Every individual is entitled to migrate, but it is important that they do not embark on irregular migration which could expose them to risk and dangers, either while in transit to their destination country or when they are already in the country.
Oftentimes, irregular migrants are assured of ‘juicy’ and ‘mouthwatering’ opportunities, which make them ‘willful captives’ or ‘victims’ in most cases. Still, those promises are never usually the same when they migrate irregularly.
If and when they return to their home country, after surviving the untold hardship they might have been exposed to from their ‘captors’, they face multiple challenges. Some of these are but are not limited to; emotional trauma resulting from the not-so-pleasant experiences from their trips, reintegrating to the community they had left, securing meaningful employment opportunities after the ‘wasted years’, and discrimination from peers, among others.
Sandra Familuyi (not real name) is a returnee from Malaysia who found it extremely challenging to reintegrate into the shomolu area of Lagos state in Nigeria. Familuyi migrated out of Nigeria in February 2015 after being introduced to education and working opportunity in a European country where she was supposed to go. However, things did not turn out as expected, at least, not as she had been informed.
She believed life had more to offer her than the untold hardships she experienced with her ‘captor’. It wasn’t easy but she was able to return to Nigeria in 2018 after she had gained freedom from her ‘captor’ who kept her captive for a year and eight months.
Familuyi explained how difficult it was for her to heal and refresh following the various forms of abuse she had been exposed to. Sharing her experience, Familuyi shared that “my experience since I returned started off from being unpalatable because for a whole year I experienced depression and loss of everything I had gathered before I travelled. After a while, I decided to bounce back at life, decided to try my hands on the things I used to know first before I move on to other things.
“It wasn’t easy as there were no jobs, no money, basically nothing. And re-integrating back into society was hard because, I was ashamed to go back to the places where I had left off because I was coming back worse than I left and it wasn’t an easy thing to accept looking at my current ridiculous status then.”
It took a lot of courage and determination for Familuyi to stand on her feet. She said, “I knew I had only one chance to either win or lose, and if I wanted to get better or be better, I needed to fight whatever it was that I was running away from. Returning back to Nigeria was hard but it was the best decision to make because I knew I was better off coming back rather than staying in a country where I was insecure and didn’t have a say of my own.
“After many years of trying my hands on things, going around pushing myself at learning opportunities, making sure that I gathered experience to put myself back on track. It was not easy because some people took advantage of the vulnerable me, as I wasn’t healed, I was still nursing my hurt, still nursing the trauma, still had trauma as there were certain occurrences that would make me remember what had happened to me.”
Familuyi laid emphasis on how it was tough to reintegrate into the society, especially the community where she was well known before her departure. Buttressing her point further, she said “reintegrating back into the society wasn’t very good because I left off from a community where I was celebrated as one of the best in the community being a very educated person and I was pioneering an education institute owned by my mother.
“Coming back was more like taking myself back to ground zero and I fought depression at that time, it was also difficult to get help in my immediate community because people could not relate to my issue, they didn’t even know how to help me. I couldn’t even speak about my ordeals, which made it worse for people to understand my situations, it was not intentional, it was the trauma.”
She talked about how useless she felt, and how she withdrew from people which in turn made her further stigmatized. “The circle of people around me were people who expected better things of me, so seeing me in my depressed state, seeing me in my shallow state, seeing me in a state where I couldn’t even articulate myself properly made me feel useless. It made me feel so bad that I chose to lock myself indoors most of the days that year, I ran away from friends, and at a point I experienced stigmatization clearly.
“People couldn’t hide it anymore and they called me sick, said I had HIV/AIDs because I grew so thin that you could see my collar bone and people who had known me before I travelled were like, this can only be one thing, maybe she has AIDs. They said it to my face leading me to withdraw from everywhere I used to gain access to.
“I couldn’t face people to tell them my experiences so it was difficult going out, not having who to really talk to, not having opportunity to share the experiences, and then the few people who you talk to, get to tell someone who tells another, who tells another and then the stigma kept spreading but I knew that I still needed to find someone to talk to. It wasn’t easy getting back into the society and accepting that I needed to face it.”
Though it was a difficult process for Familuyi, she thinks “reintegrating back into the society is a thing that every returnee would have to do on their own. Doing it on their own doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be helped by others but they have to accept the fact that reintegrating back into the society starts majorly with them as individuals.
“You must be ready to reintegrate and you must be ready to face whatever challenges that come with reintegrating back into the society because of course, there would be challenges,” she added.
While it is true that there would be challenges, it is important that society provides the necessary support needed to help returnee migrants.
Stigmatization never helps, it worsens their situations. Though it took a while for Familuyi to reintegrate into the society she bounced back. She is happily married with kids and works as a chef with a reputable organization.
Provide the support that you can, regardless of how little, to every returnee around you!
Enitan Ibironke is a migration advocacy consultant and media liaison officer for The Migrant Project. She writes from Lagos, Nigeria