My name is Victoria*, and I'm 26 years old. A few years ago, I had a normal life. I was a second-year medical student at the University of Freetown in Sierra Leone. However, after the death of my parents, I was deprived of the opportunity to continue my studies due to a lack of financial means.

It was then that my paternal uncle decided to pay my school fees, but unfortunately, a year later he passed away. I found myself desperate and on my own. It was at this point that I decided, with some friends and against the advice of my elders, to make the long crossing of the desert and the Mediterranean for a better future in Europe. My aim was also to continue my studies in Europe.

Crossing Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Niger, during a journey lasting almost a month, we came close to death on several occasions. Confronted with the violence of smugglers and the harshness of certain border authorities, I witnessed inhuman acts committed against my fellow travelers. It's not easy to leave home for an unknown land.

Victoria* embarked on a perilous journey that ultimately brought her to a police checkpoint in Tamanrasset, Algeria. This checkpoint resulted in her and other travelers being redirected back to Assamaka in northern Niger. Photo: IOM

In 2021, we embarked on a journey fraught with pitfalls, and it was in Tamanrasset, Algeria, that we were stopped by the police and sent back to Assamaka in northern Niger. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Niger took us in and housed us in the Assamaka transit centre before taking us to the Arlit transit centre, where we spent around two months.

I was among the 298 Sierra Leonean migrants who had been stranded in Niger, and thanks to IOM's assistance, we safely returned home in August 2022.

I was uncertain about my future, with no money to continue my studies and nothing to start a new life. I was trying to survive until IOM Sierra Leone informed me that I was eligible for reintegration assistance in the form of paid cash work. The news of my selection for this job brought a little hope and happiness into my life. I saw it as a divine blessing.

IOM Sierra Leone had introduced a novel form of reintegration assistance known as "cash for work," which involved beach cleaning in exchange for financial compensation. This innovative approach not only enabled returning migrants like me to earn a livelihood but also imparted valuable waste management skills, all while contributing positively to our communities. The "cash for work" beach clean-up initiative was aimed at fostering a healthier environment in Sierra Leone.

Thanks to this activity, I managed to save a little money to take a hairdressing course. After completing my training, I now earn money by offering make-up and hairdressing services to my customers. With IOM support, I've regained hope of starting a new life, and I want to open my own hairdressing salon here in Freetown.

*The name was changed to protect the identity of the speaker.

Victoria’s assisted voluntary return and reintegration were made possible through funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, as part of the AVENIR II project titled “Assistance to Vulnerable and Exposed Migrants in Niger – Phase II”.


SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities