The rapid spread of COVID-19 in West and Central Africa, which has infected over 8,000 people and led to the deaths of over 200, has led to a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
To enhance the availability of basic medical supplies in The Gambia, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is mainstreaming COVID-related activities into existing initiatives. As part of their reintegration assistance, 20 migrant returnees are producing up to 2,000 protective suits and shoe coverings. These will be donated to the Ministry of Health for the use of frontline immigration and border officials.
After the prototype’s approval by The Gambia Standards Bureau (TGSB), the returnees mastered the correct technique and specifications for producing protective items. The 20 participants, most of whom were stranded in Libya and Niger, were previously trained in tailoring and received sewing equipment as part of their reintegration assistance received under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.
“The government is currently in need of these medical supplies, so this is a very laudable initiative. It’s even more pleasing that returnees will be able to earn income from this opportunity,” explained Amadou G. Jallow, Standards Officer at TGSB. All produced suits and shoe coverings will be cleared by the bureau for quality assurance.
Beyond contributing to The Gambia’s COVID-19 response, this cash-for-work initiative further facilitates the reintegration of returnees with tailoring skills and businesses, as the pandemic’s widespread impact on economic activity risks undermining gains returnees have made in settling in.
“This innovative initiative utilizes the skills of returnees to meet an urgent public demand,” said Fumiko Nagano, IOM’s Chief of Mission in The Gambia. “Just as people around the world are working tirelessly to fight the pandemic, we are very pleased to highlight the work of these returnees in The Gambia.”
Abdou Magidou Jallow, who returned from Morocco earlier this year, lamented the challenges brought by COVID-19.
“It really affected my tailoring business; we used to have a lot of customers, but now we hardly have any since many people are staying home,” he said. “This is an opportunity for me and my fellow returnees to earn income and, at the same time, contribute toward combatting the pandemic.”
With the help of Abdou and the other participants, frontline immigration and border officials will have an added layer of protection available to safely execute their work. As The Gambia shares highly porous borders with Senegal, border posts and communities are at the frontline of the pandemic, and a key focus of IOM’s response in the country.
IOM referred another group of returnees with tailoring skills to the International Trade Centre, which embarked on a similar initiative to produce cloth masks. Meanwhile, other Gambian returnees have taken great initiative in sensitizing communities on COVID-19.
This initiative was supported through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. Covering 26 countries, the Joint Initiative aims to support the sustainable reintegration of returning migrants and is the first comprehensive programme to save lives, protect and assist migrants along key migration routes in Africa.
Since 2017, IOM has assisted in the return and reintegration of over 5,000 Gambians.