Algiers, Algeria - Last year, Aliou, a 30-year-old Senegalese man, was assisted to voluntarily return home from Algeria to Senegal through IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme. Now, after benefiting from reintegration support, he has been able to set up a small farming business and is engaging in a range of activities to raise awareness about the risks of irregular migration.

Back in 2016, Aliou packed the few things he had and left his country looking for a better life in a place where he can work to support himself and his family. He was told by some of his Algiers-based friends that he could find a job in Algeria, so, he decided to give it a try. 

“I left Senegal because I didn’t have the means to survive. I had no job, no money, I simply had no choice, other than to hit the road,” he said.

After walking for several days with a group of fellow migrants, Aliou arrived in the city of Gao in northern Mali – the last point before entering Algeria. “We were stopped in the middle of the desert. Criminals took everything of value that we had before allowing us to continue our journey,” he said.

Arriving in Algeria with nothing, Aliou quickly found a job in a construction site with help from his friends.  Even though he was not a mason and had no experience in construction, he learned the profession quickly, developing new skills. Soon, he became famous among his colleagues for his good work. “I was so good that they called me Bilal [a name of an Algerian man] the mason.” 

In 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19, livelihood opportunities became scarce. Aliou lost his job. He heard of the IOM’s AVRR programme through some friends and decided to sign up to return home.

A few weeks later, Aliou was invited to a virtual counselling session to determine his eligibility for AVRR assistance. He was then provided with support to voluntarily return to Senegal in November 2020, through a special return organized thanks to the facilitation of the Algerian authorities, despite the travel restrictions in place since March 2020.

“The reintegration assistance that IOM offers to [eligible returning] migrants convinced me to go back to my country. Thanks to IOM’s assistance, I was able to set-up a small farming business,” he said. 

Today, Aliou owns around five hundred chickens. He built a small farm and is currently looking to expand his poultry farming business. In addition to being a business owner, Aliou has become an activist, raising awareness among Senegalese youth on the dangers of irregular migration. He has participated in TV shows and wants to create an association that brings together returnees from Algeria.

Aliou has set up a small poultry farm as part of his reintegration project ©IOM Algeria

“I’m looking for some support to develop the association. Most returnees who were not able to build sustainable projects will try to leave the country despite the dangers,” he concluded.

Aliou is one of over 1,000 migrants that have been assisted by IOM to voluntarily and safely return to their countries of origin from Algeria since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The safe and dignified return assistance was organized in the framework of the European Union (EU)-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, with support from the Government of Algeria and the EU. 

To ensure the sustainable reintegration of returnees into their communities of origin, eligible returnees like Aliou receive reintegration assistance, which may include economic, social and psycho-social support following the development of tailored reintegration assistance plans based on their needs.

Launched in December 2016, with support from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration brings 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.