By Akanimo Sampson
In a seeming frantic bid to address the environmental challenges facing communities of origin in West Africa, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) organised a workshop on 3-4 July 3-4 in Rabat, Morocco, that brought together 45 experts, policymakers and academics from North and Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe to discuss opportunities for integrating environmental dimensions into reintegration activities.
In West Africa, environmental challenges are widely believed to drive migration from rural areas, where livelihoods are largely dependent on natural resources (agriculture, mining and fishery).
Simultaneously, these challenges impact the sustainability of reintegration for returned migrants, limiting their livelihood options and the availability of natural resources, such as water and land, and food.
Programme Officer at the Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) Division at IOM’s headquarters, Daria Mokhnacheva, said ‘’the livelihoods in some regions in the world rely essentially on natural resources, and when these resources are affected by desertification or drought, it is the economy that experiences the direct effects, which can lead to migration. By addressing these factors, not only can we tackle the root causes of migration, but we can also ensure the sustainable reintegration of returnees.’’
The workshop was generously supported by the Government of France, the IOM Development Fund, and organised in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS).
Morocco is a country with complex migratory and environmental dynamics and challenges related to water scarcity and job creation, especially in rural areas. During the second day of the workshop, participants visited Swani Tiqa, an agroecological farm created and run by former members of the Moroccan diaspora in Shoul’s Valley, near Rabat.
“What is important is to create jobs for local populations. And this kind of projects allows them to have a guaranteed and fixed income and thus to be able to flourish in their environment to avoid the drama of departure’’, said Touriya Tarouj, owner of Swani Tiqa.
Her experience is currently being studied by IOM Morocco, along with other similar initiatives, in the framework of a project on Diaspora’s Engagement into Development of Agroecology in Morocco, supported by the IOM Development Fund.
The visit also provided an opportunity for an exchange of experience between Tarouj and the owners of a similar agroecological initiative in Senegal, who were attending the workshop.
Bellal and Aminata Sow, former members of the Senegalese diaspora, are running Sow Ranch, an agro-ecological farm in Kolda, which is one of the most important regions of return migration in Senegal.
Of the 79 returned migrants from Kolda interviewed by IOM in December 2018, 26 (32.9%) indicated they left their homes because of the degradation of natural resources and 15 (19%) because of natural disasters. Sow Ranch is currently partnering with IOM to host returned migrants and train them on agro-ecological practices.
This partnership has been established in the framework of IOM’s project on ‘’Mainstreaming environmental dimensions into reintegration support to reduce the effects of climate change on migration in West Africa’’ funded by the Government of France, as part of which the workshop was organised.
Within this project, IOM supports the reintegration of returning migrants through the creation of job opportunities in sectors contributing to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and to reducing forced migration resulting from the negative impacts of environmental and climate change.
During the workshop, participants generated recommendations for global guidelines on environmentally sustainable and climate-resilient reintegration of returned migrants, which IOM is currently developing.
The participants also identified “green projects” such as recycling, waste collection, agroecology farming, rain water harvesting, among others, aiming at adapting to climate change and mitigating environmental degradation.
The forthcoming global guidelines will provide practical, non-binding guidance to policymakers and practitioners to promote migrant reintegration as an opportunity for addressing the impact of climate change and other environmental challenges in countries to which migrants return, while contributing to sustainable reintegration of returnees.
The project, a contribution by the Government of France and IOM to the work of the Platform on Disaster Displacement, is an innovative response to international policy commitments to address the environmental drivers of migration, such as those made in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change at the COP21 and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) in 2018.
It also addresses the international commitments made by the European Union and African States at the Valletta Summit on migration (2015), to “improve cooperation on return and sustainable reintegration.’’