In Guinea, Fofana was pursuing a higher education in banking and insurance after graduating from high school in 2016. Like several young people and classmates, she was swayed by the dream of seeking new opportunities that could be offered to her in Europe. She took the plunge on Wednesday, October 3, 2018: "Everything started for me that day...a day I will never forget!" she confides. She traveled to Morocco carried by the hope of being able to cross the Mediterranean one day and thus bring support to her family once she arrived in Europe. She confided to us with a pained look: "I wondered how the trip would go? Will I die? What will happen to me? No one knew anything about it. No one but God”.

After her arrival in Morocco, Fofana began to face the difficulties and challenges of migrants who choose to travel to Morocco as a transit destination before attempting to cross to European shores irregularly: "I have lived on the streets for the past four years... I have spent nights of horror and anxiety in the forests, and I have had several health problems," she says bitterly.

Alone and without any prospects, Fofana found herself in a very vulnerable situation: "I was harassed, abused, and discriminated against, and I became pregnant during this period..." she says with a haggard look before continuing: "At seven months pregnant, I had gone to Tangier to try my luck to cross the Mediterranean when I started to feel unusual pains in my lower abdomen. I saw blood flowing between my thighs and suddenly I couldn't walk because of the pain. When I went to the hospital to consult, they asked me to wait until the ninth month of pregnancy to come back for the delivery and prescribed painkillers to calm the pain! I had no money to pay for a consultation!" In reality, Fofana was having a miscarriage and ended up losing her child "It was the most devastating experience. I didn't expect anything to happen to me and I don't know if all the pain I felt would ever go away."

The ultimate dream of reaching the "European Eldorado" as she called it, ended up becoming a real nightmare. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerabilities in which migrants find themselves in an irregular situation. In 2021, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 5,623 people in seven regions of Morocco, including the Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima Region. They received medical services and consultations as well as medicines.

After losing her child, Fofana was unable to make a living. When she was lucky, she worked in the homes of families as a maid or in the agricultural fields for very little pay that did not even meet her needs. She barely managed to pay her rent and feed herself: "I lived in even worse conditions than those in my country. Sometimes I didn't have food or a roof over my head”.

After all the challenges she had faced, Fofana decided to return to her country to "make up for lost time". In 2021, under the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) program, IOM organized in close coordination with its partners the safe and dignified return of 2,377 migrants from Morocco, 610 of whom were women.  "I am returning to my country that I should not have left in the first place! At first, I intend to finish my studies because normally I should have graduated like the rest of my friends who have already surpassed me. Now I feel like I'm behind, but all God's work is good. I'm finally going to go back to focus on work and make up for lost time".

Fofana heard about the AVRR Program implemented by IOM and its partners in Morocco through an acquaintance: "My parents always insisted that I return home because there are many deadly shipwrecks that cost the lives of some of my friends, and it could have been me! That's why I contacted the IOM and registered in the AVRR program to return home as I no longer had the means to return to my country". While waiting for her departure date to Guinea, Fofana started to prepare for her return by attending short training sessions on personal development given to migrants registered in the AVRR program and allowing them to regain their self-confidence and self-esteem: "Thanks to these sessions, I was able to go beyond the feeling of backwardness that I had compared to my friends who had stayed in the country and who had continued their studies and had all obtained their diplomas. In addition, Fofana received a second entrepreneurship training module on the basics of designing and implementing small and medium-sized enterprises and/or income-generating projects. Capitalizing on the knowledge base acquired in Guinea before starting his migration project, Fofana increased her chances for a successful reintegration: "I understood that once there, in my country, I can strive to create a profitable project since my life experience and my hazardous adventure allowed me to develop solid skills and to acquire knowledge, certainly difficult, but also valuable".

Fofana's voluntary return was supported by the European Union's Emergency Trust Fund for Africa through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for the Protection and Reintegration of Migrants.

According to IOM, reintegration is considered sustainable when returnees achieve levels of economic self-sufficiency, social stability within their communities of return, and psychosocial well-being that enable them to cope with the levers of (re)migration. Returnees who have achieved sustainable reintegration are able to make migration decisions by choice rather than necessity. IOM Morocco works closely with national and local partner institutions to provide humanitarian, logistical, administrative, and financial assistance to stranded or distressed migrants wishing to voluntarily return to their countries of origin.

[This story was produced with the financial support of the European Union. The contents are the sole responsibility of IOM and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union].