EU handouts not always the answer for Africa’s returning migrants

0
1120

By Sofia Christensen and Edward McAllister

DAKAR, May 29 (Reuters) – When Fatou Kine’s failed attempt
to reach Europe left her jobless and penniless in Algeria, she
turned to an agency she had heard helped migrants return home.

The United Nation’s International Organization for
Migration, or IOM, did that and more. It flew her back to
Senegal in January last year and gave her more than $1,000 to
start a tailoring business in the seaside capital Dakar.

But one year on, Kine is struggling. After paying the rent
for a 25-square metre storefront, she takes home about 16,000
CFA ($29) in a good month – not much more than she did as a
hospital cleaner before she left for Algeria.

The IOM and the European Union are ramping up efforts to
return African migrants home, after thousands have died making
the perilous sea crossing to Europe and governments in some
countries push for tougher rules to stem the numbers arriving.

The migrants are often returning from places like Algeria
and Libya, where many get stuck en route to Europe, as well as
from Europe itself. Efforts have accelerated over the past six
months following revelations of migrant slave markets in Libya.

But interviews with migrants like Kine reveal the shortfalls
of repatriation even for those lucky enough to receive a grant
to start a business. In countries like Senegal, where local
economic activity can be slow, many struggle to survive.

At her shop in a busy Dakar suburb last month, surrounded by
three sewing machines and two mannequins sporting the colourful
boubous (robes) she makes there, Kine said she wants to try
again to get to Europe because of the difficulty in making ends
meet.

“With my two children, I can’t make it,” the 26-year-old
said.

The IOM acknowledges that migrants face similar challenges
on their return to those that prompted them to leave their home
country in the first place, and that often they try to leave
again.

In such cases, the migration agency “seeks to ensure
migrants receive accurate information about the migration
journey and potential risks,” said IOM spokeswoman Florence Kim.

The organisation produces pamphlets translated into several
languages informing would-be migrants of what they might be
getting themselves into.

 

“NO SILVER BULLET”

In late 2016, the EU and the IOM launched their biggest
repatriation project yet: a 174 million euro ($203 million) fund
to help bring back migrants and jump-start their lives in a way
that would remove the need to head for Europe.

It was launched amid pressure from European member states
worried about immigration levels and a growing death toll of
Africans trying to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats.

The IOM recorded 171,635 arrivals by boat from Africa in
2017, which does not include the likely thousands of others that
tried and failed.

The new programme has so far returned more than 25,000
people to 14 African countries. Of those, 2,700 received money
to set up a business or community project.

Other migrants have returned during that time with the help
of funds from pre-existing projects, including Kine, but the IOM
did not have a total number.

IOM spokeswoman Kim said it was too early to judge how well
its latest programme was working, but acknowledged that
repatriation alone was not enough and that the returnees must be
able to survive financially.

But experts have expressed concerns about the long term
effectiveness of the strategy, especially as the African
workforce grows in the coming decades, increasing demographic
pressures.

“These projects are very important and much needed. But …
we don’t really know what happens to these people,” said Camille
Le Coz, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Brussels
who has looked at the new initiative.

She said that not enough research is done to make sure a
migrant’s business is viable.

One individual who is struggling despite receiving $2,400
from an Italian aid agency to set up a hardware store in Senegal
is Khadim Faye.

He had been in Italy for some 15 years, picking fruit and
sending what money he did not spend back home, when his papers
expired and he was forced on to the street.

The grant in early 2017, which was separate from the IOM
programme but funded by the EU, went towards buying materials
and renting a premises in Touba, back in Senegal. He has
struggled to compete with local competitors ever since.

Aged 43, with three young children and a sick mother, Faye
is considering shutting the shop and returning to his family
village to farm peanuts.

“It’s not working,” said Faye in his small hardware store in
Touba, a remote, dusty town 200 km (124 miles) inland from
Dakar. “Today you sell, but tomorrow you won’t sell anything.”

The IOM said it kept track of migrants’ progress by taking
phone numbers of people who returned with its assistance. It
said it often took months for migrants to truly feel like they
were home again.

An EU spokeswoman said the approach “enables migrants to
return in a safe, dignified and voluntary way.” But she added
that sending migrants home is tough and that people often want
to return to Europe.

“The context is a difficult one. There is no silver bullet,
and there is no quick fix,” she said.

 

SOME SUCCESS

Many who are returned home find themselves falling through
the cracks, bewildered after a long time away.

Others said they heard rumours about possible aid, but did
not know how to reach out.

The IOM flew Khadim Diaw, 43, back from Munich, Germany, in
2017. He said he was desperate to work there legally, but was
unable to gain asylum. The IOM gave him 400 euros on arrival and
another 400 euros six months after returning home.

Despite the help he said he struggles in the same way he did
before leaving for Europe in 2010.

The money he makes from his small poultry farm in the town
of Pikine goes towards paying debts. Unable to afford his own
house, he lives with his sister.

He said that he was unaware there were business grants
available and would have applied if he’d known.

“Seven years in Europe and you return to your country
without anything – it’s difficult.”

The IOM spokeswoman said the agency recently increased
efforts to inform migrants of opportunities available to them on
their return.

She added that under the joint initiative with the EU it
wanted to try and focus not just on individual projects, but on
ones that helped whole communities.

This approach has shown some success.

After being repatriated to Senegal from Libya in late 2016,
Matar Khoudea Ndiaye joined a poultry farm with a group of other
migrants last year. For his team of five, the IOM paid for 2,000
chicks, feed, a freezer and three months’ rent. In three months,
Ndiaye made 3 million CFA francs ($5,205).

With that money he started an online business selling
clothes, music and accessories. The 27-year-old has built his
own chicken coop in his home town Linguere with 1,500 chicks. He
works for the IOM, persuading others not to leave for Europe.

“I have friends in Italy and they say on Whatsapp that they
have no money, they sleep on the street,” said Ndiaye, sitting
on a mattress in his sparse bedroom on the outskirts of Dakar.

“If they had known they were going to live like that, they
say they wouldn’t have wasted the time.”
(Reporting By Edward McAllister and Sofia Christensen; Editing
by Cassell Bryan-Low)