The Lost Boys: Gabriel


Gabriel reunited with his mother and younger brother. Credit: Flavia Giordani/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania, Jul 11 2017 (IOM) - “I thought that I couldn’t fulfill my dreams if I stayed in Sierra Leone. Mauritania is known to us as a country with a lot of history and knowledge. For a child who does not have his or her father or mother or a member of his family there, it is not easy to integrate.

“But I felt that I just had to do it.

“I just needed to go there and chase my dreams. As the oldest son in the family it is my responsibility to take care of my family. I had to do all I can to improve my life and make my mother happy. This is what my father wished. I must be a man, so I can’t be afraid.”

Those are the words of 16-year-old Gabriel*.

He travelled to Mauritania with a member of his family to become an Imam, the person who leads prayers in a mosque. Gabriel comes from the suburbs of Waterloo, an impoverished city in the west of Sierra Leone, home to a relatively large Muslim community. Gabriel’s father wanted him to get a good education in order to ensure a stable future for him and his family. A future that he did not see as possible in Sierra Leone.

A few months after Gabriel’s arrival in Mauritania, his father fell ill and died quite suddenly. Gabriel reached out to IOM, the UN Migration Agency, asking for support to return home for his father’s funeral.

Gabriel’s mother with his younger brother. Credit: Flavia Giordani/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

“I am the oldest child. It is my responsibility to take care of my family.”

Gabriel returned to Sierra Leone last December.

IOM is covering the cost of two years of Gabriel’s school fees and is helping his mother develop a small business. In March, the IOM team visited Gabriel and his family. Talking to the mother and visiting his house allowed IOM to better understand Gabriel’s reasons to leave but also to come back home.

The assistance IOM provides to children on the moves, particularly unaccompanied children, is increasing. Unaccompanied migrant children have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult. Those children often undergo long journeys alone and face challenging life experiences not appropriate for a child. They often become mature earlier and develop strong decision-making capacities. When helping them, IOM ensures to actively involve the children in decisions regarding their future, including the decision to continue their education, to work (for older teenagers) or to combine both. The Organization is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of unaccompanied migrant children, having their best interests as the top priority in all of its activities.

Since October 2016, IOM Mauritania, in collaboration with other missions in the region, assisted six unaccompanied migrant children returning home, entering the formal educational system and their families to engage in various type of business. All this is done to strengthen their resilience and improve the living conditions of the household.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved

This post was written by Flavia Giordani in IOM Mauritania and edited by Tijs Magagi Hoornaert in IOM’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa and Olivia Headon in IOM HQ.

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