Research - Migrant Debt in West and Central Africa

SUB-REGIONAL STUDY ON THE DEBT OF MIGRANTS ASSISTED WITH VOLUNTARY RETURN AND ITS IMPACT ON THE SUSTAINABILITY OF REINTEGRATION IN COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN

Under this study, IOM proposes to explore the different aspects of returnees’ debt, considering both economic debts and their transformation into "social" debts.

The findings of first studies (2018–2019) conducted under the DFID regional programme, including those in Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, and the Gambia, revealed that returnees assisted through IOM’s voluntary return programmes confronted challenges in reintegrating into their communities of origin in a sustainable way, at the social, psychosocial, but also economic and financial levels. These findings also confirmed that returnees faced discrimination and stigmatisation upon return. They are viewed as individuals who have failed in their duties, social responsibilities or dreams of economic stability. The economic situation, ability to find a job and level of debt are all key aspects of their reintegration, both at individual and community levels. Returning to communities with an additional burden, without having achieved economic success, can generate new debt and in some cases lead to re-migration.

The reports on socio-demographic profiles of communities of return, published by IOM in 2018, also revealed that returnees’ debt level was higher than that of non-migrant populations and had a significant impact on reintegration processes. In Guinea, a recent study on youth migration showed that young returnees who attempted to migrate to Europe could not pay for the entire migration journey, with 12% having incurred debt before travelling, often with their families. In The Gambia, migrants who embarked on “The Back Way to Europe” also had to find ways to finance their migration projects and incurred large debts to smuggling networks, knowing that reaching Europe could be more expensive than expected (over $4,000). Consequently, the level of debt incurred to finance the journey to Europe along the Central Mediterranean Route is one of the main challenges faced by returnees and their communities upon their return. 

Identifying who incurs debts, in what forms and under which circumstances, is an important step to better understand the needs and vulnerabilities of individuals before they embark on migration. This information could help better design reintegration programmes while informing government authorities on ways to provide migrants with stronger facilities and mechanisms to ensure their safe return.

Please find below the summaries of our research on return migrants' indebtedness on sustainable reintegration and their impacts. These studies were conducted in six countries in the region: Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Senegal.