Migrant Returnees, Gambian Authorities Join Forces to Step Up COVID-19 Community Engagement
Banjul – Migration plays a significant role in continental Africa’s smallest country, The Gambia. Its per capita migration rate remains one of the highest in Africa, and with over 5,000 Gambians voluntarily returning home in the past three years, it holds the highest rate of migrant returnees as a proportion of its population.
With a slow but steady increase in The Gambia’s number of COVID-19 cases – leading to a 50% increase between 18 June and 8 July – migrant returnees joined forces in stepping up the country’s risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) efforts.
“Migration is a big phenomenon in this country, so some communities have already recognized returnees as advocates for safe migration,” expressed Mustapha Sallah, who returned from Libya in 2017 and is currently the Secretary-General of Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM). “Sharing information on COVID-19 could help change perceptions in our communities and encourage others to adhere to hygiene and distancing guidelines.” A number of returnee-led RCCE initiatives are now rolling out under the Migrants as Messengers program, which hosts a network of 50 returnee-volunteers serving as trusted sources of information on migration.
This commenced with a training for 17 returnees held last 13 July, where they were oriented by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on fundamental COVID-19 RCCE principles and approaches, and by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the link between COVID-19 and migration. This training aimed to equip the returnees to lead in subsequent campaigns, including a nationwide weekly radio program with MOH; participatory street art, mask distribution, and a house-to-house campaign with the Kanifing Municipal Council; and the production of songs for nationwide dissemination.
“Returnees can play a key role in RCCE by serving as agents of positive behavioral change,” remarked Mass Joof, MOH’s Health Communication Programme Manager. “They will be of great help in the Ministry’s efforts to share information at the community level, promoting a better understanding of the virus among youth and other returnees.”
Many of the returnees are trained in peer-to-peer communication, having previously worked on campaigns promoting alternatives to irregular migration. At the onset of the pandemic, they had also participated in the production of various COVID-19 videos, encouraging Gambians to stay at home, promoting proper handwashing practices, and debunking common myths about the virus.
Finally, drawing from their own experiences in facing negative perceptions when they returned home, combatting COVID-related stigma and discrimination will be a key message in the campaigns. “We need to show people that COVID-19 can happen to anyone and that people can recover from it. All of us just have to keep staying safe,” declared Sallah.
“During this pandemic, returnees have displayed remarkable initiative in contributing to the response,” expressed Fumiko Nagano, IOM’s Chief of Mission in The Gambia. “In a country where migration has had such a huge impact, many of them are passionate about using their skills and voices for good, so we look forward to them playing a larger role in response efforts.”
For more information, please contact Miko Alazas at IOM The Gambia; Tel: +220 330 3168, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the regional response, please contact Florence Kim at IOM Regional Office for West and Central Africa; Tel : +221 78 620 62 13; Email: email@example.com