IOM Algeria staff with a migrant at the transit centre in Algiers. ©IOM

As a result of the travel restrictions adopted in Algeria to prevent and curb the COVID-19 infections in the country, many migrants who were waiting to return to their countries of origin during the month of March were not able to travel. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) Algeria is now hosting them in its transit centres known as ‘Dispositif d’Accueil pour le Retour Volontaire (DARV)’ in Algiers and providing them with different types of assistance.  

The transit centers are managed by IOM in partnership with the Government of Algeria, and the activities are made possible through synergies among different IOM programmes implemented in the country, including the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration and other projects funded by the United States Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and UK Government's Department for International Development, respectively.

In particular, to help stranded and vulnerable migrants cope with anxiety and stress during the lockdown, while awaiting to return to their country of origin, IOM is partnering with the Algerian Association of Psychologists (SARP) to organize remote group and individual mental health and psychosocial support sessions for them.

During these sessions, which are facilitated by psychologists and experts from SARP, participants are sharing their feelings, experiences, and personal stories. They are also having the opportunity to discuss their needs and future plans with IOM.

“I feel relieved when I talk with the psychologist. His advice is helping me to deal with moments in which I feel down as a result of an accident that I had here in Algeria and caused me permanent injuries,” said Alfred*, a migrant currently staying at IOM’s managed DARV.

Two group and 20 individual counselling and psychosocial support sessions had been organized so far. Ahead of each event, migrants are asked to choose the type of sessions they want to join. Participants are also divided into French and English-speaking groups to feel comfortable speaking the language they know the most.

Migrants attending a remote psychosocial support session at the transit centre. ©IOM

“The lockdown and uncertainty are having a negative impact on the mental health of all the residents of the transit centres. Migrants are afraid of contracting coronavirus and worried about their families and relatives,” explained Noureddine Khaled, a psychologist at SARP.

“Migrants are constantly asking when they will return home. We listen to all their concerns and report them to IOM. We generally advise them to do regular physical activities and to speak with their families,” he added.

To allow migrants to communicate frequently with their families and read books if they wish to do so, a free internet connection and a collection of books are made available at the transit centres.    

Moreover, to respond to the increase in the number of migrants in need of shelter and waiting for Assisted Voluntary Return and reintegration (AVRR), IOM opened a second DARV in Algiers on 18 March  to provide direct and immediate services to migrants, including those in venerable situations

Sandra, a resident at the newly opened DARV, shares her impressions: “I really appreciate the sessions with the psychologist. He let me talk freely and listens carefully. I feel like I am talking not only to a doctor but also to a father. I told him I have not spoken to my family for a long time so he encouraged me to contact them and re-establish links and since I do not have a phone, he coordinated with IOM and I could talk to my family again after a long time. It felt good.”

In addition to the mental health and psychosocial support sessions, IOM’s medical team is organizing regular meetings with the migrants to raise their awareness about the COVID-19 virus. Videos and information materials produced by the World Health Organization were presented and distributed and personal protective equipment and hygiene kits were provided to migrants.

Stranded migrants who are signed up for AVRR and currently hosted at the transit centres in Algeria, will be assisted to voluntarily return to their countries of origin once the movement restrictions are lifted by the local authorities.

To ensure that all vulnerable migrants can have access to shelter and psychosocial support, the DARV transit centres are also open to Algerian returnees.

Beginning in June 2019, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative in North Africa aims to contribute to the strengthening of migrant protection and sustainable reintegration systems in the region by improving protection and enabling the voluntary return of stranded migrants and migrants in transit, supporting targeted countries to enhance the sustainability of reintegration through an integrated approach to reintegration, increasing the capacities of North African countries and relevant stakeholders to develop or strengthen return and reintegration policies and processes.

Launched in April 2019, the U.S. funded project “Strengthened capacities for improved coordination, identification, protection and prosecution on trafficking in persons (TIP) in Algeria” is contributing to the efforts of the Algerian Government to coordinate anti-trafficking responses, identify and prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and protect and assist victims of trafficking.

*Name was changed to protect his identity.