Surge of Returnees to Ethiopia, UN calls for a Pause Amidst Increased in Covid-19 Enforcement

The unexpected arrival of more than 5,000 returnees to Ethiopia over the past two weeks without prior health screenings has added to the challenges the country faces strengthening measures to curb COVID-19.

The UN has called for a temporary suspension of flights to give Ethiopian authorities time to safely organize the migrants’ repatriation.

“Cooperation and open dialogue between border management agencies is critical at this time to ensure everything is being done to halt the spread of COVID-19 and that the movements of people are safe, orderly and regular,” said Maureen Achieng IOM Ethiopia Chief of Mission.

“Pre-departure health screenings that are in line with the WHO’s recommended best practices are a key aspect of a unified approach to dealing with the pandemic”

Last week, IOM and other development partners, working with Dire Dawa city administration, received 2,019 Ethiopian returnees from Djibouti who came through the Dewale border entry point. Another group of 331 arrived at Moyale entry point from Kenya, with a significant number of infants, children and pregnant and lactating women.

Close to 2,900 returnees have arrived in Addis Ababa from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the enactment of mandatory quarantine, with an average of 250 returns planned every day in the coming weeks. Ongoing negotiations between the two countries are likely to temporarily put these movements on hold.

These returns are occurring at a time IOM had scaled down Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) movements due to increased risk of transmission of the coronavirus disease.

Ethiopia recorded its first COVID-19 case on 13 March and the latest update issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI), on 13 April, confirms 74 cases and two fatalities. A nationwide state of emergency was declared last Wednesday, buttressing a series of enforcement measures announced last month.

These include the closing of schools, bars and nightclubs, regulations on large gatherings and physical distancing, closing land borders, and a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arriving passengers at hotels, and at designated facilities for deportees.

The government, working with partners, is also preparing 30 quarantine sites to cater for the returnees, and since last week IOM is assisting to make the four in Addis Ababa ready to host returnees. The arrivals from Djibouti are now accommodated at the University of Dire Dawa, which has been dedicated as a 14-day isolation facility. They were screened for COVID -19 by the Health Bureau, with six suspected individuals now quarantined.  

“We provided food and palatable bottled water for the first four days, hand washing facilities, and sanitary pads for women,” said Aaron Manyumbu, head of the IOM sub office in Dire Dawa. “IOM will continue to provide bottled water, hygiene kits (clothes inclusive), and onward transportation to respective regions until the end of the 14 days of isolation,” he added.

Arrivals from Saudi Arabia are currently housed at Addis Ababa Science and Technology University quarantine centre, where IOM donated 2,000 blankets, 1,500 bed sheets and 720 packages of soap.

Working with the government and other partners, IOM will continue to provide support at the site, including registering arrivals and identifying vulnerable returnees, such as unaccompanied migrant children, for further assistance after quarantine.