The COVID-19 outbreak has hit 52 African countries to date. Travel and movement restrictions, social distancing measures on gatherings and other government measures are impacting to different degrees the various projects under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.
The European Union (EU) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are striving to minimise disruption on the EU-IOM Joint Initiative as far as possible and ensure appropriate COVID-19 response. IOM’s staff and implementing partners who are continuing to deliver activities and assistance to migrants under this EU-funded programme have adopted preventive hygiene and social distancing measures as per World Health Organization (WHO) guidance.
The EU-IOM Joint Initiative took several immediate actions to adapt its programms to the current COVID-19 pandemic and protect vulnerable migrants in the three regions it covers (i.e. Horn of Africa, Sahel and Lake Chad, and North Africa).
For example, in Ethiopia it provided training in preparedness and basic response measures to its partner organisations (Agar Ethiopia, Good Samaritan Association, CVM, Mekedoniya and Addis Guzo) that provide shelter for migrant returnees.
In Djibouti, with the support of the EU and other partners, IOM erected hand-washing stations on the main access ways to Obock, an important transit point for migrants. The hand-washing stations were also provided at police checkpoints. Door-to-door actions have also targeted the general population and soap and bleach have been handed out. At the Obock Migrant Resource and Response Center (MRRC) – one of the busiest in the region – two tents have been put in place for COVID-19 screening.
The EU-IOM Joint Initiative also launched a 2-day COVID19 awareness mission in the Bosaso (Puntland) area in Somalia, where several migrants live.
In Sudan, the MRRC remains open, filling a critical gap by providing direct life-saving assistance, including medical assistance and psychosocial support to vulnerable migrants.
Border communities and officials are often at the frontline against COVID-19 and as such are part of the groups most vulnerable to the pandemic. However, most of them have neither the equipment to screen for the disease at border crossings, seaports and airports nor the information to raise awareness among border communities and travelers.
The EU-IOM Joint Initiative is helping health authorities in Senegal assess the health of cross-border travelers by providing equipment, training to border agents and community engagement activities along its borders with Mali, Guinea and The Gambia. Practical educational tools have also been developed for different target groups.
In Mauritania, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative is providing training and donating medical and protective equipment in partnership with WHO to strengthen the government’s management of the virus. When border crossings resume, newly trained police will be able to check passengers’ temperature and have them wash their hands.
In Niger, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative is currently assisting around 2,300 stranded migrants hosted in IOM’s six transit centres, three temporary transit sites used to quarantine recent arrivals at the border with Algeria and two transit houses in Niamey recently opened to cope with the sudden increase of stranded migrants as a result of border closures.
As these places continue to operate at their full capacity, IOM, in collaboration with local authorities and partners is taking measures to ensure migrants stay safe and healthy, including through the installation of hand-washing stations, awareness raising and regular checks for COVID-19 symptoms.
In many places, the spread of COVID-19 has been accompanied by a contagion of misinformation, creating fear and uncertainty among certain communities. IOM stepped up its risk communication and community engagement efforts to better inform migrant and host communities.
In Burkina Faso, for example, the MRRC in Ouagadougou runs awareness-raising activities on COVID-19 risks and protective gestures such as hand washing and social distancing. Psychosocial support services are also provided partnership with the Burkinabè Red Cross.
Together with the Algerian Association of Psychologists, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative provides remote group and individual mental health and psychosocial support sessions to vulnerable migrants hosted in two transit centres in Algeria’s capital Algiers due to travel restrictions imposed by the Algerian government. Medical assistance and sensitization sessions on COVID-19 are also available.
In Egypt, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, in cooperation with the with the Egyptian Red Crescent, has provided immediate assistance to 100 vulnerable migrants since the beginning of April. Close communication is maintained with community leaders as well as with the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood for referrals.
In Tunisia, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative distributes food and non-food items in three transit centers in the capital Tunis as well as in Medenine, Zarzis in south-eastern Tunisia where migrants find themselves due to COVID-19 related border closures and travel restrictions. It also provides direct support to the Tunisian Red Crescent’s shelters and maintains contact with community leaders for remote outreach sessions.
The EU-IOM Joint Initiative maintains close communication with migrants stranded in Morocco and Moroccan returnees, and has made arrangements for migrants to apply remotely for assistance in Oujda and Casablanca, through Migrants’ Orientation Points, while those residing in other cities can apply via IOM’s Rabat office.
Launched in December 2016, with support from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration is the first comprehensive programme bringing together 26 African partner countries, the EU and IOM around the shared goal of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.