Working on protecting human rights of migrants
Mohammed Abdiker is the Regional Director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – the UN Migration Agency for East and the Horn of Africa. Here he reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on the many contributions of the United Nations agency, on helping the flow of migrants headed to Ethiopia from Gulf nations these days and on how COVID-19 has affected some of its activities. Excerpt:
The Reporter: Currently, thousands of Ethiopian migrants, most deportees are returning to the nation having been deported from the Gulf nations. IOM is a noted partner in helping them find their footing. Share with me the highlights of some of the work of its work on that front, including the support provided to them?
Mohammed Abdiker: We are providing medical care, food, shelter – IOM Ethiopia is working closely with the Government to ensure returning migrants receive medical care, food, shelter and other assistance. This is from when they arrive in the country, during quarantine and after quarantine. It includes helping them return to their towns and villages.
Psychosocial support – IOM has also deployed medical personnel to over 50 quarantine facilities across the country, and Mental Health and Psychosocial Service specialists to support the protection needs of migrants who have recently returned.
Reintegration and livelihood support- Based on their needs and interests, migrant returnees are provided with reintegration support for education or alternative livelihood options by IOM. IOM also often provides entrepreneurship and business skills training.
Family Tracing and reunification – This is particularly in relation minors. A number of unaccompanied migrant children have arrived in Ethiopia from the Gulf. They are counselled and family tracing is carried out by IOM in collaboration with the Ministry of Women Children and Youth Affairs and UNICEF. Minor returnees are escorted by social workers to their home towns and reunited with their families. IOM is seeing increasing numbers of unaccompanied migrant children taking the irregular migratory path from the East and the Horn of Africa in an attempt to get to the Gulf. IOM is working on increasing awareness of the dangers of this to the youth and has introduced plasma TV messages to raise awareness among schools of the dangers associated with irregular migration, among other activities.
Awareness Raising – IOM is using mass sensitization to inform returning migrants and potential migrants on the dangers associated with irregular migration as well as COVID-19 prevention. This awareness raising is often carried out using community leaders who have a network that reaches the grassroots in the various communities.
As IOM often notes, there are still unheard of people crossing to Arab nations via the dangerous trek of the Red Sea, onto Yemen. How widespread is the problem?
Yemen is part of the route through which migrants from the Horn of Africa – primarily Ethiopia and Somalia – head to the Gulf nations. There are several categories of people, including irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
In 2019, over 138,000 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa. However, in the first half of this year, there has been a major decrease in arrivals due to COVID-19 movement restrictions. Tighter border controls in arrival and departure points from the Horn of Africa has meant that migrant arrivals into Yemen are drastically low. Migrant arrivals were down by 94 per cent in May 2020 when compared to arrival trends during the same period in 2019.
But IOM is still concerned and there are inherent dangers for migrants. Migrants and similar vulnerable groups find themselves trapped at frontlines of Yemen’s conflict. They can be exposed to many forms of abuse, including injuries from sitting in cramped conditions and overcrowded boats. Physical abuse and torture, sexual exploitation, as well as death by drowning or starving due to boats taking on water, being adrift for days or capsizing. Forced disembarkation before reaching the shore, abductions for ransom, arrest and detention in inhumane conditions, forced labour and trafficking.
One of the issues highlighted by IOM is the forced return of migrants as a panic over COVID-19. Tell me about that?
Over 1,800 migrants have been returned to Ethiopia from the Gulf, Middle East, Asia and the region since the COVID-19 outbreak. This is despite the UN Network on Migration appeal to suspend all forms of deportation amid COVID-19, backed up by similar calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) advising against large scale migrant return movements across national borders at this time to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
There are restrictions on movement globally to avoid the spread of COVID-19. IOM appeals to all countries to suspend forced returns during these critical times. In line with WHO guidelines, IOM believes the return of thousands of migrants, without pre-medical screening, in large numbers, often in crammed and unsanitary conditions, only lends itself to potentially spreading COVID-19 among some of the most vulnerable people, and should stop.
IOM is working with the Government of Ethiopia in its COVID-19 to respond to the situation. The mass return of migrants’ places in this nature places an unnecessary burden on an already under-developed and under-resourced public health system, and should be halted.
The work of IOM is without a doubt needed in the world. This is in a world where donor fatigue is still an issue. How well is the effort supported to meet some of the obvious challenges?
IOM works closely with governments, other UN agencies, partners in the international community, and migrants themselves to address the many and complex needs and issues facing migrant groups. IOM's main financial resources come directly from governments, but in addition we also work with UN agencies, the private sector, foundations and others. There are an estimated 272 million migrants globally, in East and the Horn of Africa IOM recorded over 8 million IDPs and over 3.5 million refugees and asylum seekers, in countries like Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. Some of the challenges we see at IOM are fresh displacements in some countries, caused by conflict and climatic changes.
But also challenges where migrants face exploitation at the hands of traffickers and smugglers, sexual exploitation, and lack of access or barriers to labour migration. Two-thirds of the world’s migrants are labour migrants – looking for work and opportunities abroad. It is also important to note the existence of the Southern migratory route in the region, growing. The Southern Route runs through Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique and alternatively through Zambia and Malawi is used by many migrants trekking southward in the hope of reaching South Africa. Migrants face considerable challenges along this route too, including exploitation, robbery, fines and arbitrary arrests and detention.
The majority are from Ethiopia and Somalia and use this route as a gateway to North America. Human traffickers and people smugglers also operate interconnected networks in countries along this route. IOM has been working with countries in the East and Horn of Africa and Southern Africa on ways to manage these flows while ensuring that the human rights of migrants are respected and protected.
In light of COVID-19 we have seen migrants impact economically, a dramatic fall in the remittances they contribute to economies of countries in the region, and migrants being stranded. IOM is working with governments across East and the Horn of Africa to respond to the needs of migrants, particularly in light of COVID-19. In April we launched an appeal for around USD 71 million. We have received some funding, but over 60 percent of the needs remain unmet.