Oumou*, a thirty-year-old woman living in eastern Senegal, wanted to work as an aesthetician in Europe. Like her childhood friend Racky, they had always dreamed of a better future. Together they decided to head for Europe.

Although the migration journey was extremely stressful for both women, their friendship was never compromised. On the contrary, they remained united from beginning to end, always standing up for each other. The unbreakable relationship between them is immediately apparent. In fact, at the time I met them and supported them in their economic reintegration, they shared the same telephone number.

Now I know Oumou and Racky well. So, we meet again in a friendly atmosphere. Sitting side by side, they share with me their painful story with a reassuring smile. You can guess right away that they are strong ladies.

A few years ago, the two friends set out to return to Italy via Tunisia. On the spot, they were welcomed by Racky’s uncle, who hosted them for a few days. The young women waited to board a "cruise" boat. One evening, Racky’s uncle asked them to pack their bags, saying that a bus would take them to their destination. Delighted, they embarked on what looked like a small truck full of men. 

After a few hours on the road, the men asked them to get off the van, in the middle of the desert, in a place without any sign of human life. Disoriented, they complied and waited for the sun to rise. They were chased by bandits who shot at them. Miraculously, they saw a bus and negotiated with the driver, who agreed to drive them to Libya in exchange for 300,000 francs.

Upon arrival in Libya, they boarded a makeshift boat and were intercepted by the Italian coastal army. They were quickly deported to Libya, where they were held in prison for exactly one month and five days until a relative paid their bail. After their release, the two young women decided to work as housemaids to support themselves and pay for their return trip to their uncle in Tunisia.

The money they needed, earned through their hard work, was used to pay a smuggler. The smuggler delivered the young women to bandits who kept them in separate rooms. Oumou explained: “One of the guys hit me and asked me to give him everything I had with me. I refused, he broke a bottle and took a shard, threatening to cut my throat if I didn’t give him what he asked for. I was forced to give him all my savings from the last six months.”

Desperate, after many unsuccessful and dangerous attempts, Oumou and Racky decided to contact the Senegalese embassy in Libya for return assistance. On the way, they met a compatriot who told them about IOM, “an organisation that assists irregular migrants who want to return to their country of origin by providing psychosocial, social and economic support”. They travelled to the organization’s offices and initiated the necessary procedures to return to Senegal. 

As soon as they arrived, and even before receiving the full amount for economic support, they started a small business selling fans and African scarves that they tailored. Then, when the economic support was fully received, they developed a business selling fabrics and beauty products together. Racky and Oumou have built up an excellent reputation as make-up artists, and are often asked to give brides a makeover. In addition to make-up, they also do hairdressing, ephemeral tattoos, nails and eyelashes. The two friends love this job, which allows them to express their creativity and passion by taking care of women and their appearance. When incomes are low, the young women travel to neighbouring villages to sell their products. Oumou has also started selling ice blocks, as this is a very lucrative business in her region, where temperatures are particularly high. Every night, Oumou carefully prepares her ice blocks to sell during the day.



Oumou preparing packs to make her ice blocks. Photo: IOM 2022/Seynabou DIALLO


Today, the two friends no longer dream of Europe. They want to open a beauty salon and a large shop selling fabrics. They believe in this project and give themselves every chance to make it. 

As I leave Racky and Oumou, I realise how important friendship has been in their story. I treasure Racky’s words, and I would like to share them with you: “I still can’t believe we went through all this. We only wanted to travel to support ourselves and our families, but we ended up in prison, chased and attacked by bandits. But fortunately, there were two of us to face these situations; otherwise the worst could have happened.”

* To protect the identity of those quoted, pseudonyms are used.

This article was written by Seynabou DIALLO, field facilitator in Senegal.