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Investigation

Migrant Return and Reintegration: Complex, Challenging, Crucial

Photo: Alexander Bee/ IOM

Cameroon — Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many Cameroonian migrants, like countless others from West and Central Africa, have been stranded, en route to their destinations due to lack of resources or because countries closed borders to stop the spread of the virus.

Despite these restrictions, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) continues to provide voluntary return assistance to stranded migrants along migration routes.

Between January and June 2021, 233 Cameroonians benefited from IOM’s assisted voluntary return and reintegration programme, including 194 men, 19 women and 20 children (13 boys and 7 girls). These returnees, who were already receiving holistic assistance from IOM’s protection teams in transit centres in Niger, were able to return home, where most of them have started their reintegration process.

“My brother and I waited five months in Niger. The situation was not always easy but what helped us hold out under this circumstance was the fact that despite how long it would take, we would soon be back home,” said Youssouf, a returnee from Algeria.

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Photo : Alexander Bee/ IOM

Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, IOM works closely with the Cameroonian authorities and non-governmental organizations, through a transparent and inclusive approach at all stages of the process.

Eric Atangana, reintegration counsellor at the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Civic Education, said the reintegration process starts with screening migrants, including checking their identity A reintegration plan is then developed in counselling sessions between the migrant and a counsellor.

“Subsequently, a project summary sheet is drafted and validated during a sectoral committee made up of several actors, including a government representative, a civil society representative and IOM staff,’’ Atangana said.

“After the committee has validated the project, the business plan is developed and adjusted accordingly. This ensures that the case is completed and finalized, then forwarded to the reintegration unit for the funding process.”. In practice, this process is far from a smooth ride.

Photo : Alexander Bee/ IOM

It is complex, multidimensional, and requires the continued collaboration of all stakeholders. For example, some of the migrants have trouble establishing their national identity cards, which are crucial to receive economic support. Then there are lags for some reintegration projects because of lack of constancy and/or dedication of some returnees applying for socioeconomic reintegration.

Arnaud, 31, who returned from Algeria in January this year, initially faced a tough time but has settled in, although challenges remain. “Since I started keeping and selling broiler chickens, I am focused on this activity. Before my reintegration, I worked on construction sites and that was exhausting and poorly paid. Now I focus on my chickens,’’ Arnaud said.

‘‘Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the business is quite precarious; suppliers are having trouble delivering the products, so I face delays in meeting my commitments and this compromises my production schedule. However, this activity enables me to fully address my needs and, gradually, I am rebuilding my life.”

On top of these hurdles in the reintegration process, more migrants are applying for voluntary return assistance. “Since January 2021, the number of assisted voluntary returns has been increasing. The main challenges in organizing these returns are related to the COVID-19 pandemic response that has entailed decreeing restrictive measures,’’ explained Lonje Bernard, Reintegration Assistant at IOM in Cameroon.

“Returnees must submit negative tests upon arrival dating back three days. They still have to retest at the airport and wait for the results on the spot. This makes everyone feel stressed and nervous. There has been a considerable increase in operations between January and June 2021,” Bernard said.

From June 2017 to date, with funding from the European Union Emergency Trust Fund under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, this programme has enabled more than 5,450 Cameroonian migrants to return and reintegrate.

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Investigation

Alarm as Nigeria receives 60 new deportees from countries ravaged by COVID-19

  • Returnees melt into society without observing protocols

  • We’re not aware of deportation – Foreign Affairs Ministry, NIDCOM

  • 42 people already deported – FAAN

  • Development portends grave danger – NARD

On May 23, the Federal Government declared 90 returnees from Brazil, India, and Turkey wanted for violating the provisions of the COVID-19 Health Regulations Protection, 2021. The Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said the affected persons travelled into Nigeria from restricted countries and evaded the mandatory seven-day quarantine for persons arriving from such countries. Surprisingly, the same federal government accepted 60 deportees from Germany and other European countries without plans for them to be quarantined or subjected to fresh COVID-19 tests in the country as stipulated in the guidelines. INNOCENT DURU reports that health experts say the development portends grave danger for the country and the efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic.

 

A number of Nigerian migrants who went in search of greener pastures  to Germany, Austria and Poland were deported penultimate Wednesday amidst the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic. They arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos at exactly 13:30 pm via Air Tanker Airline, which flew back after refueling.

The returnees were subsequently moved out in three batches in a white Coaster bus that dropped them outside the airport. Three women and four children were sighted by our correspondent among the deportees.

Many people at the airport distanced themselves from the deportees with some warning their colleagues to stay away from them because they were coming from regions hard-hit by the deadly virus.

“You better stay away from them if you don’t want to put yourself in danger. How can you stay so close to people who just came back from Germany where the coronavirus infection rate is very high?” one of the workers at the cargo section said as he hurriedly walked away from where the deportees stood despondently.

Contrary to directives by Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 that returnees must “show evidence of payment/appointment for a repeat PCR test in the country and proceed on seven-day self-isolation as per protocol and present (themselves)  at the designated sample collection sites on the 7th day of arrival,” the deportees were merely cleared based on the test results they brought and  presented to the authorities when they arrived at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.

Some of the deportees who had the means started taking taxis to their various destinations within Lagos. Some who had no relations in Lagos State boarded taxis that took them to where they could get vehicles going to places like Edo, Delta and other states.

“I didn’t pay money in Germany for a repeat Covid test in Nigeria before I was deported. When we landed, I gave them the result of the COVID-19 test I did before coming back.

“They only checked our temperature after profiling us. They didn’t ask us to go and do a repeat COVID-19 test anywhere here in Nigeria. After the profiling, they brought a bus that dropped us here,” one of the deportees said.

His claims were also corroborated by other deportees who spoke with The Nation, saying: “We weren’t asked to do a repeat COVID-19 test here. I was even surprised because I was expecting that they would ask us to go for a fresh test on arrival. In Germany, testing centres are everywhere. You can see them in vans in open places. You can walk into any of them anytime to do your test. I am shocked to see that there is nothing like that here.”

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More than seven days after they returned, the deportees neither went on self isolation nor presented themselves for fresh tests. The authorities did not make any preparation for all that, and this has continued to raise questions about the genuineness of the campaign for people to wear face masks and observe social distancing, among other precautions, while the government and its officials continue to bring in deported migrants from high risk countries without considering the implications for the populace.

Three of the returnees evacuated from Dubai last year tested positive for COVID-19 infection following the tests conducted on them upon arrival in Lagos. They had earlier tested negative in Dubai but the test conducted on them on arrival in Nigeria by the Lagos State Government proved otherwise.

According to the World Health Organisation, the incubation period of coronavirus infection is an average of five to six days and can also take up to 14 days. This is the period between exposure to the virus and patients showing symptoms. In other words, the three patients could have been infected but asymptomatic when they returned, and thus initially tested negative.

Checks conducted by our correspondent revealed that it was  not the first time Nigeria would allow deportees to melt into the society without subjecting them to fresh tests. Last year, December 20 to be precise, The Nation had reported how deportees from Austria and Germany were quietly let into the country without subjecting them to fresh tests or considering the implications of such for the country and its inhabitants.

Surprisingly, government officials are in the habit of denying such deportations or feigning ignorance of them.

FAAN, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NIDCOM disagree on deportation

Three federal government agencies were in disagreement over the veracity of the deportation exercise penultimate Wednesday.

The Federal Airways Authority of Nigeria told The Nation that the deportation took place, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) said they were not aware of the exercise.

Spokesperson of FAAN, Henrirtta Yakubu, in a reply to a test message sent by our reporter, listed the countries the deportees came from thus: “Germany (24), Australia (16), Hungary (2). They   arrived on 26-5-21 At about 1330hours on airplane with no GYM registration.

Spokesman of NIDCOM, Rahman Balogun, in a text message, said: “I am not even aware of such deportation. You may wish to get it from the respective embassies or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

When contacted, the spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Ferdinand Nwoye, simply said: “I am not aware of the deportation.”

When our correspondent reached out to the National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Monday James, he said: “ I am no longer the PRO. I have been promoted.”

Spokesperson of the service in Lagos, Edet, also said he had been promoted and not in a position to respond to the enquiry. He promised to provide the contact of his successor but was yet to do so at the time of filing this report.

No response was also received from the image maker of Nigeria Port Health, Morenikeji Okoh. A call made to her mobile phone went unanswered. She later sent a text message asking our correspondent to send his request by text message. She didn’t respond to the request either.

When our correspondent called her for a similar request last year, Okoh had said: “You need to know that I cannot give you any information from the ministry because I am not authorised to speak to the media. So, I cannot answer any of those questions.

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It portends grave danger for our health system – NARD

A medical expert and First Vice Chairman of the National Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Arome Adejo, says the practice of allowing people from abroad to mingle with the larger society without carrying out necessary tests on them portends grave danger for the country and its people.

In a telephone chat with our correspondent, he said it is not enough for them to present test results they had done over there on arrival, adding: “If people are leaving here for Germany and on arriving there, they are meant to do the test again. They should also do the same thing here because of the incubation period.

“You might have been exposed after you did the initial test at the airport. They have to repeat the test. If they are allowing them to enter the country without doing the test, it means we don’t know what we are doing.

“If they have been allowed to mingle with the larger society, it is the fault of the people whose responsibility it is to make the deportees do the test.”

Such practice, Arome said, is the reason why they as resident doctors are lamenting  that  people are not held responsible in this country.

He said: “Ours is a country where things are not taken seriously until they escalate. We are not setting our priorities right. They need to repeat the test here on arrival.

“Obviously, it is right for them to come back here and do another test if they have not been vaccinated. If they don’t do the test, it is wrong.

“We have some countries that are seeing their third wave now. We don’t need to introduce the third wave into this country. It is absolutely wrong.”

He also expressed disappointment at claims by government agencies that they were not aware of the deportation, saying: “It is a shame if government agencies say they are not aware of the deportation. Was it not a plane that brought them?

 

“Even if those people are not deportees, everybody coming into the country has certain protocols they must observe.

“We have travelled abroad. There was a time I was kept at the airport abroad for six hours. They should not be saying that they are not aware. If they say so, it is an embarrassment.

“This is why we are saying that people should be held responsible.”

A public affairs analyst and former president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Mazi Okechukwu Unegbu, blamed the development on inconsistencies in government policies.

He said: “Our government is like a government of triple or quadruple standard. What you hear today is not what you will hear tomorrow. There is no consistent policy from them.

“Allowing deportees from Germany to come in without subjecting them to tests is very unfortunate, and that is part of the double standards I am talking about.”

He feared that the action of the authorities was tantamount to joking with the lives of the entire citizens.

“They are endangering most of us, particularly those of us that have not had the opportunity of taking the jab.

“Our government needs to be consistent with what they are doing, otherwise, the implication is that they will be endangering the lives of many Nigerians.

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“Economically, it is also very dangerous for the country. The government should realise that any policy they take has an implication on the larger economy.”

Asked if the cost of the tests could have made the authorities take such a decision since the deportees might not have the wherewithal, Unegbu said: “If the government didn’t subject them to tests because of the cost of doing so, it would be dangerous. The government has the responsibility to protect the citizens.

“If possible, the government can bear the cost and make claims on them later. Since they have their passports  they can trace them later.

“But I must tell you that it is  dangerous for them to have allowed them to enter the larger society without the normal process of testing and quarantining them.

“Testing is very important because without it, some of them may not show the actual result.

“The government needs to protect the citizens through their policies. Unfortunately, some of the civil servants are just too careless. If you come out of the airport and see how they behave, you will wonder how Nigeria is not having a pandemic escalated beyond what we have.

“Honestly, Nigeria is blessed through nature and not through the actions of our workers.”

German authorities snatched our children from us – Deportees

Some of the deportees alleged that the German authorities took their children from them before they were deported.

One of them, a fair complexioned woman, had lost her voice crying over the loss of her only child to the German authorities. She was said to have cried from when they left the airport in Germany till she arrived in Lagos.

She said: “They took my 18-year-old daughter from me. I don’t know how I will see her again.

“They brainwashed her seriously and immediately they took her from me. I was put in prison before they deported me.

“I have not eaten for the past five days because I didn’t want them to poison my food. They handcuffed me and tied me to my seat with a belt.

“My concern is about my daughter.”

Another deportee said: “They took my children from me and kept me in prison for 18 months before deporting me.

“I would advise you not to travel to a white man’s country because they are very wicked.”

Nigeria’s coronavirus cases compared in Germany, Austria, and Hungary

Checks on countries where the migrants were deported from showed that they have extremely higher cases than Nigeria.

Germany, at the time of compiling this report, ranked 10th on the global COVID-19 chart with over 3,692,908 cases and 89,316 deaths. Hungary placed 32nd with 804,987 cases and 29,774 deaths. Austria placed 38 with 645,552 and 10, 621 deaths. Nigeria ranks distant 81 with 166,534 and 2,099 deaths.

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Investigation

IOM launches urgent $140 million appeal to support communities and refugees in Cox’s Bazar

Cox’s Bazar – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has launched an Appeal for USD 140 million to support over 1.3 million host community members and Rohingya refugees residing in Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh.

For the nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, 2021 marks the fourth year since their mass displacement from Myanmar, preceded by decades of influxes spurned by systematic discrimination and targeted violence.

While the Government of Bangladesh and the international community have maintained the provision of immediate life-saving assistance, the needs are immense and complex challenges continue to emerge and reshape the nature of the response.

“Under the leadership of the Government of Bangladesh, we will continue to work closely with our partners and uphold our commitment to safeguard the well-being and dignity of both Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and their host communities,” said António Vitorino, IOM Director General.

“At the same time, the international community must continue to advocate for sustainable solutions in Myanmar that would eventually facilitate what all Rohingya refugees have consistently voiced as their main concern — to return home.”

READ  Families of missing migrants in Ethiopia: Stories of absence in many forms

The humanitarian community swiftly shifted priorities in 2020 to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on the Rohingya residing in the 34 congested refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district. COVID-19 interventions were scaled up, and other humanitarian services adjusted, according to guidelines on access and presence to reduce the spread of infection.

A recent UN survey revealed a decrease in shelter maintenance and livelihoods, and deterioration in the protection environment. These challenges, and others such as monsoon and cyclone preparedness and response, will remain at the forefront of the response in 2021.

IOM will continue to provide life-saving emergency shelter and core relief items to support households affected by the recent devastating fire, monsoon and other disasters and shocks. The team will strengthen safe and dignified living conditions through rationalized and participatory site planning and through environmentally conscious construction and site maintenance initiatives.

The activities outlined in the appeal promote equitable access to mental health and psychosocial support services for all crisis-affected individuals. IOM also aims to encourage the use of essential healthcare packages among refugees and host communities by countering misinformation and supporting community engagement.

READ  UNESCO, UNHCR plead for young refugees' education

The impact of the crisis on the affected areas in Cox’s Bazar District likewise requires concerted efforts to support host communities affected by price increases and strained livelihoods.

IOM will enhance the livelihoods and resilience of women, girls, men and boys who are part of vulnerable host communities, and support social protection interventions in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh. The organization will also continue to address the urgent cooking fuel needs of refugees through the provision of alternative clean fuel and technology.

“Together with the Government and our local partners, we will contribute to the peaceful coexistence of Rohingya refugees and host communities,” said Giorgi Gigauri, IOM Chief of Mission in Bangladesh. “Ensuring a community-based approach to the response, the teams will continue to improve the participation of affected people through community feedback and collective data analysis.”

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.

READ  Full Support for Democracy, Peace, Rule of Law in Myanmar: IOM Statement

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Investigation

Despite positive efforts, too many migrants face challenges accessing COVID-19 vaccines

Geneva – Government policies, operational realities and administrative requirements like identification cards and residency permits may be impeding access to national vaccination efforts for some migrants in 53 of the more than 160 countries where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has collected information on access so far. Irregular and undocumented migrants and those forcibly displaced are at particular risk.

“We have been impressed with efforts made in dozens of countries to make vaccination roll-outs as equitable as possible, but barriers to health services have been systemic since before the pandemic and remain a reality for too many migrants in too many places,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino.

“What we are seeing in some cases is a disconnect between what is being committed to on paper and what is actually happening in practice.”

Some 47 countries have already taken concrete steps to ensure that migrants, including those in irregular situations, can access the vaccine. Many nations are still awaiting doses to begin their vaccination roll-outs. Even when they start, IOM has identified more than 53 countries, territories or areas where current policies and operational realities will make vaccine access unattainable for the most vulnerable.

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Administrative, communication and logistical hurdles 

IOM notes with particular concern close to 40 countries where administrative processes – such as requirements to present a national ID or valid residence permit, or to pre-register with national insurance schemes – may present an obstacle for some categories of migrants and forcibly displaced persons.

Other types of barriers have been identified in several locations, including prioritization of citizens and exclusion of non-nationals from vaccination campaigns; the lack of a “firewall” between health providers and immigration authorities which leads many migrants in irregular situations to fear arrest or deportation should they seek immunization; general vaccine hesitancy due to insufficient targeted outreach through linguistically and culturally appropriate channels; continued mobility as a challenge for vaccines requiring two doses, and the need to have a smartphone, a computer or an internet connection to enroll.

Good practices identified 

The Organization’s ongoing review of migrant access in practice – which differs from desk reviews of the national deployment and vaccination plans being undertaken by other stakeholders – has also brought to light the many encouraging initiatives taken by governments who recognize that vaccine equity is critical to overcome the health, economic and mobility crises posed by this pandemic.

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Among the good practices noted are:

  • Accepting any form of identification document, no matter its expiration date, with no questions asked about the person’s immigration status.
  • Pro-actively reaching out to migrant communities, in tailored languages and through relevant communication channels to build trust and create vaccine demand.
  • Deploying mobile vaccination teams to reach remote areas where primary health services remain scarce.
  • Guaranteeing that there will be no reporting to immigration authorities following immunization.
  • Granting residency rights or visa extensions for migrants in irregular situations, to ensure they can access social benefits, including health care.

Working hand-in-hand with national health authorities, the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other key partners, IOM has been advocating for such measures to bridge the gaps, and has been providing governments with technical, policy and operational support, upon request.

“There is still time to course-correct for vaccine equity wherever there is the political will to do so,” said Director General Vitorino. “It is often in the day-to-day processes and administrative requirements in health centres that the fight for true inclusion is won or lost, so I call on all governments to clear the path towards COVID-19 immunization for all.”

READ  129 deportees arrive in Haiti amid coronavirus concerns

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