COVID-19 related restrictions have been challenging for migrants in Tunisia. Some have witnessed a significant reduction of income while others have lost their jobs and remained stranded in the country unable to return home. Philippe is one of those affected individuals. The 26-year-old man arrived in Tunisia in August 2017 looking for job opportunities to support himself and his family back home.

The decision to try his luck in Tunisia

Philippe used to run an auto mechanic shop in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, but the business was not profitable. He and his family lived with a perpetual sense of precarity.

“After our parents died, I had to take care of my whole family, including my wife, my sisters and their children. When I realized that I was making less and less money, I decided, with their support, to try my luck in a different country,” he said.

Philippe knew some members of the Ivorian community in Tunisia, so he kept asking them about the country and the job market. He had no clear plans but decided to leave Côte d’Ivoire in search of a better income, which could sustain him and his family.

“I did not have a job offer or anything waiting for me in Tunis, I wanted to explore the country and look for good opportunities.  I sold the equipment in my garage and flew to Tunisia through Morocco” he explains.

In Tunisia, Philippe found a job as a mechanic in a garage in the capital Tunis and worked there for two years. His salary was not much but was making enough to send back some to his family in Côte d’Ivoire. However, due to a health condition affecting his eyes, he had to quit his job in mid-2019.

“My cataracts started to deteriorate, and I could no longer perform my tasks at work, so I had to quit my job with no savings,” he said. “When I lost my source of income, I could no longer stay at the place where I used to live in.”

The return decision with the family  

The young mechanic was hosted by a member of the Ivorian community in Tunis for a few days before ending up homeless, finding himself once again in a state of precarity.

When he learned about the help that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) offers to migrants in Tunisia, Philippe called IOM through a hotline for migrants in need for support.

As his health condition was deteriorating, Philippe’s case was considered urgent. He was referred to an ophthalmology clinic where he had cataract surgery. He also received social assistance in the form of vouchers to purchase food and medicines until he recovers from the surgery.

However, even after the operation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and loss of jobs, Philippe could not return to his old job and the search for a new one had become a lot more difficult. After discussing with his family, they decided that it would be better if he returns home. He asked IOM for support to return to Côte d’Ivoire.  

Hopes to restart business in Abidjan

Philippe is now in good health and he is waiting to return to Côte d’Ivoire in a few weeks’ time. He hopes to open an auto parts store in Abidjan with support from the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration (EU-IOM Joint Initiative).

“Now that my eyes are in good health, I am ready to start a new chapter in my life” Philippe concluded. “I am very positive. I think that with small steps I will be able to open my new shop and provide for my family while being closer to them.”

Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, returning migrants like Philippe 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.

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 Tunisia, 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 Tunisian returnees. Since June 2019, the programme assisted 184 stranded migrants to return home from Tunisia.