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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.

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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.

 

Children are often present on the streets of Afghanistan working as shoe shiners. April 2021. Photo: IOM/V. Goodban

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.

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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.

Undocumented returnee Noorullah has been able to send his children back to school following support from IOM’s Protection Programme. Badakhshan, April 2021. Photo: IOM/S. Karim​​​​​​​

By reducing the economic vulnerability of the household, the protection risks associated with child labour and diversion from education were averted.

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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.

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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. 

 

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  • IOM staff welcome a group of newly arrived migrants at the Las Canteras facility on Tenerife, Spain. Photo: IOM

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Opinions

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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