Travel hassles basically come with the territory for sojourners across West Africa. But what 13 men and women experienced these recent weeks may set a new standard for delay.
Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the plight of these travelers became a concern for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which has assisted thousands of migrants stranded in Africa since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their story starts in the streets of Noé, a small town located in Côte d’Ivoire near that country’s border with Ghana. There, 13 vulnerable migrants originating from Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone were forced to spend more than a month seeking makeshift shelter, as well as food and medical attention after authorities in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire closed their respective borders to travellers.
The migrants, including four women and nine men, had been stranded in Côte d’Ivoire since 22 March. Among the stranded migrants were bus drivers who work shuttling passengers between Liberia and Ghana, who now found themselves unable to move. Others among the stranded were traders seeking to enter Côte d’Ivoire for commerce.
At first, the stranded migrants slept at the border station, although a few found temporary lodging at a small hotel. IOM became aware of their plight on 15 April, nearly four weeks after the border closure, and persuaded authorities in Noé to repurpose two schoolrooms—also shuttered in response to the pandemic—to safely house the men and women.
On Saturday, 9 May, IOM provided food, hygiene products and other essential items to the stranded travellers. IOM also began registering those willing to return to their country of origin. Unfortunately, later that same day, one man who was already ill---but not with the coronavirus-- died in the classroom in Noé.
IOM relied for this aid on the support of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, in collaboration with regional authorities and social services agencies. To support the Ivoirian government’s COVID-19 response, IOM donated on Monday (11/05) health equipment, including thermometers, masks and hydroalcoholic solution, to improve the working conditions of frontline workers at ten land points of entry (POEs).
“Côte d’Ivoire has kept its borders open to ensure transportation of goods, which is vital to the country and region’s economy, but like in many other countries, borders are closed to travelers,” explained Marina Schramm, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Côte d’Ivoire. “It is therefore crucial that agents in charge of registration at entries and exits points are trained and equipped to be able to identify and respond effectively to health risks.”
As of 11 May, more than 1,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported by the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene of Côte d’Ivoire.
The closure of border posts has a heavy impact on the border communities’ economic activities. The provision of training and equipment will enable border officials to conduct their activities safely and reopen the border posts quickly, as well as prevent and detect possible COVID-19 cases.
During the month of May, border officials will be trained in how to use the equipment, as well as in the registration at crossing points and referral of suspected cases by IOM and local partners.
Border officials, as frontline workers in the COVID-19 response, will also be provided with registration forms that will allow for the development of a mobility profile at the different POEs. In the longer term, the equipment and training for border officials will help ensure a smooth transition towards the reopening – even partial – of Côte d’Ivoire’s borders.
This training activity is part of the project, “Enhance the capacity of Côte d’Ivoire’s authorities to Comprehensively Address Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling – COCOTIP” funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.