IOM Helps Detained Ethiopian Migrants in Malawi to Voluntarily Return Home

Thirty six unaccompanied migrant children and thirty three adults were among a total of 387 Ethiopian migrants held in Malawian prisons for immigration offenses will return home this week to join their families with the help of IOM and the Government of the United States.

The voluntary return operation is organized by IOM in close cooperation with the Malawian Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security and the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. IOM is providing this assistance under its US State Department, Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration (PRM) funded regional project ‘Addressing Irregular Migration Flows in Southern Africa Phase V’.

As of the second week of September 2015, representatives of IOM Malawi and IOM Ethiopia; the Ethiopian Embassy in Kenya; the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs  as well as Malawi’s Prisons and Immigration Departments visited the Maula, Dedza, Ntchisi, Chichire and Kachere prisons located in various parts of Malawi and verified the nationality of detained Ethiopian migrants. Following the verification, the migrants were issued with travel documents that will allow them to return home.

IOM Malawi Head of Office, Stephane Trocher, described the dire conditions in prisons and efforts to craft a long term solution for the challenge. “We are deeply disturbed by the fact that almost one in every ten detained Ethiopian migrants happens to be a child. Irregular migration carries enormous risks including injuries, disease, exploitation and detention. When the migrant is an unaccompanied child, these hazards are further compounded. Malawi’s overcrowded prisons demonstrated this very clearly.”

He added that IOM and the Government of Malawi are in discussion with other partners to devise ways of decongesting the prisons including through alternatives to detention, dialogue with countries of origin, revisiting sentencing strategies and in the long run, the development of a comprehensive migration policy to manage migration in a humane and orderly fashion. 

Trocher thanked the US State Department’s PRM for its generous support in funding the return; Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for providing much needed medical services to the detainees; and the Ethiopian Community in Malawi who provided food and clothing.

“We are very grateful for all the support our partners have offered. It must however be noted that the needs outstrip the resources at our disposal. We call on partners and donors to extend their helping hand to alleviate the suffering of the detainees.”

MSF had earlier reported severe cases of malaria, and pneumonia with almost all the detained migrants showing signs of malnourishment; about half suffering from skin conditions due to vitamin deficiency and at least 8 having been diagnosed with Tuberculosis.

Every year thousands of Ethiopian irregular migrants risk their lives trying to enter South Africa through the southern corridor. Most are transported by well-paid smugglers, who benefit from the fact that there are few legal migration options. Malawi has become a transit country to Mozambique and Zambia, en route to South Africa.

Due to limited reception and return capacity, migrants who are caught in Malawi often end up in overcrowded prisons, where they are locked up with common criminals. Although most are young men looking for job opportunities in South Africa, a growing number are unaccompanied minors.

IOM is working closely with Ethiopian authorities who are exploring opportunities for reintegration for the returning migrants, particularly children.

For further information please contact Stephane Trocher, IOM Malawi at Tel: +265999839012, Email: strocher@iom.int