• Story Written by Onuh Davidson | IOM Awareness Raising Project Assistant in Nigeria

Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria - The warm embrace of home, the reassuring scent of familiar spices from the kitchen, and the comforting sound of laughter echoing through the streets were the memories Tawakalit* longed for during her harrowing two-year journey from Sagamu, Nigeria, to Libya and back. A 20-year-old returnee, Tawakalit's story is a testament to the resilience of the Nigerian spirit in the face of unimaginable trials.

Tawakalit's journey began with the promise of a better life. Despite her mother's advice to stay back in Nigeria, Tawakalit was captivated by the deceptive words of a senior friend or “area sister” as she was popularly referred to. She assured her that opportunities awaited her in Libya, promising higher wages as a domestic worker. This senior friend, who had herself ventured to Libya years ago, painted a picture of prosperity that was too tempting for Tawakalit to resist, "you see this hair dressing that we do here, over there you can make 10 times what you make here in a week".

Little did she know that this decision would set her on a dangerous path through irregular routes, filled with deception and danger. Tawakalit embarked on her journey with the aid of a smuggler, who saw her as not more than a commodity. She was smuggled through Niger Republic and found herself in Agadez, a dusty desert town where countless others like her had their dreams entangled in the web of irregular migration.

The unforgiving heat, lack of food and water, and the constant threat of bandits made every step forward a test of her will to survive through the Sahara Desert, known as the "Sea of Sand". After enduring over three weeks of grueling travel, Tawakalit finally set foot in Libya. A land where she hoped to find opportunities, she had heard so much about, but her troubles were far from over. On the day she was to meet her “connection man” on the final leg of her journey to Tripoli, she was arrested by Libyan authorities. For two long years, Tawakalit was held in detention, her hopes fading with each passing day. The conditions in the detention centre were dreadful, but Tawakalit held on, hoping and praying to return to her motherland one day.

Her prayers were answered when Tawakalit was released from custody on August 21st, 2023, as fortune finally turned in her favor. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) stepped in to assist her and other stranded migrants to return home on a chartered flight through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme with support from the European Union. The journey back home to Nigeria was bittersweet, with a mix of relief and sadness for the lost time and dreams. Her safe return was a testament to her resilience, her unyielding faith, and the tireless efforts of organizations like IOM and partners who work to bring stranded migrants back to their homelands.

Tawakalit remains grateful to God for sparing her life and bringing her back home safely. In her words, "I cannot complain or blame God, I know it is for a reason that I have come home alive, and I will still make it here in my country”. Her journey serves as a warning about the dangers of irregular migration and the importance of listening to the wisdom of loved ones. Now back in the loving arms of her family, after participating in a session of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support counselling as well as Technical and Vocational Education training during her brief stay at IOM’s Transit Centre. While she awaits her reintegration support, Tawakalit hopes to rebuild her life and use her story to advocate for safer migration practices and the need for youths to seek for available opportunities within their locality.

Since 2017, IOM Nigeria has facilitated the return of 12,074 stranded migrants from Libya through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Sahel and Lake Chad Region, and then as part of the Migrant Protection, Return and Reintegration (MPRR-SSA) Programme with funding support from the European Union.

The numbers comprise 5,912 males, 4,236 females and 1,926 children. 49% of these returnees are men while women and children account for 35% and 16% respectively. Upon arrival, the migrants are received at the airport and documentation processes commence as well as medical support to those in need. The migrants are then conveyed to IOM Nigeria Transit Centre (TC), where they are briefed on the rules and regulations guiding their stay before being checked into their various hostels for a brief stay.

Some activities that returned migrants participate in at the Transit Centre include orientation, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) counselling sessions, Technical and Vocational Education Training, provision of mobile phones for communication and disbursement of onward transportation allowance to enable them to proceed to their final destinations while the processes and documentation for their reintegration support commences by assigned case workers and managers.


*Pseudonyms are used to protect the identity of individuals who were interviewed 

Migrants undergoing documentation before proceeding to the IOM transit center upon return via charter flight from Tripoli Libya. © IOM 2023 ONUH Davidson
Returned Migrants boarding a bus to the IOM transit centre via charter flight from Tripoli Libya. IOM 2023 AGARA Barinedum.JPG