By News Desk
Addis Ababa – 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 packets 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.
IOM Ethiopia’s COVID-19 preparedness and response cover interventions in health, WASH and community engagement, site management support, AVRR, and Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) reporting. Under health, IOM has seconded medical staff to EPHI, strengthened points of entry and exit (PoE), engaged in Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE), and surveillance, including supporting mobility mapping to help identify potential hotspots and mobility routes.
WASH activities have included, among others, distribution of 3,750,000 pieces of 120 gm anti-bacterial soap among 625,000 individuals and 500 handwashing buckets and soap at health centres, water points, and other communal locations. 50,000 leaflets and 10,000 posters in Amharic, Oromiffa, Somali, and Tigrigna on COVID-19 awareness and mitigation measures have also been produced and distributed.
IOM has also supported the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and EPHI in developing a guideline for COVID-19 outbreak preparedness and response for refugees, IDPs and Returnees in Ethiopia, based on guidelines developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) in March 2020.
IOM continues to work on a wide range of Covid-19 interventions through its day to day programming and through the UN-system support to the government’s preparedness and response capacity. It is also advocating countries, especially members states, to withhold deportations as this seriously threatens Ethiopia’s resilience to COVID-19.