boys stopped begging, and Noorullah brought his eldest son back to live with the family.
The parents are relieved that they can support their children’s education and provide them with a good life thanks to the income of their cottage bakery: “I was exhausted; really sick and tired of doing daily wage jobs. Now I’m self-employed, running a bakery and starting a grocery business which was a dream that has turned into a reality, thanks to IOM’s Protection Programme.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous in a multitude of ways, and in a country where educational needs are exceptionally high, the eradication of child labour remains a key priority for Afghans of all ages. By providing comprehensive assistance to undocumented returnees’ households, IOM aims to build their resilience and reduce the likelihood of child labour amongst some of the most vulnerable communities.
* Not their real names.
IOM Afghanistan is supporting undocumented returnees to access vital protection services thanks to EU Humanitarian Aid.
Preparations for Cyclone season continue in the wake of Yaas’ destruction
Cox’s Bazar, home to 900,000 Rohingya refugees, narrowly avoided Cyclone Yaas last week – the Bay of Bengal’s second major storm of the cyclone season that went on to do over USD 2 billion damage elsewhere in Bangladesh and India.
As it has in the past, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is helping communities in Bangladesh prepare for and respond to the cyclones that are a feature of the monsoon by strengthening infrastructure, preparing for possible medical emergencies and providing cyclone preparedness training to dozens of new volunteers.
“When the rains hit, an emergency situation will be inevitable,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh.
“It is crucial we work together now to mitigate the risks before the disaster occurs. We need to be able to respond swiftly and effectively during such crises.”
Cox’s Bazar is one of the most disaster-prone districts in the country, subject to cyclones, monsoons, strong winds, floods, landslides and other natural hazards. These disasters can cause mass casualties, disrupt humanitarian access, and severely damage shelters and other critical facilities.
Special attention has been given to refugees currently hosted in the three camps gutted by a devastating fire in March. Close to 50,000 refugees displaced by the fire live in tarpaulin shelters on unstable slopes, which will quickly turn to mud when the rains arrive.
More than 4.4 million people were displaced by storms and floods in Bangladesh in 2020, many of whom were pre-emptively evacuated and are unable to return home. These are the highest displacement figures recorded for Bangladesh since data became available in 2008.
This year, IOM is assessing the risk of landslides, strengthening drainage networks, installing slope protection measures and upgrading key pathways.
Landslides and mud could cause road closures and blockages of major drains and waterways so IOM teams and machines are on standby to help humanitarian and government agencies clear the debris to keep vital access routes open.
They are also engaged in tie-down activities, preparing the stock of emergency shelter kits and supporting actors with site planning and shelter improvements. Protection staff stand ready to assist extremely vulnerable individuals, including women and children, who need tailored assistance or relocation support.
Such catastrophes can result in acute medical emergencies requiring immediate first aid and resuscitation, trauma management, referrals and psychosocial support. Four primary health-care centres and six health posts have been supplied with mass casualty incident kits.
IOM and its implementing partners have also trained and equipped 10 mobile medical teams and 350 community health workers to act as first responders, while 11 ambulances are ready to respond.
In close collaboration with local authorities, IOM supports early warning systems for host communities. A total of 1,655 volunteers have been trained to respond to cyclones and 20 multi-purpose shelters have been made accessible for emergency evacuation.
Thousands of refugees and host community members have received search and rescue and first aid training, with support from the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence Department.
IOM and its partners have trained an additional 100 volunteers in each camp on cyclone preparedness and the flag warning system. The volunteers are now disseminating awareness-raising messages to community members and responding to community requests.
“It is vital to inform and support our fellow community members, so they are ready to respond and protect themselves and others when the weather conditions worsen,” said Abdul, one of the volunteers.
Additionally, masks and hand sanitizer are readily available, and personal protective gear – including search and rescue kits, first aid kits and life vests – has been provided to all volunteers in fire-affected camps.
Launch in Nigeria of the new STRIVE action
STRIVE Juvenile: Preventing and Responding to Violence against Children by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups
The Government of Nigeria and its Office of the National Security Advisor (ONSA), together with the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), launched the STRIVE Juvenile project in Nigeria aimed to prevent and respond to violence against children by terrorist and violent extremist groups.
Through this new STRIVE action funded by the EU, UNODC and the Government of Nigeria will take action to develop coherent strategies that better serve and protect children by enhancing safe and resilient communities, in which human rights and the rule of law guide the approach to combating violent extremism.
Opening the meeting, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno represented by Rear Admiral YEM Musa, Head of Counter Terrorism Centre, ONSA stated that “the launch of the STRIVE Juvenile project provides an opportunity to demonstrate the firm commitment of the Nigerian Government to counter terrorism and highlights our efforts when it comes to preventing and countering violent extremism affecting children”.
In the past years, Nigeria has been gravely affected by child recruitment by terrorist and violent extremist groups. Under the framework of its ‘National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism’, the Government of Nigeria provides a clear policy environment to develop interventions that promote stabilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration, in particular, in the most affected communities.
Child recruitment and exploitation is also a global threat, and especially so in recent years, as a terrorist and violent extremist groups’ capacities to target children have reached far beyond countries affected by armed conflict. This phenomenon presents considerable regional, national, and even local variations. In line with the four pillars of the new EU’s Countering Terrorism Agenda: Anticipate, Prevent, Protect, and Respond, STRIVE Juvenile in Nigeria will aim at disrupting terrorist groups’ recruitment of children and promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of children who have been associated with these groups, in collaboration with local communities.
Highlighting the European Union’s commitment to fighting violence against children in all its forms, to protect children in vulnerable situations, and to promote child-friendly justice, Ms. Cécile Tassin-Pelzer, Head of Cooperation, Delegation of the European Union to the Federal Republic of Nigeria & ECOWAS, declared: “By seeking to address this issue and to rehabilitate and reintegrate these children, who have already suffered so much, back into society, Nigeria can set an important example to a region that continues to be gravely affected by this complex phenomenon.” In turn, Ms. Alexandra Martins, Head of UNODC’s Global Programme to End Violence Against Children, stressed that “supporting effective prevention of child recruitment, investing in rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, and promoting justice responses adapted to children, and also to the context of counter-terrorism, present a unique set of challenges for national governments but also a great opportunity to strengthen conditions conducive to development and resilience towards violent extremism.”
As part of its general mission to contribute to the achievement of security and justice for all by making the world safer from crime, drugs, and terrorism, UNODC also has the specific mandate to support Member States in ensuring that children are better served and protected by justice systems and has been addressing specific efforts to increase the protection of children from terrorism and violent extremism, such as through the UNODC Roadmap on the treatment of these children. Drawing on its experience and under its Global Programme to End Violence Against Children, UNODC, as executing agency, has designed and will implement the STRIVE Juvenile’s intervention in cooperation with Nigeria and two other selected partner countries, Indonesia, and Iraq.
Today’s launch of the STRIVE Juvenile Partnership between the European Union, UNODC and the Government of Nigeria will help in taking the fight against terrorism further by preventing and countering violent extremism affecting children, in full respect of human rights, gender equality and international law.
The Launch is co-sponsored by the European Union, the Government of Nigeria and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
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