Marking the International Day of the African Child this past Sunday (16/06) in Niamey, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) organized an afternoon of dance, acrobatics, magic, theatre, storytelling and puppet shows for the migrants staying at IOM’s transit centres for unaccompanied migrant children and migrant women.
To make the most out of their stay, children benefit from daily recreational activities at the centre, such as IT, language, sport, music or art classes. Regular visits to the local museum, cinema or swimming pool also are organized.
“It made me feel great to be able to put my daily life aside for an afternoon; to forget about everything for a few hours,” said 16-year-old Seydou from Mali who attended Sunday’s festivity.
Sunday’s festivity was part of the bigger international street art festival BIJINI-BIJINI – FITMO NIGER now at its 11th edition, supported by IOM through the project Strengthening the Assistance and Protection of Migrants and Refugees in Niger, funded by France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. The 12-month-long project aims to strengthen the assistance provided to migrants in the transit centres, including medical and psychosocial assistance.
The functioning of IOM’s transit centre for unaccompanied migrant children (UMC) in Niamey is enabled by the regional programme “Safety, Support and Solutions in the Central Mediterranean Route” funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the Government of the United Kingdom, along with the European Union, in the frame of the Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism. “When we decide on the best solutions for unaccompanied children stranded in Niger, we always listen to their wishes,” said Nikolaas Swyngedouw, Protection Officer with IOM Niger. “It’s important for their voice to be heard during this process.”
Based on the child’s wishes, the IOM protection team organizes the liaison with the judge for minors, protection actors and colleagues in the country of origin in order to conduct the family tracing process, seek approval from the parents and organize the return. To ensure a safe and sustainable return, unaccompanied children tend to stay at the centre for a longer time than adults or families.
While they wait for their voluntary return to their country of origin under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, UMCs receive tailored assistance at the centre: Psychologists and protection officers organize group discussions and one-on-one counseling sessions in order for the children to overcome the trauma and challenges they may have faced during their migratory experience.
The festival will take place between 21-24 June in Niamey and will bring together artists from Benin, Togo, Guinea-Conakry and Spain. The festival wants to encourage a local exchange on a socio-cultural level, but also on an economic and commercial one by creating opportunities for local artists.
Many of the artistic performances scheduled during the festival will take place in disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Niamey where West African migrants tend to stay as they wait to gather enough funds to continue their journey up north. IOM’s community mobilizers will participate in the activities by sharing messages on irregular migration and its alternatives.
Certain areas in Niger remain very marginalized in terms of access to culture, especially the rural parts of the country. Street arts have the potential to turn public spaces into places of social exchange, and to highlight remote corners of the country that previously went underserved. As a free form of artistic and cultural expression, street arts open the door to culture for everyone, regardless of age, sex, level of education or social background.
In January 2018, IOM opened its first transit centre dedicated to the UMCs’ needs. Situated in Niamey, the centre is co-managed by the Ministry of Women Promotion and Child Protection in Niger, together with IOM.
In 2018 alone, IOM’s six transit centres for migrants in Niger assisted 1,473 accompanied migrant children, along with 346 UMCs. Most of the UMCs assisted in Niger came from Guinea-Conakry (57%); others came from Mali (10%) and Côte d’Ivoire (8%). Three per cent of UMCs were female.
There were 75 victims of trafficking among the UMCs assisted in 2018, while others experienced gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse. Adding to the trauma experienced and the child’s personal sense of failure, are factors like the loss of family support and reluctance to be accepted into the community upon return. Some minors have no family ties back home which lengthens and complicates the child’s voluntary return process.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Organization for Migration (IOM).