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Deception lured us into irregular migration -Desperate migrants

December 9, 2021

By Alhaji Haruna Sani

Musa is now engaged in agriculture after experiencing the pains of irregular migration

Poverty and economic hardship are the main reasons Sierra Leonean youth tend to migrate to other continents by all means so as to upgrade their standard of living. In their desperate quest to leave the continent in search of better living conditions abroad, most Sierra Leoneans especially youth are easily deceived by friends or fake agent/agencies.

Some Sierra Leoneans are forced to sell all their property, while others even trick or steal from their friends or close relatives just to engage in a trip that is full of impending uncertainty (irregular migration).

Musa Pooto regretted his decision to leave his country- Sierra Leone to Europe through irregular migration, after he was misinformed and deceived by friends who were trapped in Algeria.

After taking his West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) in 2017, Musa enrolled in the Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone Vocational Training Centre in Freetown to study Engineering

Two months after commencement of his course, WhatsApp photos and messages from foreign numbers started popping up in his phone. The photos showcased some cute young men posing in front of skyscrapers, beautiful gardens and in front of gorgeous foods in superb restaurants.

 “Hey! Musa what are you doing in hell? Common! My guy we are in heaven, at least our photos can speak it all. I believe you deserve to live a dignified life like us, because few months back we were all suffering together in Sierra Leone,” one of the messages reads.

Convincing but deceiving messages kept landing in his phone from his friends via WhatsApp. They told him they were yet to get to their destinations but life is already flourishing for them.

“Musa come and meet us in Algeria so that we can travel to Italy together where life is more promising, don’t worry, just find money that would take you to Mali, we will take care of the rest of your transport charges,” another message reads.

Musa who was also desperate to leave his country, abandoned his course and took off in 2018 without discussing with his uncle who was paying his college fees.

Musa got to Mali where he tried calling and messaging his friends but to no avail. After five days of unreached calls and messages, he was left with no option but to call his poor mother, asking her to send him money by all means or else he will die.

Sheku Bangura, director and founder of the Advocacy Network Against Irregular Migration, said his organisation is in touch with over 1,500 women who returned from the Middle East between the period of 2017 to date.

They were persuaded by friends and recruitment agencies, or Sierra Leoneans they met online. They were trapped by the Kafala system common in the Middle East, which binds foreign workers to an employer, leaving them without labour rights or the ability to escape an abusive situation

He said most of the returnees confirmed to him that they were used as sex workers, others were used as slaves and worked without payment, some went to prisons, some tortured, and some raped. He added that some came back with fatherless babies and as a result they face unbearable provocation stigmatization and rejection.

In April this year, Sierra Leone’s government lifted a two-year ban on labour migration and overseas job recruitment, which was instituted because of the systemic exploitation and abuse of Sierra Leoneans who travelled abroad for work, particularly to the Middle East.

Aminata Phidelia Allie, Information Officer, Ministry of Labour and Social Security said they have been doing everything necessary to ensure that labour migration is properly sanitized.

“In order to avoid illegal migration and human trafficking by fake travelling agencies, we have opened windows to encourage travelling agencies to register with the ministry,”

It was exactly 1pm in Freetown, and the sun shone down from a clear sky. Outside the gate of a tall fence at Signal Hill in the west end of the city was a group of  disgruntle young men tarried on the floor, some smoking cigarettes and speaking about dreadful experiences they had in other nations, others even chat in French and Arabic.

They young men were all migrant returnees at the outskirts of the head office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), waiting to be interviewed for their reintegration packages. The IOM had earlier this year, brought them from different countries all over the world. The office of IOM is usually stormed by different groups of mostly young men and women throughout week days, except for Mondays and Fridays when staff engage on long-day meetings.

My motive there to interview officials of IOM on irregular migrants returnee was swept away by presence of those apparently disgruntle young men. When I approached them for a spontaneous interview, they told me in local parlance “sam we nor glady oo… we nor eat from this morning… right now na money we want, nor to boku talk”- meaning, they were not happy, and besides they have not eaten since morning therefore, all they needed was money and nothing else. 

After a while, Edmond Mansaray explained how he was misguided by friends who had travelled to Europe and other African States. “Despite their struggles, they take photos around mega buildings and classic gardens send them to us just to arouse us to take the venture too,” Mansaray stated.

He explained how he was forced by his parents to take the venture, after they were shown photos of young boys who had left for other countries across the globe.

He disclosed that he was a motorbike rider who had earlier dropped out of school because poverty. After generating over Le6million from his trade, in 2018, he traveled to the Gambia and later moved to Senegal where he was treated like a beast.

“We have to go in search of interpreters when we want hard labour jobs. Senegal was like a prison for me, I was in complete hideout in fear of Police arrest,” he said.

Mansaray said he further travelled to Mauritanian where he faced tougher challenges and even losing some of his friends in the struggle to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Spain. He vows to never take chance in illegal migration. “Based on my experience, this country is the best and safest to live”, he said.

Amadu Wurie Sawwho travelled in March 2014, and was brought back by the IOM in April this year. Saw spent four years in the Libyan prison in the hands of Asma Boys who hold illegal migrants to ransom or sold them as slaves. In his attempt to escape from prison in Libya, he was shot twice on the leg and on his hand. 

“I later travelled to Morocco where he attempted to cross to Spain seven times and in all occasion I was caught and brought back by the Moroccan Police, narrowly escaping death,” he said.

Saw who considers himself ill-fated in Morocco, further migrated to Algeria where he also made two unsuccessful attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Spain.  He finally moved to Libya where he was held hostage until his poor parents spent more than $2,000 United States Dollars to free him.

“On my return, I discovered that my parents sold most of our assets including our only house in Kabala to send me money whiles I was imprisoned in Libya. I will never attempt to travel outside Sierra Leone again,” he vowed.

Abu Kamara, left the shores of Sierra Leone to Europe via Temple Run in 2014. Abu was thriving in business until after the 2014 Ebola outbreak caused him a huge setback, then he decided to auction his remaining goods and engage in temple run.

After going through the manacles of hell in Libya, he returned in 2016.

 “When I returned in 2016, I faced an unbearable provocations and stigmatization by family, friends and neighbours. Friends who made it to Europe were busy sending me enticing photos, some sending huge money to their families; consequently, I was induced to embark on the journey for the second time in 2017,” Kamara said.

During his second journey, Kamara was kidnapped by the Tuareg rebels between Gao and Azaward in Mali where he was manhandled for not paying his ransom.

“I sustained multiple bone fractures in the hands of the Tuaregs after they tied me for three consecutive days demanding for a ransom. My left hand has been permanently shifted leaving me in perpetual pain.” He narrates.

The IOM has returned 7,625 Sierra Leonean Youth between the periods of January of 2017 to October 2021 of which 1367 are female. It is obvious that Sierra Leonean migrants are dying abroad but only two have died in IOM camps, Mangeh Sesay, National Project Officer IOM revealed.

“Once we bring back migrants, we start by giving them psychosocial social support through our partners World Hope International (WHI). Most of them have spent two years and above outside Sierra Leone and we believe their mindset could have been change due to too many factors,” he said.

The IOM gives 1300 which is above 14Million Leones presently, the said money is never given to them in cash, but rather, it is given to them through buying goods based on their business plan.

He said one of the ways to reduce irregular migration is for government to create employment opportunities for youth in Sierra Leone.

IOM Sierra Leone is helping to create employment opportunities for youth through the Technical Vocational and Education Training (TVET). Currently  about 1506 youth from five districts of the country are benefiting from TVET programmes.

After receiving his reintegration package, Musa travelled back to his village in Bonthe and invested in agriculture. He now farm in Rice, Cassava, and Coconuts.

“I am in need of support from Government and other non-governmental organizations so that I can boost my agricultural capacity and employ Sierra Leoneans.”

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