“When you live as an undocumented migrant, one thing that keeps you alive is contact,” says Izzy, a migrant from Sierra Leone whose simple daily encounters with people going through similar struggles have been seriously diminished due to Covid-19. With the pandemic looming over everyone’s daily life,migrants such as Izzy face particular hardships. Cut off even from small jobs and activities,they are not eligible for social benefits that provide the stability needed to cope with a pandemic.
“Because these people are considered illegal, they cannot rent a house, they cannot work legally, they don’t have social security, they don’t have bank accounts,” says Joquebede Mesquita of the Company of Friends, which provides practical and legal assistance to undocumented migrants living in Netherlands. Some, she says, end up sleeping in the street, afraid of sharing a room with people who may be infected. “A lot of people want to go home to their parents,” she says. “They say, ‘If we are going to die, we want to die together’.”
These stories are a stark reminder: while COVID has been cruel for all of us, it has been catastrophic for migrants.Even in the most developed countries, migrants often don’t have access to critical Covid coping mechanismssuch as mental health care, safe housing(since they often share apartments) or working conditions(with proper hygiene protection measures), according to the IFRC reportLeast protected, most affected: Migrants and refugees facing extraordinary risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.On top of all that, they are even farther from loved ones and moreexposed tomedia disinformation in languages they may not fully master.
Still, there are many bright spots amid the challenges. Born in Brazil, Claudia has struggled to find unofficial jobs while taking care of her four-year-old daughter Maria. But she now has a steady job and Maria is enrolled in school, learning Dutch. “She plays with other children and has more contact with kids her own age,” Claudia says.
For Izzy, as well, the challenges he and other migrants face have only intensified his desire to something positive for others. “I’ve stayed here a long time and this country has supported me,” says Izzy, who likes to help out at a local shelter and food service for other undocumented migrants in need of a warm meal and a welcoming space. “So, I think I have to give something back.”
Claudia, from Minas Gerais, Brazil
Originally from the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, Claudia has been working as anundocumented migrant in The Netherlands for a year. “I feel bad because I am considered illegal here,” says Claudia. “But I have been able to find work here and I feel safer here. I can walk on the streets with my daughter. The quality of life I can give my daughter is better than in Brazil. So, I feel more secure than in Brazil, but less secure because I am illegal”.
As evening falls, Claudia and her daughter Maria take a break on a bench in Amsterdam. “Corona has made life difficultbecause so many things are closed,” she says. “There is nowhere to go and I have to spend a lot of time with Maria, sitting in the very small room that I rent.”
Children in Netherlands begin school soon after their fourth birthday. “I am very happy now that Maria has started school … I want to learn Dutch but Corona has made it more complicated because a lot of the schools are closed. And with Maria it was difficult to find time to study. And now that she is at school maybe I can learn Dutch at a school in the future.”
“Maria has a better life now,” says Claudia. “She plays with other children and has more contact with kids her own age. Maria is very happy.She talks about her new school all the time. She is learning Dutch. The school is very good compared to what we had in my neighbourhood in Brazil.”
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, it has been a terrible time,” says Joquebede Mesquita of the Company of Friends, which provides practical and legal assistance to undocumented migrants in The Netherlands. “The telephone is ringing all the time. They want to go back to Brazil. They want to go back to their family, to their children.We helped more than 200 people go back to Brazil. Their work has stopped and they don’t have money to pay the rent or to pay for food. A lot of people were sleeping on the street and they were very afraid. People get the Corona virus and some of them are living with up to nine people in a small room. How can they survive? And a lot of people want to go home to their parents. They say, ‘If we are going to die, we want to die together’.”
An undocumented migrant from Brazil signs up to receive asupermarket food voucherfrom the Company of Friends organisation in Amsterdam.The vouchers are provided by the The Netherlands Red Crossto help migrants who have fallen on hard times since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Because these people are considered illegal, they cannot rent a house, they cannot work legally, they don’t have social security, they don’t have bank accounts,” says Mesquita. “The idea is that they come here for a couple of years, get some money and then return to Brazil, buy a house and have a good life. But most of the people end up staying five or ten years, they don’t learn the language because they work and don’t have time to integrate into the community.”
In her kitchen at home, Claudia and a friend unpack somefood donated by the Netherlands Red Cross. “The Brazilian community here in Holland help each other a lot. And if you are a Brazilian woman with a child, they help you even more.”
Claudia and her daughter Maria look at a Christmas display in a shop window in Amsterdam. “I don’t know how we will celebrate Christmas. It’s a difficult time. I have to find a new place to live.Normally in Brazil we celebrate with family and friends. But here? I just have Maria”, she says. “My dream is to make some money and then return to Brazil and buy a house for my family. But if the chance came to stay here legally, I would consider it. But at the moment, the future is today. I take each day as it comes.”
Izzy, from Sierra Leone
After a decade-long civil war engulfed west African nation of Sierra Leone during the 1990s,Izzy felt he had no choice but to leave the country. The conflict took a high personal toll. “I lost my father, my brother, my sister and then later my mother disappeared,” he says. “I still have some uncles there but it’s difficult to know exactly where they are. I’ve been away a long time”. Although his application for asylum in the Netherlands has dragged on for over eleven years, he is confident he will be granted residency soonand he now considers Holland his home.
“I miss everything about Sierra Leone,” says Izzy. “The food. The weather. The people. Absolutely everything. But it would be very difficult for me to go back becausethe scars of the war are still there. I was born there. I grew up there and from time to time, you feel this nostalgic. You have to look at your health situation as well and if I went back I would feel overwhelmed to be in my country again. But at the same time, you have this fear of going back and bringing up all the memories again. It’s a difficult thing.”
“When you live here as an undocumented migrant,one thing that keeps you alive is contact. When you meet friends, that gives you the energy to do things every day when you wake up. But because of Covid, that has stopped.”
“Covid has affected me a lot. First, because I lost a few friends, people that I knew— both Dutch and foreigners – to the disease. But also, and I think more importantly, because of the situation where you have no contact with friends. Things are no longer the way they used to be. You don’t allow people to come and visit you any more. That’s one thing we lost.”
Izzy and his friend Kieta from Guinea buy some ingredients for the meal he will prepare for at theWorld House, a place where undocumented migrants can get a warm meal. “There are a lot of Africans in Amsterdam and many of them come to the World House,” says Izzy. “It is a place for refugees and, for most of them, it is their last hope when they have to leave the asylum camps. They have to go somewhere and usually the only place they can go is the World House. We feed them. We help them to find shelter and get back into the asylum application procedures.”
“By law I’m not allowed to work or go to university in Netherlands because I still don’t have a residency permit. But I do like to help out becauseI think I have to contribute to society as well. I sometimes cook food for people in the World House, a place where undocumented people can receive help, spend the night and get a plate of warm food.I also help out at the Red Cross sometimes, preparing food packages for undocumented people and people without income. I help at some churches as well, cooking and storytelling, teaching kickboxing, but because of Corona, most of the church activities have been suspended.”
“I am doing a course in website design. It is funded by an organisation that helps refugees. I have always had the idea of creating my own website, and maybe doing it for other people as well. So when this opportunity came, I decided to grab it and try to make something of it.I really would like to do something that will contribute to society herebecause I’ve stayed here a long time and this country has supported me, so I think I have to give something back.”
This story was produced and originally published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine. To learn about the Magazine, and to read more stories like this,click here.
The National Society Investment Alliance (NSIA) is a pooled funding mechanism, run jointly by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
It provides flexible, multi-year funding to support the long-term development of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies—particularly those in complex emergencies and protracted crisis—so they can increase the reach and impact of their humanitarian services.
The NSIA can award up to one million CHF of accelerator funding to any one National Society over a five-year period. In addition, bridge grants of up to 50,000 CHF over 12 months can help National Societies prepare the ground for future investment from the NSIA or from elsewhere.
This year, the NSIA is pleased to announce that the following six National Societies have been selected for accelerator funding in 2022:
Burundi Red Cross
Kenya Red Cross Society
Malawi Red Cross Society
Russian Red Cross Society
Syrian Arab Red Crescent
Zambia Red Cross Society
These National Societies will receive a significant investment of up to one million CHF, to be used over a maximum of five years, to help accelerate their journey towards long-term sustainability. Three of these National Societies (Syria, Malawi and Zambia) previously received NSIA bridge awards, proving once again the relevance of the fund’s phased approach towards sustainable development.
In addition, 14 other National Societies will receive up to 50,000 CHF in bridge funding: Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Nicaragua, Palestine, Panama, Rwanda, Sierra Leone.
In total, the NSIA will allocate 5.4 million CHF to 20 different National Societies this year. This is more than double the funds allocated in 2021 and represents the largest annual allocation since the NSIA’s launch in 2019.
This landmark allocation is made possible thanks to the generous support from the governments of Switzerland, the United States, Canada and Norway, and from the Norwegian and Netherlands’ National Societies. Both the ICRC and IFRC have also strongly reinforced their commitment, by allocating 10 million CHF and 2 million CHF respectively over the coming years.
The Co-chairs of the NSIA Steering Committee, Xavier Castellanos, IFRC Under-Secretary General for National Society Development and Operations Coordination, and Olivier Ray, ICRC Director for Mobilization, Movement and Partnership, said:
“We are pleased to have been able to select 20 National Societies’ initiatives for funding by the NSIA in 2022. Our vision and plans are becoming a reality. We see Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies operating in fragile contexts accessing funds for sustainably developing to deliver and scale up their humanitarian services. This is localization in action and at scale.
It is particularly encouraging to see that the NSIA’s two-stage approach, with initial funds providing a springboard to help National Societies prepare for increased investment aimed at achieving sustained impact on the organization and vulnerable communities, is working. We hope to see many more National Societies planning and following this journey.
2022 will be remembered as a milestone for the NSIA. Our ambition is to maintain this momentum and continue to grow in the years to come. We see this mechanism as a valuable and strategic lever to support National Societies in fragile and crisis settings to undertake their journey towards sustainable development.”
For more information, please click here to visit the NSIA webpage.
Freetown, Nairobi, 6 November 2021—Sierra Leone Red Cross teams are providing ambulance services; first aid and psychosocial support following a fire incident that killed nearly 100 on Friday night. To support Sierra Leone Red Cross teams to step up its emergency response, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is in the process of releasing money from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF).
The number of affected people and the gruesome nature of the disaster have posed challenges to response teams.
Kpawuru E. T. Sandy, Sierra Leone Red Cross Society’s Secretary General currently, said:
“The main hospital is overwhelmed, and families are struggling to identify their loved ones who were burnt or killed as bodies are badly charred.”
Sierra Leone has been hit by frequent disasters in recent years, including floods, epidemics, and fire incidents.
Mohammed Mukhier, IFRC’s Regional Director for Africa said: “This is a heart-breaking incident, for a country where memories of the 2017 tragic mudslides and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak are still fresh. Over 100 patients are now being taken care of at different hospitals in Freetown.”
Sierra Leone Red Cross teams have responded to other major disasters in the past with the latest being the Susan’s Bay fire incident in March. The disaster left at least 7,000 homeless. Sierra Leone Red Cross responded by providing first aid and ambulance services, and IFRC released nearly 300,000 Swiss francs from its DREF to scale up the response operation. Sierra Leone Red Cross teams have also responded to the August 2017 mudslides that killed over 1000 people; and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 4000 people.
Through its 18,000 volunteers across the country, Sierra Leone Red Cross continues to play a leading role as a first responder to disasters and as a provider of primary health care.
For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Swaray Lengor, +232 79 236196; [email protected]
Dr Ghulam Muhammad AWAN, +232 78 811 584; [email protected]
Camara Yusuf; +23279492611; [email protected]
Euloge Ishimwe, +254 731 688 613, [email protected]
Conakry/Nairobi/Geneva, 22 February 2021 – Red Cross teams in Guinea and across West Africa are ramping up response efforts to contain a deadly Ebola outbreak.
Red Cross volunteers and staff Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone have stepped up surveillance and community sensitization efforts. To support these live saving activities, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has issued an international emergency appeal for 8.5 million Swiss francs.
MohammedMukhier, the IFRC’s Regional Director for Africa said:
“Ebola does not care about borders. Close social, cultural and economic ties between communities in Guinea and neighbouring countries create a very serious risk of the virus spreading to Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, and potentially even further.
“That’s why we are launching an integrated cross-border operation aimed at rapidly confining the outbreak to its current location—and swiftly containing any eventual outbreak beyond Guinea.”
In Guinea, Red Cross teams in N’zérékoré were mobilized to conduct safe and dignified burials for two people who were killed by Ebola. They also disinfected a local hospital and started efforts to create broad community awareness about the return of the disease in the urban areas of N'Zérékoré and in Gouécké.
There are an estimated 1.3 million people living in the health zone affected by the outbreak. The Guinea Red Cross and IFRC plan aims to support about 420,000 of them with a range of services, including community sensitization, community-based surveillance, water, sanitation and hygiene, safe and dignified burials, infection prevention and control, as well as psychosocial support.
In surrounding countries, Red Cross actions will target an additional 6 million people. In Sierra Leone, a network 200 Red Cross volunteers in Kambia and Kailahun are now on high alert and are conducting surveillance activities. In addition, an alert was sent to the four other districts (Kono, Koinadugu, Western Area and Pujehun) bordering Guinea and Liberia, where an additional 100 volunteers are preparing social community awareness activities.
In Liberia, in areas along the borders with Guinea, Red Cross volunteers are on high alert and are currently conducting awareness in communities. The most at-risk areas include Bong, Lofa, Nimba, Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu counties. Liberia Red Cross will be sending Personal Protective Equipment to the region.
In Mali, Red Cross teams will provide services such as surveillance and community sensitization. The Senegalese Red Cross is beefing up surveillance efforts at border points, while ramping up community awareness activities.
In addition to enacting community response, surveillance and sensitization activities, Red Cross teams are also concerned about the needs being created by localized efforts to limit movements in a bid to contain the outbreak. As a result of these public health measures, people near the epicentre are already in need of water, sanitation and hygiene services as well as food assistance.
IFRC’s Mukhier said: “This outbreak is likely to complicate an already challenging situation. COVID-related containment measures currently being implemented have exacerbated food insecurity in the region and this may lead to the reluctance of communities to respect new preventive measures that are being put in place to contain Ebola.”
The Empress Shôken Fund is named after Her Majesty the Empress of Japan, who proposed – at the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross – the creation of an international fund to promote relief work in peacetime. It is administered by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains close contact with the Japanese Permanent Mission in Geneva, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Meiji Jingu Research Institute in Japan.
The Fund has a total value of over 16 million Swiss francs and supports projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to benefit their communities in various ways. The first grant was awarded in 1921, to help five European National Societies fight the spread of tuberculosis. The Fund has assisted more than 160 National Societies thus far.
The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund is shown by the regularity of their contributions to it.
The grants are usually announced every year on 11 April, the anniversary of her death. This year the announcement is being published earlier owing to the Easter holidays.
The selection process
The Empress Shôken Fund received 36 applications in 2020, covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies in every region of the world. This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 400,160 Swiss francs to 14 projects in Argentina, Bulgaria, Greece, Iraq, Lithuania, Montenegro, Namibia, Palestine, Panama, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda.
The projects to be supported in 2020 cover a number of themes, including first aid, youth engagement and disaster preparedness. Moreover, nearly all of the selected projects seek to strengthen the volunteer base of National Societies, with a view to building on the unique role played by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in communities everywhere. The Fund encourages new and innovative approaches that are geared towards learning, so that the broader Movement can benefit from project findings.
The 2020 grants
TheArgentine Red Crosshas launched a generational change in its leadership by promoting volunteers’ access to decision-making bodies. It will use the grant to design and build virtual courses, creating new spaces for dialogue and debate.
For years, the Bulgarian Red Cross has been a major partner of the State in the field of first aid, helping it to respond effectively in a crisis. The National Society will use the grant to reinforce its leadership position by introducing an online first-aid training platform that will facilitate theoretical learning and increase the number of trained first-aiders.
The Hellenic Red Cross seeks to empower local communities in vulnerable or isolated areas. The grant will go towards establishing branch and community disaster teams that will build communities’ resilience through activities and training around disaster risk reduction.
In Iraq, late detection of breast cancer is common and makes the disease much deadlier. To save women’s lives, theIraqi Red Crescent Societywill use the grant to train female volunteers who will raise awareness of early detection methods for breast cancer.
The Lithuanian Red Cross will put the grant towards an innovative digital platform for evaluating the impact of its first-aid courses, issuing and tracking certifications, and connecting with first-aiders after they complete their training.
Young people account for more than 80% of the volunteers of the Red Cross of Montenegro. The National Society will use the grant to improve its activities and services with the aim of strengthening youth participation and raising awareness of volunteer opportunities.
As Namibia’s population grows, first-aid skills and services are more in demand than ever before. The grant will enable the Namibia Red Cross to run intensive first-aid training and certification courses in ten schools.
To better serve the communities it works with, thePalestine Red Crescent Society seeks to build its staff members’ and volunteers’ capacities. It will use the grant to establish a computer lab as a continuing-education unit for all of its staff and volunteers.
In Panama, gang violence has shot up in recent years, and pollution continues to grow owing to a lack of public awareness. The Red Cross Society of Panama will use the grant to develop a series of activities aimed at promoting a culture of peace and environmental responsibility.
Blood transfusion services are an essential component of Sierra Leone’s health-care system. The grant will enable the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society to increase access to safe blood products, especially for pregnant woman and infants.
In Timor-Leste, 70% of the population is under 30 years old, but accessing information about reproductive health can be difficult, particularly in rural areas. The Timor Leste Red Cross will use the grant for a public-awareness and education campaign for young people on reproductive health.
The Tonga Red Cross Society will use the grant to improve students' access to health care and physical activity by using safer vehicles for transportation.
The Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society is exploring novel approaches to teaching disaster preparedness and increasing public awareness on the subject. The grant will enable the National Society to use virtual-reality technology to teach the public about the reality and impact of disasters.
In Uganda, 70% of blood donors are students, so the country faces blood shortages outside term time. The Uganda Red Cross Society will use the grant to develop its online recruitment of adult blood donors so as to counteract any seasonal shortfalls during the holidays.