The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the spread of misinformation and hate speech against migrants and other vulnerable groups. Anti-migrant sentiment and inflammatory rhetoric have rapidly gained ground in the public domain and online, often causing harmful and discriminatory behaviour towards migrants and the communities.
COVID-19 lockdowns in destination and transit countries have resulted in many migrants being unable to secure short-term jobs, to sustain themselves or to finance onward movements. Access to health screening and treatment has also been scarce for migrants, who often lack access to basic services in host communities. The pandemic has also led to increased risk of migrant exploitation and abuse, including smuggling and human trafficking.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration has been at the forefront of prevention and response efforts, adapting its programmes to continue delivering assistance and protecting vulnerable migrants across the Sahel and Lake Chad region, Horn of Africa, and North Africa. Through wide-ranging partnerships and community outreach activities, the programme has sought to raise awareness on safe migration and solidarity with migrants during the pandemic.
In Senegal, Ghana and Niger, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative partnered with national authorities and local artists to improve relations between migrants and host communities, while stimulating the debate against the spread of misinformation and xenophobia, two particularly sensitive topics during COVID-19 times.
In Ethiopia, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative signed an agreement with Fana Broadcasting, one of the country’s largest private media houses, to produce a special radio series on migration as COVID-19 movement restrictions have increased the risks faced by migrants in the region.
The IOM Migrant Resource and Response Centres in Somalia and Sudan scaled up their COVID-19 information and awareness raising activities, sending targeted SMS messages in local languages.
Across West and Central Africa, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative stepped up risk communication and community engagement in response to COVID-19 with outreach sessions to inform displaced persons as well as migrants in transit of the disease’s risks and its prevention methods. IOM’s MobCom teams held COVID-19 awareness raising sessions for migrants hosted at the transit centre in Dirkou, Niger.
In Guinea, Ghana, Ethiopia and Somalia, returnees joined hands against stigma, misinformation and discrimination targeting COVID-19 patients and survivors.
From Tunisia to South Sudan and The Gambia, across the three regions, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted not only livelihoods and wellbeing of migrants and returnees, but also of people in vulnerable employment in the informal sector, as well as of households relying on remittances from abroad.
The EU-IOM Joint Initiative has provided direct assistance such as food and non-food items, hygiene kits and personal protective equipment to numerous migrants, including returnees, and host community members impacted by the pandemic in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and many other places across the three regions.
Against the hardship of months-long restrictions on cross-border movement and commercial activity, migrants and communities are striving to adjust to a new reality with support from the EU-IOM Joint Initiative. In The Gambia, migrant returnees and their families are coming together to produce soap for their communities — serving as an alternative source of income while building the country’s COVID-19 preparedness, prevention and response. In Ghana, returnees trained in sewing produce masks. While supporting the government's response to the pandemic, this Initiative helps them address the economic impact of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for heightened regional and international cooperation in governing migration, in order to make it safer. Such cooperation requires countries to include migrants, the displaced and other populations on the move in national vaccination plans – a campaign that IOM is already conducting.
Migrants need to be part of COVID-19 recovery plans, as countries rebuild their economies and societies after the crisis. This can help mitigate the hardships caused by the pandemic and enable migrants to contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.
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. So far, the programme has supported more than 95,000 stranded and vulnerable migrants with their voluntary return, while more than 107,000 migrants received post-arrival reception and reintegration assistance.