Thousands of Migrants from West and Central Africa at Risk as Critical Funding Ends

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Over 26,000 migrants have been rescued in the desert since 2017 through IOM’s humanitarian search and rescue operations in Niger. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac
Over 26,000 migrants have been rescued in the desert since 2017 through IOM’s humanitarian search and rescue operations in Niger. Photo: IOM/Monica Chiriac

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is appealing for EUR 100 million to continue providing urgent protection and critical assistance to vulnerable migrants from West and Central Africa along the Central and Western Mediterranean routes, as funding under the EU Trust Fund (EUTF) comes to an end.

The imminent end of this life-saving programme, and the funding shortfall, raise deep concerns about the fates of tens of thousands of vulnerable men, women and children, states IOM Director General António Vitorino.

“Through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, we have been able to assist over 100,000 migrants who might otherwise have been left in conditions of great peril; in detention centres, stranded and left for dead in deserts, or living in extremely difficult environments conducive to trafficking and smuggling, with no safe alternatives to better their lives and those of their families,” says the IOM Director General.

“We are also worried that the advances made in terms of regional and international cooperation on improved migration management would be jeopardized.”

Launched in December 2016, under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration 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 shared goal of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants, their communities, and host countries.

Since its launch, at least 77,000 West and Central Africa nationals have been assisted with voluntary return, among them some 68,000 who received vital reintegration assistance, including economic support, counselling, mental health and psychosocial support, tailored to their needs and vulnerabilities to help them rebuild their lives.

“Many migrants do not have the financial, logistical and administrative means to return home when they want to end their journey,” says Christopher Gascon, IOM Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Often, the only option left for them is to try the dangerous Mediterranean crossing,”

The Joint Initiative programme has so far enabled vital and life-saving assistance to protect tens of thousands of people over the past years and helped governments respond to migration management challenges in a manner that puts the safety and dignity of people at the centre.”

During the most difficult period of the COVID-19 crisis in April, a fund was set up and assisted nearly 5,000 migrants through the provision of health care, quarantine and humanitarian corridors when mobility channels were disrupted amidst the pandemic.

At least 26,400 stranded migrants have been assisted through IOM’s Search and Rescue in the Desert programme. Thanks to the network of transit centres in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso along the most prominent migratory corridors, for the past four years IOM has been able to promptly intervene and provide assistance where needed, saving lives and providing migrants with safe and dignified alternatives.

At country levels, the governance of reintegration has been strengthened through the set-up or enhancement of reintegration working groups and technical committees to ensure that the assistance is tailored to the specific and individual needs of returnees.

A strong route-based and cross-regional dimension has also allowed the EU-IOM Joint Initiative to improve coordination between countries of origin, transit and destination, for example through enhanced consular cooperation.

Current funding for these critical humanitarian interventions is coming to an end, and IOM will have to start phasing out assistance to vulnerable migrants after December 2020 in West and Central Africa.

Additional resources are urgently needed to allow for the continuity of support to migrants with protection and direct assistance. The requested EUR 100 million will target stranded migrants in North Africa and will allow for much needed assistance, vital search and rescue operations, and return and reintegration support throughout 2021.

“New, often dangerous routes to Europe are also constantly opening or being reactivated, and we are now witnessing an increasing number of departures toward the Canary Islands. This maritime route has already claimed the lives of over 500 migrants this year”, adds IOM’s Gascon.

The appeal will enable direct assistance and return for more than 12,500 migrants and reintegration support for at least 24,000 returned from West and Central Africa, North Africa and Europe.

The assistance also includes life-saving search, rescue and humanitarian rescue operations in the Sahara Desert as well as humanitarian assistance after disembarkation along the Western Mediterranean route.

New funding will also aim at strengthening the capacity of countries of origin, transit and destination to enhance migration governance and support the governance of migration data and awareness raising in main communities of origin.

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