When he was young, Mamadou S*. dreamed of becoming a soldier. With a strong sense of responsibility, he wanted to serve his country, but the destiny decided otherwise. When he decided to join the army, he was considered too old. Mamadou then turned to food product business.

His business, launched in 2005, was working well and allowed him to support his family. He lived a peaceful life with his family. Until the day when his peacefully life was turned upside down.

Mamadou was robbed three times in just two months. He began to face many financial difficulties that seemed unmanageable. In record time, debts accumulateed with his suppliers. He also felt strong family pressure as the breadwinner. Thus, although ruined by repeated robberies, he still had to meet his daily expenses. This was a particularly heavy burden for Mamadou. Distressed, he ended up considering that emigrating at all costs was the only way to improve his living conditions and those of his family.

So Mamadou and his brother set off for Italy. The two brothers passed through Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and then Libya, more precisely at Dianet, which is located on the border with Niger. The migration route was full of obstacles for Mamadou and his fellow travellers. The long walking hours, fatigue, hunger, and thirst weakened many of them. His brother was the most affected by these deplorable conditions. Suffering, he eventually succumbed to an illness contracted during the journey. This situation was extremely painful for Mamadou, who had to bury his brother in Libya without the rest of his family members. Faced with his brother’s remains, Mamadou felt infinitely lonely and asked himself:

“Was this Eldorado, this better tomorrow that I dreamed of, a utopia, a trap or a pure lie?”

After this extremely painful stage, Mamadou and his companions were intercepted by the Algerian border police. Arrested, stripped of their belongings, their phones seized and their money confiscated, they were taken to the border with Niger. There, the Algerian police abandoned them and left them alone in the heart of the desert. Miraculously, Mamadou managed to find a place to live in Niger. Totally disoriented, he told his story with emotion to the people he met. Touched by his difficult journey, but unable to help him, the villagers referred him to the IOM centre in Niger. Mamadou built on his remaining strength to go to the centre. He felt a kind of comfort to be able to return home, although the loss of his brother remained in his mind.

Welcomed by the IOM team, he received assistance in kind: blankets, medicine, mats and food. He then received voluntary return assistance to return to Senegal. “Once in Senegal, I was welcomed by my family, my wife, relatives, and friends. They came to visit me every day at home. I found hope again, and above all I realized that I meant a lot to many people. I have had no problems with my social and economic reintegration.”

In addition to family and community support, Mamadou received reintegration assistance from IOM. He participated in counselling sessions, during which he had the opportunity to exchange with other migrants and received information about the local opportunities in Tambacounda.  

It was at this point that I met Mamadou. As a facilitator, I supported him in writing his business plan. I couldn’t help but think that if a hand had been extended to him earlier, his story could have been different, and many misfortunes could have been avoided. In my opinion, entrepreneurs should be supported, through loans, to get out of temporary bad times. Moreover, it was obvious that Mamadou wanted to resume the business he had been running before he left: “The food product business is doing well, I’m not complaining, because this activity has allowed me to pay off all the debts I incurred before I left to migrate, and with the income I get, I can address my family’s needs.”

Mamadou in his shop where he also sells cement.

With the profits from his business, Mamadou was able to buy a plot of land, and explains: “I am really grateful to IOM, thanks to their support, I can stand on my own two feet.” Indeed, after diversifying the products he sells, by offering cement, this family man now plans to invest in the setting up of a hardware store. Mamadou now lives without having to fear for his future. His work gives him real economic and personal fulfilment.

Well known and appreciated by his customers, who affectionately call him “GUEDEL”, the shopkeeper has become a figure in his neighbourhood, helping to improve social cohesion. He frequently warns his customers about the dangers associated with irregular migration: “I address this message to young people and parents, to tell them that irregular migration is suicidal. Staying here and exploiting local opportunities is the best way to a better future.” 

* To protect the identity of those quoted, pseudonyms are used.

This article was written by Macoumba SANE, field facilitator in Senegal.