Spare a thought for stranded migrants

A man carries a bowl of aid items in the camp of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for Libyans and asylum seekers, on May 12, 2020 in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ismail Einashe writes that migrants face more difficult times since the coronavirus outbreak.

Thousands of African migrants are stuck in traffic – unable to reach their destination or return home because the coronavirus pandemic has stopped the world.


Take two main exit points: the Horn of Africa route, through the Gulf of Aden, to the Middle East and the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Europe.

On the route from the Horn of Africa, the United Nations agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), recorded a sharp drop in the number of migrant passages.

In April, only 1,725 ​​migrants arrived in Yemen from Horn, compared to 7,223 in March, 9,624 in February and 11,101 in January this year.


Last year, more than 138,000 people – an average of about 11,500 a month – crossed over to Yemen, the majority Ethiopian bound for Saudi Arabia in search of work.

In the Somali port of Bosaso, migrants bound for the Middle East were left stranded.


In Djibouti, hundreds of migrants have been abandoned by traffickers in a country with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Africa.

& # 39; Coronavirus changed everything & # 39;

The IOM estimates that some 400 migrants are currently hosted by members of the local Ethiopian community in informal settlements across the city, but the agency says they face increasing stigma and abuse because travelers are seen as carrying the virus.

A 19-year-old migrant told IOM, "I've been here for about three months. The coronavirus has changed everything. I can't go on. I can't go back because all the borders are closed. "

Meanwhile, across the Red Sea, in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, they have deported nearly 3,000 Ethiopian migrants on cargo planes on suspicion that they have coronavirus.


Most of them are domestic workers – including domestic workers – who worked legally for low wages in oil-rich Arab states.


In Libya – the other major departure point and the most dangerous sea crossing for migrants in the world – restrictions have prevented humanitarian boats from rescuing migrants trapped at sea – with migrants forced to return to a country involved in a dangerous conflict.

Attempts to migrate to Europe are likely to increase sharply once travel restrictions are lifted – not least because blockages in African states have worsened poverty and caused further damage to already struggling economies.

As for European states, they used the Covid-19 pandemic to politicize the issue of migration once again.

Malta closed its ports and returned migrants at sea to Libya, while Italy said migrants would be quarantined in rescue boats.

Covid-19 exposed migrants as the most marginalized people in this pandemic.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that of the 167 countries that closed their borders totally or partially to deal with the coronavirus, 57 did not make an exception for those seeking asylum.

The right to claim asylum is a basic right, although in recent years many states have sought to reduce it.

Most African migrants stay in Africa

In Europe, countries like Austria, with a long history of harsh anti-migration policies, froze the right to asylum using Covid-19 as a justification.

Not only have migrants' rights been reduced, but guilt is also falling on them, with an increase in xenophobia, because migrants are considered to be carriers of the disease and defamed by politicians and the media.

In Guangzhou, China, African migrants were subjected to evictions, harassment and forced quarantines, because of fears of the coronavirus, fueled by a deep pit of racism – this has sparked outrage and anger in Africa.

Greece quarantined migrants on open land on the island of Lesbos
Greece quarantined migrants on open ground on the island of Lesbos

Most migrations in Africa are intra-continental – Zimbabweans in South Africa, South Sudanese refugees in Uganda for workers from Burkina Faso in Côte d'Ivoire.

South Africa has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Africa and is also a regional magnet for millions of migrants.

The government's long-standing goal was to reduce migration and took the opportunity offered by the pandemic to build a fence on the border with Zimbabwe.

There is a risk that Covid-19 will cause long-term damage to migrants' rights, as states continue to adopt inward-looking policies to try to prevent not only people looking for better economic opportunities in Europe, but also those fleeing from Europe. political persecution.

More letters from Africa:

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A composite image showing the BBC Africa logo and a man reading on his smartphone.

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