IOM, in cooperation with AFFORD, Equinox Consulting, and the Centre for African Studies, hosted a lively discussion on “The role of diaspora in health and education emergencies: spotlight on Lesotho and Nigeria” at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on October 14.
The event, which marked Global Diaspora Week (GDW), brought together members of the diaspora, diaspora associations and academics to present the findings of two IOM-commissioned research reports on Nigerian health and education professionals and Basotho health professionals the UK. The evening was opened by the High Commissioner of Lesotho, H.E. Felleng Makeka, who welcomed the opportunity to interact with the diverse range of diaspora professionals present.
IOM recognises that engaging transnational communities to respond to the needs of their home countries requires – as a starting point - sound knowledge of their socio-economic characteristics, their willingness to get involved in specific initiatives, and the barriers they may face in doing so.
The findings presented during the event highlighted the important contributions to life in the countries of origin that UK diaspora communities are already making. This is often through informal links or person-to-person contact. The motives and forms of engagement are diverse and characterised by circumstances in the UK and in the country of origin, but also personal factors.
Some of the concerns raised by diaspora members during the course of the research were related to personal security, professional development, and economic considerations which appear to be potential barriers to engagement in their countries of origin. Similarly the absence of structured and organised programmes to enable skills transfers to take place was highlighted as a stumbling block for better engagement.
The presentations provided a springboard to stimulate dialogue on how the diaspora can respond to the ongoing Ebola crisis, as outlined by Onyekachi Wambu of AFFORD during his opening remarks: “We have been talking about diaspora and development since AFFORD was established 20 years ago, and we have seen the quality of the discussions improve. But emergencies heighten the critical need for diaspora in action. If we don’t act in emergencies then what is the point of all the dialogue?”
Audience members discussed the ways in which the UK’s diaspora communities were already responding to the Ebola crisis in different and innovative ways, by advising the government of Nigeria on how to contain their cases and by the recruitment of medical and non-medical personnel to work in Sierra Leone. Members of the Sierra Leone Diaspora Ebola Taskforce spoke of how those with invaluable medical and technical expertise, cultural knowledge and awareness could help combat the epidemic.