Addis Ababa – There is a growing demand for services to support the reintegration of returning migrants in the Horn of Africa. Thankfully, governments are stepping up to meet their obligations to citizens despite a shortage of resources.

Consider Sudan where the Secretariat of Sudanese Working Abroad (SSWA) is the lead ministry in efforts to reintegrate returnees. In Somalia, the Office of the Special Envoy in the Office of the Prime Minister has the main role of coordinating and providing oversight to other ministries and civil society actors involved in reintegrating migrant returnees. 

Continued leadership and engagement by governments is key to ensuring the long-term sustainability of reintegration programmes. However, for now enduring challenges include sustaining the available support, the near-dearth of policies and guidelines at national level as well as grappling with high expectations and dependency among returnees.  

These were among the conclusions of a first-of-its kind technical workshop on return and reintegration organised by the eight-member Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) held in Addis Ababa, on 29-30 October 2019, and funded by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa (the EU-IOM Joint Initiative).

No less significant is the need to create child-friendly facilities and to shift the perception of frontline border officials as protectors rather than law enforcement officers. Also cited as desirable is improving engagement with the private sector and other actors, together with promoting learning and exchanges among IGAD member states. Data collection, management and sharing should also be made a top priority, along with mainstreaming psychosocial support for returnees.

In all this, IGAD is envisioning a bigger role for itself in assisting returnees – for example, it is due to launch a Regional Migration Fund. This would bolster government efforts while complementing the contribution of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, a four-year programme, which in the Horn of Africa is running until 2021 on a budget of 43 million Euro.

In the region, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative covers Khartoum Process countries: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan – all of which straddle key migration routes.

The latest figures from Ethiopia,  Africa’s second most populous country, illustrate the urgency of scaling up reintegration support for returnees. Since 1 January the country experienced an almost two-fold increase – from 5,382 to 9,200 - in the number of returnees assisted by the IOM on the Eastern migratory route to the Arabian Peninsula. Most had found themselves stranded, and many are in need of reintegration support.

 “The IGAD Regional Migration Policy and the Migration Action Plan, which are in line with the continental migration policy framework identify a number of strategies that can be used to promote sustainable return and reintegration,” said Fathia Alwan, IGAD’s director of Health and Social Development.

But she referred to issues that still need to be overcome, including the lack of a cooperation framework of return and reintegration at regional level. At country level IGAD member states are yet to develop supporting policies, frameworks and guidelines, although government ownership was growing.

Ms Alwan described successful reintegration as being resource-intensive. “It not only requires addressing the immediate needs of the returning migrants but also the structural community factors such as high poverty levels and unemployment. This requires long term development planning in addition to short term direct assistance.” The EU-IOM was designed to take such a long-term view.

Emanuela Parisciani, a member of the European Delegation in Ethiopia, highlighted the EU’s continued commitment to addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa, now worth 4.1 billion Euro. She emphasized the critical role of government ownership and the need to strengthen coordination and cooperation given the complexity of the migratory experiences in the region. 

IOM regional director for East and Horn of Africa Mohammed Abdiker said assisted voluntary return and reintegration is among IOM’s core activities and has provided vital assistance to tens of thousands of migrants returning home every year. “It is also a growing area of work as an increasing number of states – both those hosting migrants as well as countries of origin – recognize the value of assisted voluntary return and reintegration as an essential component of an effective and human migration management framework,” he said.