Nigeria, Mali and Guinea cumulatively represent 50 percent of over 68,000 West and Central African migrants stranded along the main migration routes since 2017 who have been assisted to voluntarily return to their countries of origin.
The caseload is mainly in Niger (25,400) and Libya (29,900). On the average however, returned migrants are mostly young male (86 per cent) and two percent are unaccompanied children.
For migrants who have risked everything hoping for new lives outside their countries, returning is difficult. “I can say that those things that pushed me to leave my country, I can have them here now”, said Seyiba, a returned Burkinabe assisted in 2018 by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). He is currently managing a 500-chicken poultry farm in his country, together with other returnees.
Successfully managing the reintegration of these returned migrants must be a shared responsibility between governments, IOM and civil society organisations. For that purpose representatives from 12 West and Central African governments, and the European Union, attended IOM’s first expert workshop on reintegration in West and Central Africa organised in the second week of this November in Dakar, Senegal’s capital.
The main goal was to evaluate the achievements made in the framework of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration (Joint Initiative) and create a regional community of best practices.
IOM’s reintegration assistance can include, among other things, reception at the airport, overnight accommodation, pocket money, psychosocial counselling, vocational training and economic support such as job placements, setting-up of micro-businesses or cash-for-work programmes.
By its very nature, reintegration is a complex and slow process, but it is the boost migrants need to overcome their stigma and psychosocial distress of returning.
So far, among those who returned, nearly 55,000 migrants started the reintegration process and over 5,000 received psychosocial support in (descending order) Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, The Gambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Chad and Mauritania.
IOM Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Richard Danziger, said “reintegration must be a shared responsibility and implemented in full partnership between governments and all layers of the society. Together, our teams and your governments have accomplished what seemed unthinkable three years ago, working hand in hand to achieve the common goal of leaving no one behind.”
Senior Regional Programme Coordinator at IOM, Michele Bombassei, said “through the Joint Initiative, we have established a functioning model for migrant reintegration. But there is a need for a more concerted effort, at both political and operational levels, to strengthen migration governance, including reintegration, and ensure the sustainability of a joint response in West and Central Africa.”
“It’s a small project at first sight, but it is big in size because these are long-term projects”, said one Guinean who returned from Niger in 2017 and who is now working in a poultry farm, currently employing 300 community members and migrants.
Examples of sustainable and collective projects in Cote d’Ivoire where returned migrants and more than 200 community members work on a waste management project, or in Guinea where returned migrants have set-up a growing potato farm, prove that meaningful reintegration assistance can be achieved by harnessing the skills of the returned migrants, while also addressing issues affecting the broader community.
During the workshop, IOM also presented its Reintegration Handbook, a newly published guide designed to provide practitioners involved in the provision of reintegration-related support with practical guidance on the design, implementation and monitoring of reintegration assistance for returnees, with a focus on those who are unable or unwilling to remain in host or transit countries.
Launched in December 2016 with funding from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the Joint Initiative is the first comprehensive programme to save lives, protect and assist migrants along key migration routes in Africa. It is implemented in 26 African countries together with African governments.