145 Sierra Leoneans Return Home Safely from Niger

Published Date: 
Fri, 06/25/2021 - 19:30
Country: 
Sierra Leone

 

Freetown (Sierra Leone) - On Thursday 17 June, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 145 Sierra Leoneans stranded in Niger to safely return home via air charter flight assisted under the voluntary return and reintegration programme.

The returnees were part of hundreds of Sierra Leoneans who ended up stranded and stuck in Niger whilst they were trying to reach Europe. IOM worked closely with relevant sierra leoean national authorities and IOM Country team in Niger to facilitate the return to their country of origin.

"From January to the 17 June 2021, IOM with close cooperation with the Government has provided voluntary humanitarian return assistance to some 633 Sierra Leonean migrants including women from Niger,’’ said Akao Kunikazu, Project Manager and Officer-in charge at IOM Sierra Leone. We are happy to assist migrants wishing to return home, whilst we continue to engage more young people on the risk of irregular migration,” he added.

Upon their arrival at the Freetown International Airport on Thursday, the returnees received assistance such as food to support their immediate basic needs, and in-county onward transportation cost and also mobile phones to ensure easy communication with IOM office in Sierra Leone. They also underwent a rapid COVID-19 PCR test.

In the coming weeks and months, they will receive in-kind reintegration assistance and those who are eligible will receive business management training and startup kits to start businesses. Sometimes mediation support is being provided to those who have issues with their families, communities or those who are indebted.

Many Sierra Leonean youths often end up in debt and lose money when they try to travel to Europe through irregular means. They take out loans and incur debt from relatives and friends to finance their journey. Traffickers and smugglers most of the time will assure these desperate youths of a safe and cheap route to reach Europe which is not the case.

 "A friend told me about a program to reach spain easily via Niger and Algeria. I was convinced by what he told me, so I joined the program. I spent more than ten million Leones (more than a thousand dollar) to fund my trip. Even though I paid other additional ransom to Agents, but yet still I could not reached my dream destination country," said Lamin Turay. "The Journey to Europe through 'Temple Run'[1] is not easy as some people might think, the challenges are enormous. I lost everything. I am happy that I am back home to see my family and start a new life,'' he added.

He also said that the money he had to travel was insufficient, so he had to take a loan from a friend to save enough for the trip.

Like Lamin, many returnees are indebted. Sierra Leone's Ministry of Social Welfare (MSW) is working with IOM, World Hope International (WHI) and Advocacy Network against Irregular Migration (ANAIM) – an association of returnees to address this problem through a mediation mechanism which is part of the reintegration assistance provided to returned migrants.

Since 2017, more than 3,000 Sierra Leoneans stranded along migration routes have been assisted by IOM to return home voluntarily and safely.

These returns were made possible with support from the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrants Protection and Reintegration.

[1] "Temple Run" is a popular Sierra Leonean slang for irregular migration. It describes the risky journey Young Sierra Leoneans––some of them victims of trafficking––takes through the desert and the sea to reach Europe.

For more information on returns to Sierra Leone, please contact Akao Kunikazu, Email: kakao@iom.int or Mangeh Sesay, Email: msesay@iom.int