The daily life of migrants in shelters far from familiar places and their loved ones can be stressful and difficult, especially during times of health crises. This is what Hajer Labiadh, an intern psychologist at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has observed when she first visited an IOM-run shelter in Medenine governorate in southeast Tunisia.

“People have the impression that life in a migrant shelter is a constant adventure. It is quite the opposite, migrants are mostly confined and trapped in the same routine without having the means to do different things. Some of them are just giving up, unwilling to take care of themselves and their personal space,” said Hajer.

To break this monotony and help hosted migrants cope with anxiety and stress, IOM organised a well-being thematic month named “Ecologic Shelter”. The event, which focused on promoting a hygienic, clean and environment friendly life in the shelter took place in February 2021 and consisted of a series of activities that were carried out in the shelter in collaboration with volunteers from the Tunisian Red Crescent. COVID-19 precautionary measures were followed during the event.

On the first day of the month, plant pots were distributed to all the families that are hosted at the shelter. Children were given the responsibility to take good care of these vases after participating in an educational session facilitated by IOM staff members to learn about nature and the environment. A few days later, the children were invited to an awareness-raising session focusing on a better understanding of the dangers posed by COVID-19 and on promoting a hygienic and clean everyday routine. The session took place at the child-friendly recreational space of the shelter.

Throughout the month, the services and assistance that IOM and its partners in the region are offering were presented, including local medical and social services that are available in the city of Medenine. Male and female migrants met also with volunteers from the Tunisian Association for Reproductive Health and a local gynecologist to learn about the importance of hygiene and good sleep and about safe, effective and affordable contraception methods. 

“The session on hygiene and reproductive health was very informative and useful, especially since we got to know the Tunisian Association for Reproductive Health that is operating in our host city. The gynecologist has also answered a lot of my questions and encouraged me to visit her if I ever need it” said a woman who attended the activity.

For Hajer, it was the first time she organises such an activity with migrants in the shelter. She was very pleased that the children staying in the shelter were involved in most activities. “Children showed that they are always maintaining their zest for learning and playing, even when conditions are very limiting,” she concluded.

The next set of planned activities will target adult boys and girls in the shelter with a focus on cultural exchange, creativity and skills development.

“During corona [referring to the COVID-19 pandemic] there are not many activities that we and our children can do. This kind of event is very welcome. We will be happy to keep attending any planned activities in the next months to enrich our knowledge and maybe our skills,” said one of the women participants, a mother of two who is currently staying at the shelter with her children.

The well-being thematic month “Ecologic Shelter” was organized in the framework of the European Union-funded EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in North Africa.

Supported by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative is the first comprehensive programme bringing together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU and IOM around the shared goal of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.