A Mother’s Brave Heart: Story of Olanrewaju and Heritage Ifemi

Struggling with the rejection from her family after the birth of her baby Heritage, Olanrewaju Ifemi left Nigeria in 2016 at the age of 29, in the hope of finding a better life in Europe for herself and her five-year-old daughter.

Friends who had already made their way to Libya and Europe told Olanrewaju that all she needed was her passport to join them abroad, and did not mention that she also needed valid visa and a work permit. She and her daughter left home with the knowledge of her family, who however, did not know the details of the journey.

Olanrewaju and Heritage spent two weeks travelling through the Sahara Desert before they reached Libya where the two were kidnapped. She was exploited and beaten in the presence of her daughter for over two months until the house of her kidnappers was raided by the police, and they were able to escape.

“They broke the wall to the small room, in which Heritage and I were locked up. Seeing an escape opportunity, we fled immediately for our dear lives,” says Olarewaju who doesn’t want to share much of her experience while held captive in Libya to protect her daughter.

Remaining resolute to reach her final destination, Europe, Olanrewaju meet a fellow Nigerian, who had compassion on her and agreed to sponsor her fees to cross the Mediterranean Sea with her child. “When we got to the balloon boat, at that point, I knew there was no going back, I was determined to make it for the sake of my child”.

Finding Courage to bring forth life

Fearing for her life and that of her child, that they may drown at sea, Olanrewaju, found the strength to help a woman give birth in the midst of the chaos on the boat. “I could not bear to see her in pain. As a mother myself, I know how she was feeling, and not having anyone to support her at that moment was terrifying,” explaining how she mustered up the courage to act in that moment of disarray. Fortunately, they were rescued by an Italian rescue team, and were transferred to a camp for medical assistance.

After spending 6 months at the camp, the two left Italy. “I had to travel to Germany as I felt unsafe and had no freedom to move around in Italy, even after getting some means of identification.” Things were not as she had expected even when she moved to Germany. She was unable to secure a job to take care of herself and her child as she did not have the right documents or a work permit. Most times, they barely had enough to eat, and her daughter fell sick. Olanrewaju and her child remained in Germany for six months.

Return, Reintegration and Plans for the Future

Olanrewaju decided to return back to Nigeria in 2019. “I felt I can do better in my country. I needed to come back and take care of my child where I can afford to do so myself”.

With support from IOM, she has been assisted to start up a food stuff business in Nigeria where she sells staple food items. IOM has also provided her with necessary information and business skills training to improve her business; from the proceeds she makes, Olanrewaju can provide for her daughter. Heritage, now ten years old, has been enrolled in a primary school through IOM’s support.

Olanrewaju still has plans of travelling abroad through safe migration pathways. The first journey has taught her a lesson, which she hopes will discourage others from traveling abroad by irregular means: “I survived the first suicide attempt, travelling by road through the desert, I won’t try it again. I will get my valid visa and any other necessary documents before travelling.”