Some strategic agencies of the United Nations are getting increasingly worried about the tide of migration from Africa. The situation seems to getting worse with children as young as 10, said to be among Ethiopians leaving for better prospects outside their country, many with their parents’ consent.

Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country after Nigeria. It accounts for the bulk of child migrants in the Horn of Africa where poverty, conflict and broken families are said to be some of the factors that drive children to leave Ethiopia, with Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Europe being among the target destinations.

Disturbingly, many of these children find themselves in perilous situations outside of their established environments. They are highly vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation and very often find themselves stranded and in need of assistance.

Interestingly, a strengthened collaboration between the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Ethiopia and UNICEF is aiming to support such children.

The collaboration seeks to build on the framework for the two agencies’ collaboration across the world, established through a 1996 cooperation agreement and a subsequent memorandum of understanding in 2006.

It is envisaged that by working closely together in Ethiopia, IOM and UNICEF have a chance to make a difference in addressing the worrying trend of children on the move, as the numbers remain significant.

For instance, from January to July 2019, IOM’s drop-in facilities for stranded migrants in the Horn of Africa – also known as Migrant Response Centres – registered 1,224 minors, amounting to 18 per cent of all registrations.

According to IOM, between May 2017 and July 2019, some 21,657 Ethiopian minors returned to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia – mostly involuntarily – which is around 8 per cent of the total number of returnees from Saudi Arabia to the Horn of Africa.

In May and June 2019, IOM led an emergency humanitarian operation that helped close to 3,000 Ethiopian migrants detained in Yemen, including 1,236 unaccompanied children, to safely return home.

IOM and UNICEF plan to investigate and analyse the underlying causes of the movement of children and provide support to programmes led by the Government of Ethiopia to prevent family separation. In addition, they will strengthen cross-border information management pertaining to children and conduct joint information campaigns and fundraising interventions.

The two agencies will also work towards aiding the Government of Ethiopia to respond to the immediate needs of returned unaccompanied minors, such as shelter, psychosocial support, family tracing and reunification, and reintegration into their communities of origin.

At the IOM-run migrant transit centre near Bole International Airport, UNICEF has seconded social workers from the Addis Ababa Bureau of Women, Children and Youth to conduct family tracing and provide reunification support. There is a plan to increase the number of social workers due to the increase in unaccompanied migrant children.

Just as important for the IOM-UNICEF collaboration is working with the Government of Ethiopia and other stakeholders on child protection, with a view to addressing the risk of sexual violence, sex work and HIV, as well as child trafficking and child smuggling, including through the establishment of a regulatory framework and standard operating procedures.

The new IOM-UNICEF agreement seeks “to build on the comparative advantage of each organization and to establish operational modalities of cooperation in order to benefit children and women in Ethiopia.”

The partnership complements the work of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa which recently established a collaboration with Save the Children in Ethiopia.

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative facilitates orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration management through the development of rights-based and development-focused procedures and processes on protection and sustainable reintegration. The project, funded under the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, covers and has been set up in close cooperation with a total of 26 African countries.

To date, IOM has provided voluntary return and reintegration assistance to 5,000 Ethiopian migrants under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, of whom 20 per cent are children.

According to EU-IOM Joint Initiative programme coordinator in Ethiopia, Sara Basha, reintegration assistance to returnees should be provided through an integrated approach where returnees receive economic, social and psychosocial support.

Partnerships, with organisations like UNICEF, local authorities and government partners, help to ensure that vulnerable returnees, including children, receive the right protection and assistance.

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