Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Young African Migrants Reroute their Dreams

M in front of his electrical appliances shop which he set up with IOM assistance, after he voluntarily returned home to Sierra Leone. Credit: Flavia Giordani/UN Migration Agency

DAKAR, Nov 22 2017 - When you are young, you dream big. Prospects abound and all seems be possible. In West Africa, dreams drive many young men and women out of their homes and away from their loved ones in search for better opportunities.

One such youngster is M. Since he was a child, M. has always loved playing football. As a young boy, he left Sierra Leone for Conakry, the capital of Guinea, to join a local team and start his career. One morning, a talent scout approached him and two friends, offering them a tryout at a football team in the country of Georgia. Travel arrangements, salaries, holidays and many other benefits were promised.

Eagerly, the three young men accepted to follow the scout to Dakar, Senegal a few weeks later.

From there, they would obtain their visas and board their plane to Georgia. These journeys are very expensive, therefore the entire family had to contribute. This type of investment is common among low-income households in the region. Every family member pitches in to send one of their children to work in another country, hoping he will, in turn, provide for the entire family.

But soon enough, the dream crumbled. After accepting the offer, the boys were stranded for a month in Senegal with no news from the scout. During this time, they had to find jobs and spend some of the money that was meant for their travel.

“I’ve been out there… I’ve encountered so many problems, pain… I have lost money, health… My message to young people out there who are trying to make their way to Europe is: Come back home because there is a better life for you at home than outside. Come back and try to achieve your goals here.” Credit: M. (Nouakchott, Mauritania 2016)

Once the recruiter appeared in Dakar, he told the boys he would buy plane tickets, pay for accommodation, visas and cover other expenses. On the day they went to the travel agency, the scout entered one of the offices and ran away through the backdoor with the boys’ money, almost USD 4,000 each.

M. was livid. He asked for help but the agency called the police. He was beaten, lost three teeth and spent time in jail. When he was released, he reached Mauritania with the little money he had left, hoping to find a job there.

M. and his friends were cheated by a scammer. Other young West African migrants take to the high seas in pirogues (pictured) hoping to reach Europe. Credit: Flavia Giordani/UN Migration Agency

Fast forward to one afternoon in 2016. IOM had organized a sensitization session for the Sierra Leonean community in Nouakchott, Mauritania. While talking about the dangers of irregular migration, a young man raised his hand and said “I have a lot to tell you, really a lot. Give me some time and I’ll explain”. It was M.

IOM staff received him a few days later. During the interview, he told his story and that of many other young dreamers.

M. received support during eight months through the Global Assistance Fund, including dental care, housing, food and counseling. IOM staff spent long hours talking to him, discussing his idea of reaching Europe through Libya or Morocco. In time, he realized that going home was the best option. One morning he went to the IOM office and said: “I want to go back home and start studying again, maybe one day I’ll have a job like yours.”

IOM staff visit M’s shop in Sierra Leone. Credit: Flavia Giordani/UN Migration Agency

M. did not move back with his family. He knew they would not accept him as everybody had lent him money for the journey, so instead, he moved to a different city and set up a business to sell fridges, TVs, phones and other appliances. Once a month, M. goes to Conakry to buy goods and sells them back in Sierra Leone. With the money earned, he opened an internet café with a friend.

His message to young people trying to make it to Europe? “Do your best to achieve your goals at home… Don’t risk your lives through irregular channels.”

In March 2017, IOM staff from Mauritania and Sierra Leone visited M. Smiling with beautiful new teeth, he revealed one final gesture of gratitude: the name of his shop is an abbreviation of his and an IOM staff member’s name who followed his case, “FLAMO”.

After a little while, M. started dreaming again. Now he works to reach stability, raise a family of his own, and start anew in his home country.

Edited by Jorge Galindo
Photos by Flavia Giordani

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