IOM has facilitated the return home of 53 unaccompanied Ethiopian child migrants detained in Malawi when trying to reach South Africa.
The return of the migrants was facilitated by IOM, in partnership with the US International Association for International Migration (USAIM), and in coordination with the governments of Ethiopia and Malawi.
“All of us should be addressing issues of child migration – especially when they end up in detention. Thanks to a donation from a US foundation, USAIM and IOM were able to help these children to return home safely and to give them a chance to move forward,” said USAIM CEO Luca Dall’Oglio.
IOM, in cooperation with the Malawi authorities and Ethiopian authorities who travelled to Malawi to verify the children’s nationalities, organized their travel documents, flight bookings, tickets and transit assistance, and met them on arrival in Addis Ababa.
The children, all boys aged 12-17, are now staying at the IOM Transit Centre in Addis Ababa until they are reunited with their families. The IOM mission in Ethiopia is currently conducting family tracing and the process will be completed in a few days.
“While the families are happy to be reunited with their trafficked children, the fact that they have come back with very little by way of reintegration assistance unfortunately undermines the sustainability of their return. We need to create livelihood alternatives for returnees to reduce the likelihood of them trying to migrate again,” said IOM Ethiopia Chief of Mission Maureen Achieng.
Dawit Abebe*, 16, was one of the returnees. “In Malawi, we were caught and put in prison. Food and proper sleeping space were scarce. We didn’t have access to adequate medical care. Now that I am back home, I am very happy and I cannot wait to be reunited with my family. When I reach my hometown, I want to tell everybody about my experience so that they can learn from my mistakes. People need to know that once you reach another country without proper documents, it is not simple or easy to return,” he said.
Malawi is a transit country for migrants from the Horn of Africa heading to South Africa to find work. Due to a lack of alternatives to detention facilities, when caught, undocumented migrants, including children often end up in overcrowded prisons. As a result, the Government of Malawi has asked for help in establishing a transit centre as an alternative to prisons.
In 2015, 1-in-7 migrants assisted by IOM to return home from detention in Malawi in 2015 was an unaccompanied child. Over 1-in-10 Ethiopian migrants detained in Malawi are children.
*Note: Name changed to maintain anonymity