The Programme that Reunifies Refugee Families

(Nairobi) Conflict is the main long-term driver of migration in many parts of Sub-Sahara Africa, particularly in the East and the Horn of Africa. These areas are the most vulnerable to instability, protracted political turmoil, and inter-communal conflicts coupled with regional vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change that further exacerbate conflict in the African continent. This has led to over 85 million “internal climate migrants”, representing up to four percent of the continent’s total population, the World Bank estimates.

However, cross-border migration in the Horn of Africa, induced by terrorism, weak government protection, and endless humanitarian crises, has resulted in the displacement of people in South Sudan and Somalia, the main refugee-producing countries. According to the UNHCR End Year Report for 2018, in Somalia, for instance, the number of Internally Displaced People (IDP) rose to over 2.6 million IDPs, and over 800,000 Somalis sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Due to Kenya’s political stability, it has become one of the more favourable destinations for refugees within the continent, making it the second biggest refugee-hosting country in Africa, after Ethiopia. As a result of rampant irregular migration, many families disintegrated, seeking out dangerous routes to destinations such as Europe.

The IOM Family Assistance Programme in Nairobi is a German-funded programme that facilitates the family reunification of vulnerable migrants who are compelled to leave their country. They are paired with a person with protection status in Germany.

In his opening remarks at the programme’s official launch, Patrick Corcoran, a Senior Specialist in the Immigration and Border Management Division at IOM Headquarters, says that the new station is among ten centres that operate globally. “The centre has been operating for the last six months, and has assisted 1600 beneficiaries, but today we are opening it officially,” he said.

Kasim-Mohammed and Sabrina, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, are 9 and 10 years old, respectively. They are a part of the 13.5 million displaced children in Africa – including those living as refugees, migrants or internally displaced people. Their guardian, Halima, accompanied them to the IOM offices in Nairobi to initiate the process of family reunification.

“During the 2007-2009 unrest in Somalia, their mother was killed,” she explained, adding that she was left to take care of the two children when they were young. “Their father fled to Germany, and we are here seeking help so that they can unite with him.”

In recent years, millions of migrants, particularly from Africa, have tried to reach Europe using illegal means, and others are being smuggled by human traffickers. In December 2018, The European Commission noted a significant decrease of migrants and refugees travelling through the Mediterranean Sea. The number dropped from 179,536 in the year 2017 to 134,004 as of December 2018, with Italy experiencing the biggest drop in arrivals, and Spain and Greece ganing the largest increase in arrivals.

With Germany being part of the European Union, the German Ambassador to Kenya, Annet Gunther, says that since 2015, her country has been experiencing a growing number of immigrants escaping turmoil and situations of conflict in their original homeland coming to Germany through unsafe and illegal means, seeking refuge and protection.

“Many of them are separated from their families. To ease the plight of those families, we want to help fathers and mothers to unite with their families in Germany,” Gunther said.

However, she added that through the IOM office, the Family Assistance Programme (FAP) helps to empower families with information and visa-related services, as well as protecting beneficiaries from misinformation and exploitation from visa brokers. The centre also manages regular migration pathways to Germany.

“Because the numbers are high, we ask the IOM Nairobi office to support and help in collecting information and data regarding the visa application process. These services are free of charge,” she explained.

Since its inception in 2016, the non-discriminatory, transparent and safe migration family reunification programme has assisted over 280,000 beneficiaries seeking to unite with their families in Germany. According to the Acting Chief of Mission of IOM Kenya, Mr. Ferdinand Paredes, the programme helps to protect and uphold the basic right of family unity, and empower migrants and refugees with visa information.