It’s the last week of Ramadan and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Seada is making the most of the special occasion with her three children.

She's been the guest of the Good Samaritan Association, also the name of a shelter that’s in a partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). As the world battled the COVID-19 epidemic the shelter never stopped receiving vulnerable migrant returnees.

Apart from Seada there are several other female returnees at the shelter who, for different reasons, cannot get to their homes. Some need to be in the capital for medical attention and others simply do not have anywhere to go back to. 

Seada’s return from Sudan was arranged through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa. She benefited from the programme’s provision for migrant returnees with special medical conditions. Seada was around six months pregnant with no place to stay when she returned to Ethiopia. IOM referred her to the shelter where she is now recovering while also looking after her children. 

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative assists those who are stranded during their journey or find a hostile reception in the transit and intended destination countries. The programme works closely with governments in the countries of origin in issuing travel documents, providing protection and immediate arrival assistance, as well as in facilitating onward travel to the migrant's community of origin. Assistance under the programme is voluntary and without obligations.

Support under the programme is tailor-made to migrants’ needs, and vulnerable returnees can qualify to receive reintegration assistance to re-establish their lives.  This may include opting to enroll for vocational training or accepting in-kind assistance to establish a micro-business. Children under 18 benefit from family reunification, educational support and economic reintegration assistance through their parents or guardians.

Seada spent 11 years in Sudan working as a housekeeper. She made the decision to return when it became too expensive to live there, given Sudan’s difficult economic situation. She is presently looking to make a new start and is considering a business in cattle fattening. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative will also provide her with household materials and food items, which she will take to her new home in Sebeta, 20km out of Addis Ababa. Six-months house rent will also be paid to help her regain her footing.

In the meantime, Seada and the other returnees consider the shelter their home away from home. “We are like a family here, we share similar experiences,” says Hayat, a returnee from Saudi Arabia. Hayat had found herself with nowhere to stay while receiving medical assistance in Addis Ababa. She is now also employed at the shelter as a caregiver for returnees. At 51, she is the eldest. Beneficiaries respect her and trust her with their children. “She looks after our children and disciplines them; they don’t refuse food and they behave well,” says Seada. 

There is little sign here that COVID-19 has had a disruptive influence at the shelter. The place is clean and COVID-19 protocols are observed. Posters with COVID-19 messaging abound. Hayat commends staff for taking the lead in awareness and prevention efforts and, together with the other guests at the shelter, prays for protection and safety from the pandemic.

 About the EU-IOM Joint Initiative 

Launched in December 2016 with the support of 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.