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COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts African Migrants, UN Agencies Move To Assist

Migrants participating in sensitisation activities on the risks of irregular migration in Fantehero, Obock region, Djibouti | Photo Credit : Alexander Bee/IOM

Hundreds of thousands of African migrants have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, chiefly by the closure of hundreds of air, land and sea border crossings which prevented them from moving to destination countries or returning home.  

Many, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), remain in dangerous conditions with little access to food, water and medical care.

‘’This is particularly true in Yemen, where an estimated 14,500 migrants are stranded. Many are at risk of detention and exploitation by traffickers and smugglers, in addition to stigma and xenophobia’’, the UN migration agency says. 

Consequently, IOM and partners from 27 humanitarian and development organisations and governments are appealing for $84 million to provide life-saving assistance to African migrants and host community members affected by COVID-19 in the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

The many partners include the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children, among others. 

The Regional Migrant Response Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen (2020 RMRP Appeal) launched August 5 will provide urgent aid to thousands of migrants stranded and, in some instances, trapped on the dangerous migratory corridor — known as the Eastern Route —  in countries across the Horn of Africa and Yemen. 

Eighty-seven per cent of migrants on the route comes from Ethiopia while others hail from Somalia. They travel with a shared hope of finding jobs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula. 

The RMRP provides a framework for governments and humanitarian and development organizations to coordinate protection of migrants on the Eastern Route, while also mobilizing resources to build the capacity of governments to respond to the crisis. 

The plan aims to assist over 235,000 migrants and host community members, including some 160,000 migrants still trying to return home to Ethiopia and Somalia, as well as another 105,000 migrants expected to need assistance over the year in Yemen.

IOM predicts that over the course of this year at least 75,000 migrants will try to return home to the Horn of Africa. 

IOM Regional Director for East & Horn of Africa, Mohammed Abdiker, says “the precarious situations that vulnerable migrants across the Eastern Route find themselves in are clear. The RMRP offers a real solution to the ongoing crisis.” 

Adding, he said, “it will also serve to assist those affected to return to safety and reintegrate back home, whilst supporting government capacity to respond to the situation in a humane way.”

RMRP partners are focusing their attention on alleviating the precarious conditions faced by migrants stranded in Yemen in particular. 

Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Yemen in Geneva, Mohamed Al-Foqumi, says “the flow of migrants from the Horn of Africa into Yemen is continuing, and the ability to meet the needs of migrants is very limited.  

“The extremely difficult economic situation in Yemen, the rate of unemployment – for both Yemenis and migrants – the political situation and insecurity are leading to the inhumane treatment and exploitation of migrants.”

UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa, Mohamed M. Malick Fall, explains “even before COVID-19, migrants — including women and children — faced abduction, detention, physical and mental abuse. The pandemic has now exacerbated those threats while risking their access to health care services, water and sanitation facilities. Migrants also are increasingly exposed to violence and exploitation. That’s why our collective priorities for 2020 are so key.”

Lisa Parrott, Regional Programme Director for East & Southern Africa for Save the Children added: “Children affected by migration are facing unprecedented challenges and risks due to COVID-19, both in their communities of origin and along migration routes.” 

“The RMRP will enable Save the Children to scale up route-based programming, ensuring stronger protection measures in transit centres and sustainable solutions for vulnerable children, such as access to education and strengthened family livelihoods.” 

“Migrants in Yemen are some of the most vulnerable people in the entire region. They are victims of drowning, abuse and exploitation. Many do not have enough to eat and are denied health care. Thousands have nowhere to sleep and tens of thousands are stranded in Yemen, unable to continue their journey or return home. These people need our compassion and our help”, said Lise Grande, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.  

“So many lives of Somali youth, the present and future of Somalia, have been lost in the Eastern Route. As we tackle the root causes of irregular migration, setting the ground for safe and orderly migration, we need to ensure that our people on the move receive humanitarian assistance, protection and opportunities to safely return and reintegrate. COVID-19 is a new danger which we are collectively facing”, added Ambassador Mariam Yassin Hagi Yussuf, Special Envoy for Children and Migrants’ Rights for the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia. 

“The Djiboutian Government has worked closely with the international community to provide assistance and protection to migrants stranded in the country due to COVID-19. We hope the RMRP will contribute to mobilising additional resources to humanely and efficiently manage migration in the country,” concluded Sirag Omar Abdoulkader, Secretary-General for the Ministry of Interior of the Government of Djibouti. 

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 2020 and beyond. The Platform is regularly updated as crises evolve and new situations emerge.

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