The United Nations migration agency, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), says it stands ready, in partnership with other UN agencies and stakeholders, to continue to support governments and ensure protection and assistance to migrants globally in all efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The promise is coming as tens of thousands of migrants have managed to return in recent months to their countries of origin across the East and Horn of Africa. They received assistance from IOM in government-operated COVID-19 quarantine facilities.
Among these are more than 2,000 children.
IOM strongly advocates for the inclusion of all migrants, regardless of their nationality or migratory status, in all national COVID-19 response plans, including measures being introduced to mitigate the economic downturns, ensuring that they have access to information, health services, shelter, food and other social support systems.
IOM’s support for quarantine centres has been a key factor in assisting national authorities in the region in their response to the pandemic.
In Ethiopia – which has the highest number of migrants from the region – more than 28,000 have returned from Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia and Kenya since the outbreak of COVID-19. Many also have returned from as far away as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Young Ethiopian migrants are among those caught up in COVID-19 air, land and sea border closures within transit and destination countries.
Most of these migrants have gone through quarantine facilities in Addis Ababa and the different regions. IOM Ethiopia’s quarantine facility assistance is being done in coordination with UN organizations, NGOs and other humanitarian partners.
Migration Management Programme Head at IOM Ethiopia, Malambo Moonga, says “building the capacities of the quarantine facilities is critical to supporting COVID-19 response efforts and ensuring the needs of migrants are met, many of whose vulnerabilities have been heightened due to their difficult journeys.”
This has meant the supply of thousands of pieces of essential items including food, blankets, washbasins, diapers, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), such as face masks, visors and gloves for migrants.
In neighbouring Djibouti – traditionally a transit country for tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants bound for work in the Middle East – IOM currently is providing support to 167 migrants at the Ar-Aoussa quarantine site in Ali Sabieh, which lies about 10 kilometres from Djibouti’s border with Ethiopia.
That site, managed by the National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Victims, has hosted over 2,500 migrants since it opened this past April.
IOM supported the Djiboutian authorities who designed and operate the site while providing two “rub” halls (pop-up structures designed to handle large groups of migrants), four multi-purpose tents and 109 family tents to the camp.
Additionally, IOM is providing water, food, clothing and hygiene kits, as well as medical care and counselling to those who may have experienced trauma during their dangerous journeys before arriving at the quarantine sites.
Indeed, many migrants hosted in Ar-Aoussa today are returning from Yemen or Saudi Arabia. Despite the difficulties they face, many migrants in Djibouti’s quarantine centres continue to be targets of people smugglers who look to profit for their efforts to go home, or else renew their journeys to the Middle East.
IOM Chief of Mission in Djibouti, Stéphanie Daviot, explains “the quarantine site in Djibouti was set up to reinforce the capacity of the Djiboutian government to protect migrants from COVID-19 and to allow for their safe and dignified returns while preserving the population in Ethiopia.”
In Kenya, IOM is supporting the Ministry of Health through the management of ten government quarantine centres since March, with surveillance of COVID-19 and data collection. One site has been dedicated to serving other UN colleagues and their families who are required to quarantine as per the government’s directive.
All told, IOM is serving over 1,500 individuals. IOM is also providing psychosocial support through tele-counselling to those in quarantine.
Infection prevention and control training has also been provided to 66 clinical staff, including officers and nurses, as well as to more than 270 hotel staff providing various services at the quarantine sites.
Topics of training included proper use of personal protective equipment, hand washing as recommended by WHO, physical distancing, disinfecting of surfaces and rooms among others.