Over the last three years, more than 8,300 unaccompanied migrant children have returned to Ethiopia mainly from Gulf countries.
So far this 2020, hundreds of child migrants who have returned to Ethiopia due to COVID-19 are being reunited with their families with the help of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The issue of unaccompanied migrant children in Ethiopia has been a challenge for the authorities, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a spotlight on just how serious a problem it is.
IOM has learned many minors require medical and psychosocial support having endured difficult journeys to reach home.
Due to shock and trauma, some are unable to remember their family members and contacts. In such cases, the designated social workers refer the minors to mental health specialists at the quarantine facilities and escort them to their hometowns once they are fit to travel.
Tirusew Getachew, a social worker seconded by UNICEF at the Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth says “we have been personally escorting these young children to their regional towns to look for their families physically, while liaising with local government officials on possible names, addresses, and telephone numbers of potential family members.”
Since the start of the global pandemic, nearly 500 minors, including children between the ages of 15 and 17, have arrived in the country from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Djibouti among other nations. Many left Ethiopia by themselves, and some lost contact with their families while undertaking dangerous and risky journeys mainly to Gulf countries seeking work.
After arriving home, many of the children have spent time in quarantine facilities in the capital, Addis Ababa. With the help of IOM and government-designated social workers, working with government authorities, their families have been traced by collecting biodata from the unaccompanied minors upon arrival to quarantine facilities, then using contact information and addresses to try and find their families.
For those who do find their families, IOM covers their travel costs to reunite them. IOM may also provide small cash grants to the parents or guardians looking after the children, thanks to funding from the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).
Head of Migration Management at IOM Ethiopia, Malambo Moonga, says “PRM’s assistance comes at a vital time when the impact of COVID-19 on returning migrants, migrant children, and the country at large, are indeterminable. The need to mobilise resources and support the Government of Ethiopia’s response to helping the migrant children is immediate.”
Family tracing and reunification is part and parcel of IOM Ethiopia’s commitment to deliver the Regional Migrant Response Plan (2018-2020), a framework which aims to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of an estimated 235,000 vulnerable migrants in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.
“The impact that family tracing, and reunification services being provided by IOM and its partners has, especially on migrant children, is unparalleled. At times, unaccompanied minors return with severe psychosocial distress, having experienced trauma on their migration journey”, said Alemitu Umod, Ethiopia Minister for Women, Children, and Youth.