Ethiopia, COVID-19 did not stop forced repatriations of migrants. Risk of a new peak among Africa and the Middle East

COVID-19 pandemic did not stop forced repatriations of migrants. Even if these operations present many health risks, many repatriations have been registered especially from the Middle East to Africa. A study of The Lancet Migration warns it.

Many countries proceeded with the forced repatriations of migrants vanishing the strategies to avoid COVID-19 spread. This is what Dr Davide Mosca, member of the Commission on the Migrants Health of The Lancet declared. Worst, these measures to contain COVID have not been applied to migrants during these operations.


COVID-19 and migrants, the dangers of healthcare lack

The Italian NGO Doctors with Africa Cuamm and the University of Edinburgh, with the collaboration of the World Organization for Migration (IOM), realized a study on the cases of Ethiopia and Niger. According to Dr Mosca, if “the problem is global and concerns all regions of the world, the two African countries are emblematic”.

Ethiopia saw the return of more than 11,000 migrants, since the beginning of COVID-19 spread worldwide. About 3,000 from Saudi Arabia only had been forced to repatriate. Dr Mosca states that “in many cases, these people have become irregular as a result of the economic crisis generated by the pandemic.


Economics and migrants during COVID-19, the healthcare access deny

Losing a job in countries where residence permits are linked to the employment situation, means losing the right to stay in that precise country.  Repatriations of these people, in a delicate phase from the health point of view, have several critical points, according to Dr Mosca.

The denial of health access is the first and the most important one. It is impossible to do prevention in crowded detention centres where people are often held before being repatriated. However, Dr Mosca points out that the principles of public health are also violated, since “protecting the health of one person means protecting the health of all”.

There is also an economic fallout. The author of the study estimates that “in Africa, the livelihood of about 100 million people depends on economic remittances sent by migrants”. Forcing them to return home would, therefore, affect many families.


COVID-19, migrants forced repatriations without health assistance

One of the consequences of repatriation is also overburdened health care systems already under pressure in all the countries. Michele d’Alessandro, the co-author of the study of The Lancet, who works from Addis Ababa with the international relations office of Cuamm, talks about it.

“Imagine what effects this health risky situation can have on a country like Ethiopia, which has 110 million inhabitants and is already struggling with outbreaks of cholera and malaria”, Michele D’alessandro affirmed.

D’Alessandro recalls that the repatriations from the Arabian Peninsula resumed a few weeks ago, after a period of suspension requested by the Ethiopian government led by Abiy Ahmed.

A very delicate and strange phase, because three planes which transported from 600 to a thousand people who were subjected to 14-day-quarantine in readapted universities in Addis Abeba. In addition to the problem of repatriation in times of COVID-19 and without health safety, there is also the migration by feet of migrants who are travelling from the South to the North of Africa just like Niger in order to head to Europe.

For this reason, according to Mr D’Alessandro, Cuamm’s intervention develops along different axes. “We are present in four areas of the country and we are taking care of assisting the government in providing information, securing health facilities and finding personal protective equipment”.



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University of Edinburgh

Italian NGO Doctors with Africa Cuamm

World Organization for Migration

The Lancet Migration


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