‘A Better Future at Home’: Reintegration Assistance in Cameroon

Mahmat, 23, is a young Cameroonian who returned from Libya in November 2017. © IOM 2018/ Serena Pescatore

On a hot summer’s day in August, staff at the IOM office in Douala, Cameroon, milled around sewing machines, fabric rolls, boxes of salon products, fruits and vegetables, and a mix of other items being assembled into individual reintegration assistance packages. Outside, 22 recent returnees from Libya were waiting patiently.

“[I] returned from Libya with my husband and our 12-year-old daughter,” said Marlise. “Where we were, we witnessed torture and abuses. It was very hard, especially for our daughter, to bear hunger and [hear the sound of] gunshots. She wanted to go back home.”

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, helped Marlise and her family return safely. The Organization provided financial support so that her daughter could attend school, and now the family is receiving additional assistance to begin again.

With the help of their reintegration counsellor, Marlise and her husband will open a grocery store in Douala’s Cité des Palmiers neighbourhood, which should help them to restart their lives.

Another person who is working towards a better future at home is Bertrand, 30, who returned to Cameroon in November 2017 after spending a few challenging years abroad.

“All these years that I have spent out of Cameroon have been a nightmare for me,” Bertrand explained. “I went through Algeria, Morocco, Niger and Libya. Without this support, we would not know how and where to start after all we have suffered.”

There was a palpable sense of relief when he received his reintegration kit. To account for the returnees’ different ambitions back home, they were all given a customized mix of items.

“I received a sewing machine that I can use to open my tailoring shop,” said 22-year-old Abdul. “In Libya, it was very hard. It is better to stay and strive to succeed here.”

He had a big smile on his face as he received his reintegration package from Dr. Boubacar Seybou, IOM Chief of Mission in Cameroon.

Abdul, 22, receives a new sewing machine that he will use when he opens a tailoring shop in Douala. © IOM 2018/ Serena Pescatore

Helene, returned from Libya with a six-month-old baby girl. She left Cameroon hoping to give her baby a brighter future in Europe, but their journey came to heartbreaking end in Libya. After an unspeakable experience there, she was assisted to return home voluntarily.

It took some time, however, for Helene to get what she needed and she eventually came to IOM’s offices to complain.

Reintegration is a long process; it can take up to six months before IOM distributes the reintegration kits, which challenges the returnees’ resources and patience. It is also a challenge for the IOM to identify the migrant’s needs and skills, create a viable reintegration plan and procure the items or services necessary to sustain that plan.

Helene came back from her meeting wearing a bright smile.

“I have come to take what is mine!” she proclaimed. She left with two dryer hoods, hair-washing bowls and hair curlers to equip the hair salon that she plans to open “so that [she] can start [life] again here.”

Helene and one of the new dryer hoods she received as part of her reintegration assistance package. © IOM 2018/ Serena Pescatore

The government understands that it is important to empower young returnees in particular. Imran and Hamed returned from Morocco in March; they met during their migration journey and decided to open a restaurant together back home. Their collective reintegration kit includes a fridge, a cooker, a frying pan, glasses, trays and other kitchen equipment they will use to prepare meals for their customers in the future.

Imran and Hamed returned to Cameroon from Morocco. They plan to open a restaurant together. © IOM 2018/ Serena Pescatore

Earlier this summer, Cameroon’s Minister for Youth Mounouna Foutsou came to the IOM office to give two other returnees, Elise and Brice, the equipment they needed for their poultry farm.

Marlise, Helene, Abdul, Imran and Hamed are some of the more than 560 Cameroonians who have already received either reintegration kits or vocational training.

Since June 2017 IOM has assisted 2069 Cameroonians, who were mostly stranded in Libya and Niger, return home voluntarily.

IOM Cameroon staff members are working to ensure that all of these returnees receive the reintegration assistance they are entitled to under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, launched in Cameroon in June 2017.

This story was written by Serena Pescatore, Communication and Awareness-raising officer at IOM Cameroon.