Bossaso – Seventeen unaccompanied migrant children and five women who were stranded in Somalia for months due to COVID-19 movement restrictions, have returned home to Ethiopia.
The 22 migrants left Bossaso in late October with support from the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa, which is funded by the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. All the children were due to be reunited with their families while the women were to be assisted with onward travel to their communities of origin. The most vulnerable in the group will receive further reintegration assistance, including the offer of support for the children to resume their studies.
The 22 unaccompanied migrant children had been living in different safe houses supported by UNICEF in Bossaso, a coastal town and key transit point for migrants planning to transit through Yemen en-route to the Gulf countries.
Among the migrants was Hakim*, a 17-year-old from Harar, a city in eastern Ethiopia and about 800km from Bossaso. He had originally planned to travel to Saudi Arabia in search of a better life for himself and his family, but was not prepared for the journey ahead.
“The smugglers used to threaten us with stabbing if one of us got tired from the long walk,” he said. The most difficult part of journey was going for three days with little food and water, as well as walking for 15 days to reach Bossaso. However, the long wait is over for Hakim, who has been reunited with his family.
Spayish*, an 18-year-old girl from Ethiopia’s Amhara region who was also headed for the Gulf, used this time to think about her future. “When I arrived in Somalia over eight months ago I had no information about the journey, I thought it was going to be easy. Now that I know about the difficulties, I decided to find a job in my country instead of going through an experience like this again,” she said.
Many of the migrants had been in Bossaso since March 2020 as they waited for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to resume its Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programme which was temporarily halted due to the closure of borders. During this time, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative assisted migrants with psychosocial support, medical assistance, hygiene kits, clothes and information on safe migration as well as on COVID-19 prevention and control.
According to Carlotta Panchetti, IOM Programme Officer in Somalia, “many migrants, including children, engage in temporary informal jobs in and around Bossaso to save money to finance the rest of the trip to Yemen and onwards.” But due to the impact of the global pandemic on the economy and on border movements, there was a reduction of available work opportunities for migrants, resulting in more of them being stranded in Bossaso, unable to continue their journey or return to their communities of origin.
Recent findings by the IOM Regional Data Hub in the East and Horn of Africa, show that the share of unaccompanied migrant children among migrant children tracked at flow monitoring points on the Yemeni Coast has increased dramatically from 55% in 2019 to 75% in 2020.
Migrants face all manner of risks, including the possibility of being abandoned before reaching their expected destinations despite paying for their journey. Moreover, more women have reported rape and other acts of sexual violence. An increase in stigmatization and harassment has also been reported along the Eastern Route as migrants are often seen as carriers of COVID-19.
As of the end of September 2020, the IOM-supported Migration Response Centre (MRC) in Bossaso has registered 294 unaccompanied children. The centre is an open facility mainly for vulnerable migrants and those in distress. It is the main point of contact with stranded migrants.
While overall arrivals in Bossaso and registrations at the MRC have declined since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many migrants have found themselves in more difficult conditions, and are stranded for longer periods.
‘’The closure of borders and measures imposed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated the protection needs of unaccompanied migrant children in Somalia. IOMs working closely with UNICEF and the Government of Somalia to strengthen the response to ensure that child protection services are available for these groups of children,” said Isaac Munyae, Programme Manager from IOM Somalia.
The return of the 22 migrants was organised in coordination with the Puntland administration, the MRC in Bossaso, UNICEF and local partner, the Tadamun Social Society (TASS) centre in Bossaso, a safehouse for unaccompanied migrant children.
It is the second return movement organised by IOM Somalia since the onset of COVID-19. Five Ethiopian migrants were also assisted to return during the first week of September 2020.
*Names have been changed for protection reasons.
About the EU-IOM Joint Initiative
Launched in December 2016 and funded by the European Union (EU) Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the programme brings together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU and IOM around the goal of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.
- Publication date
- 8 December 2020
- Region and Country
- Improved migration management
- International Organization for Migration