23 February 2022
A network of care for migrants in Sudan
By Wilson Johwa For the visitors sitting in the covered waiting area outside Khartoum’s Migration Resource and Response Centre (MRRC), this multi-storey building on a busy road is a vital destination. Between January and December 2021, nearly 7,000 visits were received from migrants – mostly from African countries – who sought assistance there. Dr Amna Khairy, one of four MRRC doctors, says if not for the centre, many migrants would have struggled to access health care, in addition to being confronted with higher fees, with no option of free medication. The MRRC also solves the language barrier with dedicated interpreters. COVID-19 presented Dr Khairy and her colleagues with a major challenge in how to reach migrants in need of support, especially after last year’s lockdown. However, among the first innovations was the set-up of phone-based medical consultation through a dedicated Helpline at the MRRC. In other cases, the MRRC team would contact registered patients with chronic diseases via the Helpline to check on their condition. “We distributed prescribed medicines through migrant community leaders and through safe houses,” says Dr Khairy. She and her colleagues later received positive feedback on these extra steps they took to help migrants. “After lockdown, they said, ‘your calls were very helpful, we know there is someone who cares about us.” Sudan is a source, transit, and destination country at the centre of several migration routes. It hosts several migrant populations from countries such as Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Somalia, and the Philippines. IOM Sudan has three MRRCs that provide a network of care facilities for migrants in vulnerable situations. MRRC Khartoum is the biggest, followed by similar centres in Gedaref State, on the border with Ethiopia, and another in Kassala State, close to border with Eritrea. The three centres also work through a network of partners. In Khartoum, this includes a community safe house catering to the needs of Ethiopian migrants in difficulties. At MRRC Khartoum, Dr Khairy and the three other doctors provide primary care and refer complex cases to hospitals and other specialized centres. Take Guday Kebede, who had developed problems with her eyesight and could no longer work. “I was almost unable to see,” said the 39-year-old Ethiopian domestic worker. “My eyes had filled with water and after the operation, I can see again,” she said, referring to a procedure arranged through the MRRC. Guday has been living in Khartoum for five years, having arrived in Sudan in search of a better life – for herself and to support her five siblings back in Ethiopia. The MRRC doctors also conduct outreach visits such as on COVID-19 awareness and for the distribution of personal protective equipment. In addition, they provide services to migrants at the two safe houses, and at two government-run facilities for migrants in administrative detention – the Counter-Trafficking Unit and the Aliens Field Inspection Unit. Simachew Admasu, the manager of the Ethiopian safe house, says most of those cared for at the facility are young women who leave home with the promise of a job in the Middle East. Among them is Maritu, 20, who had hoped for a life in Dubai. She will be assisted by the MRRC to return to Ethiopia where she intends setting up a shop, although she has not completely abandoned her dream. “Everyone I know travelled irregularly with no idea of regular migration, and many changed their lives that way,” Maritu says. Further support for migrants in Khartoum is provided by a team of caseworkers from the MRRC who assess migrants’ vulnerabilities. Also on hand is mental health and psychosocial support, with complex cases being referred for more advanced interventions such as post-traumatic stress disorders, psychiatric disorders and depression. Other services offered at the Khartoum MRRC include information on assisted voluntary return and reintegration, as well as outreach visits to support migrants in administrative detention with food assistance and hygiene items or with the payment of school fees for migrant children from economically vulnerable families to prevent them from dropping out of school. Plans are underway to work through MRRC Khartoum to refurbish three primary health centres that also serve migrants. They are all in Khartoum State and work on the first one is due to start soon. The three migrant support centres in Sudan are mainly co-funded by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.