The AU-EU-UN task force meeting calls to rescue stranded migrants and refugees in Libya

A task force by the African Union, European Union and the United Nations has called for the rescue of stranded migrants and refugees in Libya.

Smugglers holding refugees and migrants in deplorable conditions, say UN agencies

The AU-EU and UN task force met on 16 April 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia following the latest developments in Libya and the escalating conflict in Tripoli.

Chaired by the Special Envoy of the Chairperson and Commissioner for Social Affairs, H.E. Madam Amira Elfadil, and attended by the Head of the EU Delegation to the AU, the Chief of Mission IOM and the UNHCR Representative to the AU, the task force deliberated on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya, as the available humanitarian space continues to be threatened each passing day by the ongoing conflict.

The meeting highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, especially for basic needs such as food, water and medical services for internally displaced persons, migrants and refugees caught in the conflict, and called upon the AU Member States and the international community to come to their rescue by providing the necessary support and assistance.

The task force called upon and appealed to all warring parties not to use civilians, including migrants and refugees as human shields but instead provide them with safe passage/corridors to safe and secure areas where they can be afforded the necessary humanitarian assistance.

The meeting noted with concern that in spite of the progress made by the Assisted Voluntary Humanitarian Return Programme (AVHRP) implemented by IOM and relevant Member States and evacuation of refugees by UNHCR, a considerable number of refugees seeking protection and resettlement, and migrants remain in Libya. With more than 7,000 migrants and refugees being held in detention centres. In addition, there is a growing number of internally displaced persons whose plight causes grave concern.

In respect to the need to accelerate the return programme, the task force appealed to all concerned Member States with nationals in Libya, to double their efforts, including, in provision of consular services and issuance of travel documents so as to facilitate and fast-track their return from Libya. The task force also appreciated the role played by Niger in hosting the majority of vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers evacuated from Libya.

In the same vein, the task force also appealed to the Libyan authorities to continue facilitating landing rights to other airlines, consular services of concerned Member States and fast-tacking of exit visa processing to allow swift return of those wishing to return to their countries of origin.

The task force expressed much appreciation for the continued support and assistance offered by the people of Libya and its authorities to the multitude of stranded migrants and refugees in Libya this far, and appealed to other Member States to generously contribute, accordingly. The task force also calls for the protection of all migrants and refugees in line with international and regional standards.

The task force will continue to engage and work with all stakeholders, including concerned Member States, the Libyan authorities and the international community in seeking practical solutions to the migrants’ situation in Libya as we continue to seek for a durable political solution to the impasse.

Dozen people reported dead after boat capsized off Libya

A handout photo released on September 24, 2018 by SOS Mediterranee shows migrants being rescued. Photo credit:  Yahoo Finance

At least a dozen people are dead after a rubber boat which spent more than 10 days at sea capsized off Misrata, Libya, on Monday.

Ten survivors were rescued and returned to Libya where they were treated by IOM medical staff. Three other passengers remain missing.

“The survivors were all suffering from complete dehydration and exhaustion after being stranded at sea for days,” said IOM physician Dr. Mohamed Abughalia.

“People suffered from trauma, severe malnutrition and burns sustained from the boat’s engine fuel.”
Four cases in need of emergency medical care were transferred to a private hospital in Tripoli.

Six others were moved to detention centres by Libyan authorities, where IOM continues to provide medical care.

“We continue to advocate for alternatives to detention for migrants returned to Libyan shores, specifically for those most vulnerable,” said IOM Libya Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi, who also expressed concern about the lack of search and rescue capacity as the weather worsens with the onset of winter.

“The absence of mechanisms to better manage returns coupled with reduced search and rescue capacity at sea is making the crossing increasingly dangerous for migrants. There are more possibilities to die at sea now than one year ago. This is not acceptable. Saving lives at sea should be the number one priority, and search and rescue operations clearly need to be reinforced.”

Media accounts of the migrants’ ordeals differ, but it appears the boat, which was attempting to travel to Italy, was blown hundreds of kilometres off course. Red Crescent spokesman Baha al-Kawash told Agence France-Presse the migrants left for Italy from the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, but their vessel was blown 270km east and later overturned.
IOM is following up on the current humanitarian and medical needs of migrants in the detention centre and hospital to ensure they receive adequate assistance. The Organization will provide mental health and psychosocial support to the survivors.

IOM Facilitates Return of 418 Migrants Stranded in Yemen in First Evacuation Flight in More than Three Years

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) this week (26-29 November) began assisting 418 Ethiopian migrants stranded in Yemen to safely return under IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) operation.

IOM welcomed 102 Ethiopian returnees to the Addis Ababa International Airport yesterday, the first of a four-day Voluntary Humanitarian Return operation from Yemen. Photo: IOM/Eman Awami 

This is IOM’s first airlift since shortly after the conflict broke out in 2015 and the largest VHR operation carried out by IOM in Yemen to date.

On Monday (26 November), 102 Ethiopian migrants travelled from Sana’a International Airport to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. In three subsequent flights scheduled through Thursday, another 316 migrants will follow. More than a quarter of the passengers – 121 of the returning 418 migrants – are minors.

IOM has been assisting many of the migrants returning this week for at least six months. Already in 2018, IOM’s VHR programme has assisted 668 migrants to return to Ethiopia on ships carrying migrants across the Gulf of Aden. Unstable weather conditions at sea combined with escalated fighting in and around Al Hudaydah ports posed major operational challenges in previous return operations.

“The first airlift return operation increases IOM’s ability to ensure that migrants who wish to leave Yemen can do so in a safe and dignified manner,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies, who added: “The airlift, made possible through close cooperation with authorities in Yemen and Ethiopia, opens the way for improved humanitarian assistance for migrants in Yemen.”

The ongoing conflict – now well into its fourth year – has not stemmed the flow of migrants to Yemen from Africa. Most of those migrants are intent on reaching Yemen and the Gulf countries for work opportunities. Yet upon arrival in Yemen, many discover they are unable to continue the journey due to the security situation, which includes severely restricted land routes and closed borders.

“A significant portion of the new arrivals are unaware of the severity of the situation in Yemen or the distance they will have to transit. They have found themselves stranded in a conflict-stricken country without access to basic needs and subjected to multiple forms of abuse, exploitation and violence,” said David Derthick, Chief of Mission in IOM Yemen.

Nonetheless, IOM estimates that nearly 100,000 migrants reached Yemen in 2017. By the end of 2018, this number will likely increase by 50 per cent.

The Organization’s VHR Programme is an orderly, humane option provided to migrants willing to return to their country of origin. Prior to departure, migrants receive lifesaving assistance – including food, non-food items and accommodation in addition to medical, mental health and psychosocial care.

As the returnees arrive in Ethiopia, they undergo health screenings before being temporarily housed at an IOM transit centre where they are provided with hot meals, health care referrals and assistance to reach their home communities or final destinations.

For unaccompanied and separated migrant children, IOM provides family tracing assistance, allowing them to eventually reunite with their primary caregivers.

Globally, IOM is committed to ensuring returnees can access opportunities that help them restart their lives and deter them from embarking on dangerous routes in the future.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports the reintegration of vulnerable returnees through vocational skills training, education, psychosocial support and small business grants. IOM Ethiopia seeks further funding to support the reintegration of vulnerable returnees from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and parts of Southern Africa.  

Additionally, IOM calls for long-term, sustainable measures that protect the dignity and well-being of migrants as they travel across the Horn of Africa and into Yemen. These include enhanced search and rescue missions along treacherous land and sea passages; solutions to the drivers of dangerous migration; and an end to the conflict in Yemen.

An upcoming conference, Drawing on Peace Dividends in the Horn of Africa to Ensure Urgent Enhancements in the Management of Migratory Flows to Yemen and the Gulf Countries, will be convened by IOM next week in Djibouti. The event will bring together governments in the Horn of Africa, and the Gulf, as well as UN and NGO partners, to identify practical solutions to dangerous migration flows and inform the new planning phase of the Regional Migrant Response Plan.

The governments of Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, as well as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, provide support for IOM’s voluntary return programmes.

IOM migrant assistance and protection activities in Yemen and Ethiopia are funded by Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America as well as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Migrants’ Rights are Human Rights” IOM Regional Director Tells Asian Human Rights Forum

IOM Vienna Regional Director Tina Szabados at the Samarkand Human Rights Forum. Photo: IOM 

Dignity, protection and the promotion of the human rights of all migrants, at all stages of their journeys, were stressed by IOM Regional Director Argentina Szabados at the inaugural Asian Human Rights conference held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Speaking to a group of politicians, academics, civil society leaders and diplomats, Szabados reiterated IOM’s belief of the need “to ensure respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status, and – as all countries pledged through the Sustainable Development Goals – ensuring that no one is left behind.”

“We must also reaffirm our commitment to eliminate all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance against migrants and their families,” she said.

The event, convened by the Government of Uzbekistan, reaffirmed the commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is 70 years old this year, and its importance in the attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in modern-day Asia.

Szabados congratulated the Government of Uzbekistan for submitting a request for the country to become IOM’s 173rd Member State.

“This hugely welcome development will undoubtedly strengthen Uzbekistan’s contribution to the implementation of the forthcoming Global Compact on Migration, expected to be adopted by the United Nations in Morocco next month. It will also help reinforce our joint work in favour of the rights of migrants, which forms a key part of this conference which you are so generously hosting.”

She further commended the government and the United Nations system in Uzbekistan for successfully completing a national plan on implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

On IOM’s initiative, the conference declaration contains the following line: “States shall strive to ensure the respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.”

First IOM Member State Forum on a Comprehensive Approach to Resettlement and Complementary Pathways to Europe

The need for a comprehensive approach; a continuum of care in resettlement; and complementary protection pathways to Europe for refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations was the focus of the IOM Member State Forum, the first of its kind held by the UN Migration Agency, and co-hosted with the Government of Belgium in Brussels this week. 

“The availability of humane solutions to forced displacement pales in comparison to the scale and scope of this phenomenon, with 68.5 million forcibly displaced persons across the globe,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino, in his opening message to the three-day event on Monday.

“IOM is convinced that more can be done on resettlement and complementary protection pathways in partnership and coordination with our Member States and partners to help refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations.”
Director General Vitorino stressed that the continued success and enlargement of these schemes rely on strong partnerships with all stakeholders. The Forum serves as a catalyst for this, he said.

IOM noted that countries such as Canada, the EU and Associated States, Argentina and Chile have significantly expanded resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes in recent years and are exploring other protection pathways for refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations. Complementary protection pathways such as family reunification and humanitarian visas, in addition to resettlement, also provide tailored responses in support of safe, orderly and regular migration.

“Ultimately, resettlement and complementary protection avenues are not about processes or procedures alone; they provide life-changing protection to fellow human beings in need,” said Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM Chief of Staff and Regional Director for the EU, Norway and Switzerland.  “As resettlement actors, we need to do our best to help their lives change for the better.”.

The first day focused on the need for coordinated approaches in often complex environments, and the essential components of successful resettlement programmes, namely the interdependencies of case management, pre-departure health assessments, pre-departure orientation, movement management and post-arrival integration support, along with immigration and visa solutions.

Representatives of 25 European countries alongside their peers from Australia, Asia, North- and South America attended the Forum together with partners and officials from European institutions. They learned about migrant-centric family reunification support as well as humanitarian and other visa processing operations through a series of presentations and panel discussions.

Operational solutions, they affirmed, must emphasize rights and needs, whether by protecting migrants from smugglers, unscrupulous visa brokers, excessive fees, or other factors that may cause them to seek unsafe and irregular migration channels.

An exhibition showcased the close cooperation with partners and the comprehensive set of activities in support of safe and dignified migration that IOM has developed over the years in collaboration with its Member States. The highly interactive exhibition included IOM’s Holding On campaign, a virtual reality experience that places the viewer inside the makeshift homes and campsites of internally displaced persons as they reflect on their most cherished possessions.

The second and third days covered the area of health, reviewing the evidence and cost effectiveness of pre-departure health assessments (PDHA) through plenary sessions, thematic workshops and group discussions that enabled participants to exchange experiences and share evidence. Participants roundly assessed that PDHA is an important tool that can improve integration efforts in receiving communities, supported by the secure transfer of health information.

“A rich amount of information was shared by a variety of experts from the IOM, resettlement countries and other partners,” said Paul Desautels, Director, Resettlement Operations, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). “Numerous complex issues were raised in the sessions which ‎were provocative and allowed the countries to explore future program enhancements in the areas of health, movement and integration.”

IOM’s protection-oriented approach and duty to ensure a continuum of care to its beneficiaries, leading to sustainable integration, is centered around working with governments and partners to tailor programmes to specific contexts whilst ensuring adherence to principles and standards of assistance for refugees and migrants.

This animated video showcases the resettlement process, from selection to reception, for one refugee family. It highlights the plight of refugees and IOM’s role in essential aspects of resettlement, from health and integration, to ensuring safe and dignified movements.

500 People Participate in IOM’s Fourth Cross-Border Crisis Simulation Exercise in Niger

More than 500 members from communities, local authorities, civil society and security forces participated in IOM’s fourth crisis simulation exercise this week (17/10) in Tillabéri, Niger.


An exercise along the Niger river challenges the response of government and local communities to the sudden mass movement of people.

The exercise took place in close partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Natural Disaster Management, and the Ministry of Health in Niger.

The exercise was organized under the project Engaging Communities in Border Management in Niger – Phase II, funded by the US Department of State. This was the fourth simulation exercise organized by IOM in Niger, having previously held similar exercises in 2017 and 2018 – two in Zinder region and one in Agadez region.

Tillabéri, site of this latest exercise, lies in a region covering southwest Niger which is regularly affected by population displacement flows. After the internal armed conflict in neighbouring Mali in 2012, over 50,000 Malians sought refuge in Niger. More recently, intercommunity clashes and the presence of terrorist armed groups in Niger triggered the internal displacement of more than 32,000 Nigeriens.

As with previous exercises, the simulation this week used a scenario conducted under real-life circumstances to test local and regional authorities’ ability to respond to a mass migration movement into Niger, precipitated by a crisis at the border.

This was the first time IOM Niger organized a simulation exercise on the Niger river, which entailed new logistical and coordination challenges. The new setting allowed for new actors to be involved in the exercise, such as the Gendarmerie’s River Brigade and the Environmental Services.

In addition to building the capacities of the authorities in responding to cross-border crises, the simulation exercise also enhanced community involvement in crisis management, as communities from the surrounding area played the roles of both displaced populations and of welcoming community.

“Such exercises provide a unique opportunity for local authorities and communities to be trained in crisis management, in real conditions, through a strong degree of realism,” said Arthur Langouet, IBM Project Manager with IOM Niger. “This is also a means to assess the needs in terms of equipment, training, and technical support for the development of crisis management tools,” Langouet added.

The exercise incorporates a strong community engagement component to foster communication between local communities and authorities. As communities are the first to directly encounter the signs of a crisis, communication with local authorities is crucial in both ensuring a quick and effective crisis response as well as preventing future crises.

The Governor of Tillabéri, Ibrahim Tidjani Katiella, expressed his gratitude towards IOM and stated that the exercise was extremely useful in building the capacity of the Regional Crisis Cell: “I look forward to our future cooperation with IOM for the development of a regional contingency plan.”

At the end of the exercise, IOM distributed 250 hygiene kits to participating community members, and handed over six tents to the Governorate of Tillabéri.

Throughout the next phase of the project, IOM will continue to support capacity building and community engagement activities in Tillabéri, building on the lessons learned through this simulation exercise. Additionally, a second simulation exercise will take place in the region of Tillabéri in 2019.

UNHCR and IOM appeal to European leaders to tackle Mediterranean deaths


Italian Coast Guard rescues migrants and refugees bound for Italy. © IOM/Francesco Malavolta

Ahead of this week’s meeting of European Union (EU) Heads of State and Government, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, are together appealing to European leaders to urgently take steps to address this year’s record rate of drownings on the Mediterranean Sea.

The leaders of the two organizations warn that political discourse concerning refugees and migrants, particularly those arriving by boat, has become dangerously toxic in some countries, even at a time when arrivals to Europe are declining. This narrative is stoking unnecessary fears, making it harder for countries to work together and blocking progress towards solutions.

“The current tenor of the political debate – painting a picture of Europe under siege – is not only unhelpful but completely out of touch with reality,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “Arrival numbers are falling but the rate at which people are losing their lives is on the rise. We cannot forget that we are talking about human lives. Debate is welcome – scapegoating refugees and migrants for political gain is not.”

“Perilous irregular migration is in no one’s interest. Together we must invest more in regular migration, enhanced mobility and integration to foster growth and development that benefits both sides of the Mediterranean,” said IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino.

With more than 1,700 lives lost since the start of 2018, the rate at which people are drowning while trying to cross the Mediterranean has risen sharply this year. In September alone, one person died or went missing for every 8 people who crossed to Europe on the Central Mediterranean, in large part due to reduced search and rescue capacity.

In addition to the need to enhance search and rescue capacity, UNHCR and IOM have proposed a workable regional arrangement that would make disembarkation and processing predictable and swift.

UNHCR and IOM urge European leaders to focus this week’s discussions on the practical solutions that are urgently needed and ensuring responsibilities are properly being shared among European States. At the same time we welcome strides taken to date by some EU Member States towards responsibility-sharing in search and rescue and post-disembarkation solutions for refugees and migrants.

UNHCR and IOM meanwhile also remind European leaders to remain focused on the implementation of the priorities already agreed earlier in the Valetta Political Declaration and Plan of Action, where States expressed profound solidarity in addressing the root causes of displacement and irregular migration, while supporting countries who receive large numbers of refugees and migrants.

Greater and more effective support from EU leaders is also needed for developing long-term structural solutions, which foster conditions in countries of origin and transit that provide opportunities for people to live in dignity.
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