DAKAR, Senegal, May 31, 2020/ — The suspension of “non-essential activities” to limit the spread of COVID-19 in West and Central Africa has had a heavy socio-economic impact on some 34,000 returning migrants. Many already have set up microbusinesses as part of their reintegration assistance under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.
To measure the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on returning migrants assisted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the IOM Regional Office for West and Central Africa launched a needs assessment survey in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, and Senegal – with a sample of 100 returnees in each country.
The data gathered reveal that 89 per cent of beneficiaries reported their financial situation has worsened since the COVID-19 outbreak. Rising food costs and movement restrictions are adding to returnees’ struggles. “Sometimes I sit here all day and not a single person enters my shop. Then I wonder if the business I chose will work or not,” said Christopher, a Ghanaian returnee.
Another side-effect of the crisis: most of the 14 per cent of respondents who reported relying on remittance payments from relatives abroad reported they were no longer receiving remittances or were receiving a lower amount. Many explained relatives living in Europe and North Africa are losing jobs or are unable to travel to work. Based on the data, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso – where 30 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, used to rely on remittances – are the countries most affected by this downward remittance trend.
Moreover, one-third of the beneficiaries interviewed reported additional financial costs due to COVID-19 shutdowns. These additional expenses include having to prepare more meals at home to replace school feeding programmes or being unable to go to work due to lack of childcare. One returnee in Cameroon complained, “The children are eating twice as much, while their expenses have doubled.”
IOM is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in West and Central Africa and helping migrants most affected by the socio-economic blows. Thanks to the support of the EU, a one million plus Euro COVID-19 emergency fund was made available under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative to assist with the voluntary return of migrants when humanitarian corridors are granted by countries of origin.
To enhance the availability of basic medical supplies across the region, IOM is mainstreaming COVID-19 related activities into existing initiatives. As part of their reintegration assistance, returning migrants are producing thousands of protective equipment items for frontline immigration and border officials. IOM also is developing alternative assistance schemes. In some countries, for example, IOM is planning to use reintegration assistance to provide cash grants to returnees for three months.