After a distressing journey, during which she was victim of violence and sexual exploitation, Mouna* gave up her plan to migrate irregularly to Europe and returned to Mali in 2021. Today, at the age of 30, this young Malian woman is finding her place in society again, running a hairdressing salon that she opened with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Her passion for hairdressing goes back to her childhood. Before she left her home country in 2020, she already had a small hairdressing business in Bamako, but she could not earn a decent living. Convinced by friends who made her believe that a better life was possible in Europe, she decided to try and travel there by crossing the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea with two of her friends.
According to the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), the majority of migrants who leave Mali for European countries take public transport buses to Gao where they spend a few days, before being transported by trucks to Algeria, to continue their journey to the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to reach mainly Spain or Italy. While Mouna did not share the details of the specific route the she and her friends took, the three young women experienced the first horrors long before they crossed the border between Mali and Algeria.
“Three of us left Bamako. Before entering Algeria, we were raped and all our belongings were stolen.”
A smuggler then came and offered them a crossing to the Italian coast, via Tunisia and the Mediterranean. Fearful, one of them declined the offer and stayed in Algeria. The second died during the attempt to cross the sea.
“My friend died by drowning. I was rescued. When I became conscious, I contacted my other friend who remained in Algeria. She asked me to join her as a hairdresser.”
Instead of being welcomed in a hairdressing salon in Algeria, Mouna was introduced to a man who promised her a job as a cook in a mining site instead. When she arrived at the site, she was taken to a hidden room where her alleged employer sexually exploited her.
“At the mining site, he locked me in a room where I was forced to become a prostitute. When I refused, he beat me and raped me. He brought men every night. Often several men in one night, and he was the one who collected the money.”
One night, Mouna confided in someone who understood her situation and offered to help her. He had heard of IOM, and he helped her organize her escape and gave her the contact details of IOM in Algeria where she went to tell her story and express her desire to return to Mali.
With IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme for migrants in need, Mouna returned to Mali in safety and dignity in October 2021. Once in Bamako, she received financial support to return to her family. She also received the necessary resources to open a hairdressing salon in Bamako, with the support of IOM’s Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions (COMPASS) initiative. To ensure Mouna’s sustainable reintegration, IOM offered her additional support to better equip her hair salon a few months after her settlement.
“I received assistance to expand my salon. This enabled me to recruit a person to help me. Today I am gradually regaining my dignity and I am doing a job that I love and with which I earn a decent living,” she said.
Like Mouna, who is reintegrating into her community, more than 191 victims of trafficking in persons, including 182 women and 27 minors, were assisted by IOM Mali in various ways in 2021.
* The name has been changed to protect her identity.