Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and related travel restrictions, many migrants in Algeria have requested IOM’s assistance to voluntarily return to their countries of origin with international border closures.

Salem, a 31-year-old Burkinabé man, is one of the individuals who requested IOM’s support to return to his country of origin. He left Burkina Faso in 2016 and travelled to Algeria through Niger, looking for new work opportunities. Following his arrival in Algeria, he started working in the constructions sector.

“I worked as a construction worker for eight (8) months, but I was not satisfied with my savings,” Salem remarked, when talking about his experience.

Worried that he was not making enough money to support himself and his family back home, he started looking for a new job in a different field through the network that he had built while working in Algiers.

“A good friend of mine with whom I was working in a construction site put me in contact with a chicken farmer, and, although I had no experience in poultry farming, I told him that I am open to learning new skills,” he explained. A few days later, Salem was offered the job.

Over time, he acquired the skills needed to succeed in poultry farming. He spent one year and a half in the countryside, near the capital Algiers, before moving to the north-eastern side of the country, where he worked in turkey breeding.

After nearly three years in Algeria, Salem was planning to return to Burkina Faso to be with his family and start his own business. However, due to COVID-19 mobility restrictions, he found himself unable to travel. When he learned about IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme, Salem contacted IOM and asked for support to return home.

In the past months, IOM has organized various in-person and online outreach campaigns to inform migrants across Algeria about the AVRR programme. Critically, IOM also uses these campaigns as an opportunity to sensitise communities to COVID-19 risks and prevention measures. From July to September 2020, over 43,000 people were reached with these critical messages through IOM Algeria's Facebook page alone.

To enable Salem to be reunited with his family, IOM assisted him to return home through a special voluntary return flight that took off from Houari Boumediene Airport on 30 September 2020. A total of 84 other migrants from Burkina Faso and Benin were aboard the same flight, which was organized thanks to the support of the Algerian authorities that exceptionally lifted the international travel restrictions in place since March 2020. The movement was funded by the European Union (EU).

In Burkina Faso, Salem is hoping to start his own poultry breeding business with IOM’s assistance through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration (EU-IOM Joint Initiative).

"I think that poultry farming is a profitable sector, in which I would like to invest in my home country and perhaps offer employment opportunities to young people from my community,” Salem said.

Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, returning migrants like Salem receive reintegration support to enable them to start new lives in their countries of origin. The reintegration assistance addresses returnees’ economic, social and psychosocial needs and can include counselling or medical assistance, a reintegration grant to set up a small business, vocational training or job placement, and education for minors as well as follow-up monitoring.

“I am delighted to go back home with skills in hand. Migration taught me a lot,” Salem concludes.

Supported by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative is the first comprehensive programme bringing together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU and IOM around the shared goal of ensuring that migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.

In Algeria, the programme enables migrants who voluntarily decide to return to their countries of origin to do so in a safe and dignified way and offer reintegration support to Algerian returnees. Between July and September 2020, the programme assisted 283 West African migrants to return home from Algeria through three special voluntary return flights. The North Africa window of the programme started in June 2019. It covers Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.