By Issa Sikiti DA Silva
Dakar — Bouba Diop looks in delight at his uncle’s newly refurbished food canteen in the poor township of Keur Massar on the outskirts of the Senegalese capital Dakar.
Since returning to Senegal from Algeria and Libya, where he was working in the construction sector, he has been wondering how to rebuild his life after spending two years in North Africa trying to get to Europe by sea. But now, his uncle has given him back his manager job.
Home sweet home
“I’m happy to be back after living in the North African hell, but I’m angry with myself for not making my dream come true. Well, it’s destiny. Now I must look forward to the future,” Diop, a 22-year-old man who attended a Darra (religious school), added.
While Diop reflected on what he called a shattered dream, at the same time in Kolda in southern Senegal, another returnee from Niger, Ibou, pondered his future, which he described as uncertain and complicated.
Unlike Diop, who has found solace in his uncle’s shop, Ibou is wondering what to do next after selling all his livestock to hit the road, crossing the Sahara desert on his way to the European El Dorado. But he never made it even to war-torn Libya.
“I was robbed in Niger of all my money (2,800 dollars) and belongings by people posing as smugglers who promised to take me to Tripoli, and finally to Italy,” the 25-year-old man said, adding that he was stranded for several months in Agadez (northern Niger, ‘door of the Sahara’), where he almost died of hunger and malaria.
“Somehow, I’m ashamed to return because I have become another burden on my family. I was born in a poor family. They all pinned their hopes on me, thinking that I would reach Europe and get a well-paying job to start sending them money,” he said emotionally.
Diop and Ibou’s stories are just the tip of the iceberg in Africa, where hopeless young sub-Saharan Africans, including unaccompanied children, leave their poverty-stricken or war-torn homelands to travel to North Africa in the hope of getting a job to fund their onward and dangerous journey to Europe.
While 150,982 ‘lucky’ migrants – from Africa and elsewhere – managed to reach Europe in 2017 by the Mediterranean Sea, more than 15,000 have died trying since 2014 (3,139 last year), according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
However, for those who, for whatever reasons, were stranded either in Niger or Libyan jails (20,000 last year) or sold as ‘modern slaves’ in Libyan markets, the only way to solve the crisis seems to be assistance for voluntary return to their home countries.
Assistance for voluntary return
IOM said that in 2017 it assisted 3,023 Senegalese migrants stranded in Libya and Niger to return thanks to the European Union Trust Funds.
Florence Kim, IOM regional media and communications officer for West and Central Africa, told IPS that in Senegal, assistance to returnees has been a major focus since the establishment of the office in 1998.
“In the absence of legal migration channels, assistance for voluntary return is one of the only options that can help migrants in distress whose fundamental rights are at risk of being violated,” she explained. “More than 23,000 people have since received return assistance and were assisted on their arrival.
“This assistance is part of the IOM assistance provided globally to return voluntarily. This assistance may take the form of direct assistance on arrival, educational or medical care, or individual, collective or community reintegration.”
Welcome back to society
“Returnees should no longer be perceived as a burden on communities but rather as an advantage,” Kim said, adding that one of the innovative approaches of the new EU Trust Funds project consisted of including communities of origin in the reintegration project.