FOCUS ON THE EU-IOM JOINT INITIATIVE: PROTECTING THE MOST VULNERABLE CAUGHT IN THE COVID-19 CRISIS ACROSS WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA
Migrants and mobile populations across West and Central Africa are heavily affected by the consequences of the measures taken by governments to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.
As the number of confirmed cases in the region dramatically increases, preventive measures such as border closures and suspension of nonessential activities already have a heavy socioeconomic impact on the populations, including returning migrants, their families and communities.
Since 2017, over 78,000 migrants have been supported with voluntary return to their countries of origin through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, and many of the 32,000 migrants who received economic support as part of their reintegration assistance have set up microbusinesses.
However, the closure of non-essential shops and markets across a region -where over 50% of the economy is informal- has directly impacted the local economy and returnees’ activities.
“Before the outbreak, I could earn up to 150,000 GNF (USD 15) per day. Lately, I’m working long hours, and don’t even reach 100,000 GNF. This is the first time in my life that I’m facing such a long period of low income,” Bano, a returning migrant and mototaxi driver in Conakry, Guinea.
Moreover, many migrants assisted with their return originate from border areas (e.g. Kayes in Mali bordering Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea; Mamou and Kinda in Guinea bordering Sierra Leone; and Nzerekore in Guinea bordering Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte D'Ivoire). Lockdowns and mobility restrictions have a heavy impact on border areas’ economy, livelihoods and access to food, aggravating an already existing food insecurity in some parts of the region.
Additionally, travel restrictions and bans have left more than 10,000 migrants stranded at borders (mainly in Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger), and almost 3,000 migrants are waiting for their voluntary return in transit centres (mainly in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso).
Most of the centres and facilities have already reached maximum capacity and following preventive measures such as physical distancing has become a challenge.
Overpopulation and lengthier stays in transit centres is leading to increased tensions and psychological stress among migrants and may expose them to a higher level of vulnerability.
Furthermore, migrants are still facing deportations and pushbacks or are abandoned in the desert (Northern Niger, Mali, Chad), adding to the number of people already in dire need of assistance and further stretching IOM’s resources and capacity.
Finally, there are indications of growing animosity among local populations, some of whom perceive foreigners or minorities as responsible for spreading the disease. Migrants and displaced communities will experience heightened levels of stigmatization, discrimination and xenophobia, as host communities may fear added strain on limited resources.