Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many migrants in Egypt and Tunisia have lost their source of income. Others who were waiting to return home through the Assisted Voluntary Return Programme implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are now stranded in the two North African countries due to international travel restrictions.

Many of these migrants are in vulnerable situations and need urgent support. As part of efforts to tackle the social and economic consequences of the current health crisis, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration has provided various types of assistance to stranded and vulnerable migrants in Egypt and Tunisia.

In Tunisia, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has distributed vouchers to 915 migrants (488 women and 427 men) residing in different regions to be used in supermarkets. It has also delivered hygiene kits to many migrants in transit centres across the country.

Besides this, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has provided ‘Iftar’ to 150 migrants hosted at an IOM managed transit centre in Medenine, south-eastern Tunisia.

Some 53% of IOM beneficiaries in Tunisia have lost their jobs during the lockdown period. Their employment rate  dropped from 64% to 11% since the general quarantine was imposed in the country, IOM Tunisia reported.

In Egypt, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has partnered with the Egyptian Red Crescent to distribute food and non-food items to the vulnerable migrant communities in the country. Consequently, 1040 baskets contain food and non-food items were distributed to migrants in Egypt since the beginning of April.

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative delivered vouchers to a migrant in Tunisia. ©IOM

The first batch of items was distributed in Alexandria on 9 April. A total of 100 migrants mainly South Sudanese nationals were assisted during this time. In coordination with Caritas Internationalis, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative also delivered another 300 food baskets to beneficiaries’ homes to avoid gatherings.

On 5 May, 200 food bags were delivered to Sudanese migrants in Alexandria. On the same day, 40 other bags were also distributed to Mauritanian students who could not return to their country of origin and remained stranded in Egypt due to travel restrictions imposed by local authorities.

On 13 May, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative reached Yemeni migrants stranded in Alexandria and distributed 200 bags containing food and non-food items. The distribution took place in coordination with a local organization.

The last batch of food and noon-food items was delivered to vulnerable Syrian migrants living in Alexandria. In total, 200 baskets were delivered on 20 May.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has been in close contact with community leaders in Egypt to identify the most urgent needs of their communities and assist them accordingly. Whenever possible, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative is referring vulnerable migrants to partner organizations for tailored assistance. 

Remote outreach activities on the COVID-19 had been carried out with community leaders at the beginning of the outbreak to raise their awareness about how the virus is transmitted, its main symptoms, and how they can help prevent its spread within their communities. This was done in coordination with IOM’s medical team.

IOM estimates that there are around 1 million migrants and refugees in vulnerable conditions in Egypt. Many of those migrants are above a certain age and have underlying medical conditions, which puts them at a higher risk of severe infection with COVID-19.

In addition to assisting vulnerable migrants in Egypt, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative is maintaining contact with Egyptian returnees through social media channels and over the phone and when possible procuring and delivering reintegration assistance items.

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative will continue to provide different types of assistance to stranded and vulnerable migrants in Egypt and Tunisia and assess the needs of those referred to IOM for support by embassies and partner organizations.

Launched in December 2016 with the support of the European Union (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 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 and their communities.