Migration Information Centres: Helping Young Gambians Make Informed Migration Decisions
Finding accurate information on safe migration or education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities can be a challenge for Gambians who want to learn more. The lack of accessible information has contributed to many migrants deciding to attempt the backway – a colloquial term used to refer to irregular migration to Europe – with little knowledge about what lies on the dangerous path ahead. One common belief shared by Gambians who return after taking the backway is that they wish they had known more about the risks of and alternatives to irregular migration before leaving.
In March 2019, in an effort to tackle this issue, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) supported the National Youth Council (NYC) to establish three strategically located Migration Information Centres (MICs) in Basse, Upper River Region; Brikama, West Coast Region and Pakalinding, Lower River Region. In January 2020, a fourth MIC was created in the port village of Barra, North Bank Region, following the departure of a boat that capsized off the coast of Mauritania and claimed the lives of at least 62 Gambians.
MIC staff participated in a training on multimedia communication, which was delivered by returnees. Photo: IOM 2022/Robert Kovacs
These centres, which are each managed by one to two staff, work in close coordination with each other, with the aim to empower young people and potential migrants to make informed migration-related decisions, prevent exploitation and human trafficking, and promote social cohesion with returnees. This is done through activities implemented in communities, in collaboration with local partners and returnee-led associations that employ local cultural practices to engage young audiences. Such practices include attaya (green tea) sessions, song and dance with traditional communicators, film screenings, sports and more.
“The work of the MICs is not limited to awareness-raising activities for youth and community members. It also provides youth with a safe space to meet and seek information on local opportunities available in The Gambia,” says Binta Ly Touray, Youth Programme Officer in West Coast Region. “Many youth are coming to our centre and following up about local opportunities that they found online,” she adds, referring to the WAKAWell.info website that the MIC has been promoting to disseminate information on education, employment, entrepreneurship and safe migration opportunities.
“Since we started our activities, the MIC has assumed a vital role in the community, attracting many people every week,” Binta states, looking proudly at the crowded court of the centre.
Hayib enjoys engaging youth through sports, recalling that a football tournament was one of the most attended activities at the MIC in the Barra. Photo: IOM 2022/Robert Kovacs
Following a similar approach, Hayib Gaye, the Youth Programme Officer stationed at the MIC in the North Bank Region, is engaging the youth of Barra and the shipwreck survivors in peer-to-peer discussions about the factors that lead people to embark on the backway journey.
“The planning process for these activities is comprehensive. You must seek ideas from youth leaders and other civil society organizations to come up with interactive and exciting initiatives,” he explains. Since 2021, MICs staff have been collaborating with the Migrants as Messengers (MaM) network, which consists of 68 returnee-volunteers trained in community engagement and social mobilization. The volunteers are playing a key role in aiding the MICs to design and implement impactful activities.
Furthermore, to ease the trauma and stigmatization of the returnees within their communities, the MIC in the North Bank regularly invites MaM volunteers to participate in mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) activities. “In Barra, IOM and the Ministry of Health helped us create a peer support group where returnees come together to participate in counseling sessions, recreational activities and focus group discussions,” Hayib describes.
In Basse, Upper River Region, the MIC has identified parents and community leaders as key players to include in awareness-raising activities, given their huge impact on the decisions made by young people.
Essa Drammeh, a Programme Officer at the MIC in Basse, describes the cascading effect of engagements at schools and communities. “Educating the youth will impact new generations because decisions are made at home and will be passed on to future community leaders,” Essa explains.
Recognizing this, Essa organized a ‘Youth Takeover’, which invited youth groups to design and implement a range of participatory activities that were educative and informative. “The ‘Youth Takeover’ allowed youth in the community to take ownership of the centre. “From what I have seen, youth are taking the lead in advocating for safe migration within the sub-region, including raising awareness about the ECOWAS free-movement protocol,” Essa says.
Essa uses his position at the MIC to educate youth about safe migration within West Africa, and motivates youth to take on an active role within their community. Photo: IOM 2022/Alessandro Lira
However, much remains to be done to address the lack of information in remote villages that are logistically challenging to reach. Hayib has turned to radio as a creative solution to addressing the gap. “We share information on weekly radio shows but in order to reach more rural communities and make information accessible, we need to establish additional partnerships with radio stations and networks.”
Despite the challenges, the MIC staff agree that they have made a positive impact, while hoping to continue doing impactful work.
“I believe that our work has helped a lot of people in The Gambia to access information on migration or local opportunities and help them make informed decisions,” Binta shares.
The Migration Information Centres (MICs) were established through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, with financial support from EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.