To contain the spread of COVID-19, many governments, including the government of Algeria, have imposed several restrictions, including border closures. These lockdowns have impacted the hopes of many migrants to return home.

During this time, IOM has been coordinating with host governments and governments in countries of origin to open humanitarian corridors to allow for the voluntary return of stranded migrants.

Thanks to an agreement of Algerian and Malian authorities to temporarily lift travel restrictions, IOM has facilitated the safe and voluntary return of stranded migrants in mid-July from Algiers to Bamako. Eighty-four Malians were finally able to return safely home.

Mariam is one of them.

Mariam*, a 26-year-old Malian woman, travelled to Algeria in 2015 to start a bachelor's degree in computer science thanks to a scholarship she received from the Malian government. The award came at the right time for her since she was having some family issues after getting married to a man from a different ethnic group.

“I travelled to Algeria alone and pregnant, and my husband joined me after a few months.,” she says. In Algeria, Mariam started her studies and had two children while her husband was working in construction sites.

As a single mother of two children, she asked an Algerian family that she knew for support. They took care of her kids while she was in school.

“The family accommodated and supported me. Thanks to them, I managed to finish my studies and to complete my university degree,” she said.

Following her graduation, Mariam searched for a job to stay in Algeria, but she could not find one. She then decided to return to Mali, but her plans got interfered by the unprecedented global health crisis of COVID-19. Travel and movement restrictions were adopted in Algeria and she had to wait for restrictions to be lifted to return home.

A few weeks into lockdown, Mariam started to struggle to pay for basic needs and afford the rent. Moreover, she feared for her and her children’s health during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Having already been registered with IOM, she contacted the Algiers office and asked for support. Subsequently, she was offered accommodation and food assistance at IOM run transit facilities (DARV), a government structure that accommodates migrants waiting to return to their country of origin.

During her two months stay, the family benefitted from psychosocial support sessions and the distribution of non-food items including hygiene kits.  

“Before being taken care of by IOM, I felt lonely and isolated. I was locked up with my children and I was afraid that they would get infected or something bad would happen to them,” says Mariam.

Mariam and her two children finally returned home on 14 July.

Upon her arrival in Mali, with the group of returnees, she underwent a 14-day mandatory quarantine in a government-managed facility.

She is also receiving reintegration assistance provided by IOM with support from the European Union through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration.

Reintegration assistance can include counselling or medical assistance for returnees, a reintegration grant to set up a small business, vocational training or job placement, and education for minors as well as follow-up monitoring.

In addition to her degree in computer science, she also obtained a bachelor's degree in business management. She hopes these two degrees will give her a better chance of finding a job soon enough in Mali.

“Through my stay here [in Algeria], I learned to be autonomous and free, I learned what are my rights and what are my duties, I learned that a woman can accomplish a lot on their own. I also learned to have my own thoughts and opinions, and it is completely normal if they are different or they are opposed to those who surround me,” Mariam concluded.

This assistance was made possible thanks to the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration through the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

The hygiene kits distributed to migrants in Algeria were provided under the African Regional Migration Program and funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State.

*Name was changed to protect her identity.

Photo: One of IOM Algeria staff interviewing Mariam before her departure to Mali. ©IOM/ F.Giordani.