Over 100 Sudanese migrants have returned on the first Libya-Sudan Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) flight since the onset of COVID-19.
The returnees travelled on 12 September in a long-awaited charter arranged by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in coordination with the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sudanese embassy in Tripoli.
IOM’s VHR programme is a lifeline for stranded migrants, with hundreds stuck in conflict-torn Libya. Worsening the situation were measures put in place globally to fight the COVID-19 pandemic including border closures which disrupted the programme, leading to its suspension since March 2020.
Among the 116 Sudanese returnees were 13 migrants with health conditions requiring IOM medical escort en-route, and 18 students stranded in Libya who were due to sit for the Sudanese university entry exams soon after their return.
"I went to Libya to find better work opportunities, but it wasn't what I expected because of the war,” said 26-year-old Abdulmanan Adam. “I couldn't find stable work. When things got difficult I reached out to the (Sudanese) embassy for support and they got IOM to assist me get back to Sudan. Thank God I have returned home now.”
Neiman Ali Adam, a 35-year-old, mother of five said: "After I got married, I went to Libya because of my husband’s work. I was there for 15 years, but with the recent situation in Libya and after the passing of my husband I had to come back to Sudan with my children."
There were at least 600,362 migrants of over 46 nationalities identified in Libya by IOM between May-June 2020. The majority (395,084 individuals or 66%) were from neighbouring Niger (21%), Egypt (16%), Chad (16%) and Sudan (13%).
The VHR programme provides a safe pathway to migrants facing dire conditions along migration routes who wish to return to their countries of origin but do not have the means to do so. It is supported by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa, among other programmes.
VHR ensures that migrants in need are assisted to return voluntarily, safely and in dignity. Upon arrival they are supported with socio-economic reintegration to promote self-sufficiency and contributions to their local communities.
“COVID-19 has added a whole new layer of complexity to VHR, a vital lifeline for migrants wishing to return home,” said Alia Hirji, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative programme manager in Sudan. “The successful return of vulnerable Sudanese migrants ensures an important step towards resuming movement operations and providing migrants with an option to return in safety and dignity.”
Upon arrival, all the 116 returnees were screened for COVID-19. Prior to their departure they had received psychosocial assistance and personal protective equipment.
“This movement is thanks to the combined efforts of IOM missions, the governments of Sudan and Libya, and the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad,” said Hirji.
Under the EU-IOM Joint initiative returning migrants are provided with sustainable reintegration assistance to further aid them in re-establishing their lives. Depending on their needs, skills and aspirations, this support can include medical assistance, psychosocial support, education, vocational training, Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) training, the set-up of income-generating activity, support with housing or other basic needs.
Over the next few weeks, the returnees will receive individual counselling to assess each person’s vulnerability and needs. This would determine the type of reintegration assistance needed. All will be enrolled for health insurance under the National Health Insurance Fund of Sudan. Those requiring further medical or psychosocial assistance will be referred to the relevant facilities for specialised assistance.
Since June 2017, IOM has assisted the voluntary return of more than 2,750 stranded Sudanese migrants via chartered and commercial flights. To date, over 1,442 returnees in Sudan have received reintegration assistance, with an additional 1,251 having started their small business.
In the wake of COVID-19, Sudan declared a nationwide health emergency, closed all airports, seaports and land crossings points, and introduced a countrywide curfew, leaving many Sudanese nationals stuck outside the country. Borders are now gradually re-opening and in late June the Government began facilitating repatriation flights of an estimated 15,000 Sudanese nationals stranded in over 22 countries around the world.
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 migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.