“Today the consultation went well: I chatted a lot with my doctor and it made me feel good.”
Fatoumata* was living peacefully with her mother and younger sister in the southern Senegalese city of Ziguinchor where she used to take care of her sick mother until her older sister had other plans for her.
Her sister, living in Sweden at the time, decided to take Fatoumata and their other younger sister to come live with her to continue their studies there. Enthusiastic about continuing their education abroad, both sisters made the journey to Sweden in December 2019 through regular channels. Fatoumata, 26 years old at the time, was supposed to take the secondary education graduation examination.
Fatoumata’s elder sister was divorced and had custody of her three children. After her divorce, she was housed by a Swedish man. The house was very small and made the accommodation for the guests unsuitable. Fatoumata’s younger sister shared a room with her niece and slept on the floor. As for Fatoumata, she did not have a room and slept in the corridor leading to the toilets in the house. She would sleep poorly and wake up very early because of frequent comings and goings. Although this was not planned before their arrival, she expected to take care of her nieces and do the housework. She did the school runs, and was in charge of doing the laundry, spending days folding and putting away clothes to the point that she was suffering from physical pain.
A month after their departure from Senegal, the two sisters were still not enrolled in school. Whenever they raised the issue, their elder sister got angry. It was her who should have reported their arrival in Sweden to the authorities within the first week. As time went on, Fatoumata’s anxiety increased, and each time she reminded her sister about their school registration, tensions became even more intense.
Another month later, their mother died of her illness. Only Fatoumata’s elder sister was able to travel to Senegal for the funeral. It was after their mother’s death that hostilities intensified. The host sister called Fatoumata a criminal, seeing as she had entered an irregular situation, still being without official documents. Fatoumata’s anxiety further increased. One night, her sister woke her up: “I brought you here because of our mother, now that she has passed away, I have no more obligations towards you and your sister.” In addition to the grief over the death of her mother and the repeated threats she endured, Fatoumata felt devastated that she could do nothing to help her younger sister who was also being abused.
In December 2020, one year after their arrival in Sweden, her elder sister carried out her threat, and called the police to evict them permanently in the middle of the night. “It was terribly cold outside,” Fatoumata recalls. “We were helped by a couple that night who referred us to a women’s shelter.” Both sisters were relieved by the warm welcome. The centre put Fatoumata in touch with IOM in Sweden to facilitate her return, whereas her younger sister decided to stay in Sweden rather than return to Senegal without resources.
Fatoumata returned to Senegal in March 2021 under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, and received a package of services for her psychosocial, social, and economic reintegration, including accommodation for six months, monthly cash, and a settlement kit.
She started two businesses, a chick breeding and selling business as well as a cosmetics shop; unfortunately, neither of these activities worked out, and Fatoumata found herself resourceless, her hopes lost. She found it difficult to provide three meals a day. Her psychological condition was deteriorating, and she started crying every time she told her current life story. IOM referred her for psychosocial support. It was not easy to start with the specialist, as she used to withdraw and refuse to talk to the doctor. But with time, she has become more understanding and started to value the consultations. “The consultation went well today: I chatted a lot with my doctor, I had great fun and it made me feel good”.
IOM supported Fatoumata with a view to her sustainable reintegration. She was referred to a partner for capacity building in poultry farming and got the highest score in the batch. She is now engaged in a new IOM project where she will work with other migrants in “cash-for-work” activities. In this project, she will receive training in entrepreneurship and a grant to start an income-generating activity.
* The name has been changed to protect her identity.