In West and Central Africa, almost one third of returnees assisted by IOM also received community based psychosocial support. Through reception, psychological first aid (PFA) and referral to specialized mental health services, IOM supports migrants and their families. The aim is to enable them to overcome the hardships and sometimes traumas event encountered along the migratory route. It is therefore a valuable support throughout the long process of rebuilding a life project in dignity.

The psychological first aid provided by IOM involves human, supportive and concrete assistance, without especially forcing individuals to talk about what happened to them. It helps migrants to stabilize their emotional state after a critical incident. Indeed, in situations of displacement, vulnerability increases considerably. Migrants are likely to have been exposed to death, violence, abuse, exploitation or discrimination in accessing basic needs. These traumatic experiences can lead to difficulties including hyperarousal, insomnia, mental confusion or avoidance of certain situations. As Émilie Sepulchre, IOM’s Mental Health & Psychosocial Support Expert, explains: “It is essential to reassure migrants about their own condition by explaining that these are normal psychosomatic reactions that occur after experiencing an abnormal event. This support is also an opportunity to identify individuals in need of specialized psychological support and refer them to the appropriate services available.”

Back in their communities, migrants can also receive appropriate psychosocial support. Émilie Sepulchre points out that this stage sometimes entails new stigmas and numerous individual and community challenges: “Memories of traumatic experiences along the migration journey and sometimes even before departure also complicate the individual and collective experience of return. Migrants may experience intense emotions such as fear, anger or sadness, which can lead to different psycho-corporal reactions. Providing psychosocial support within the migrant’s reintegration setting, especially within the family, is therefore fundamental.”

However, Émilie Sepulchre nuances this by mentioning that: “Human beings who go through traumatic incidents may experience acute traumatic stress, but the majority will not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term. A large proportion of migrants can build on their personal resources. Sometimes migrants ask for support from their social networks to rebuild their lives and find their place again, in resilience.”

In psychology, resilience is the ability to cope with a difficult and stressful situation and recover quickly. The ability of an individual to successfully cope with a crisis depends on a range of individual characteristics such as gender, education, physical characteristics, experience, beliefs, health conditions and status in the community.

IOM strives to ensure that migrants have access to mental health through a problem-solving approach. The focus is on strengths and capacities rather than weaknesses. Individual and tailored listening sessions are conducted to enable individuals to regain positive self-recognition. Returnees are encouraged to make decisions or do activities that make them feel good to regain self-confidence and strengthen the resilience process. They also have a key role to play in peer support. The Migrants as Messengers campaign, which has been conducted since 2017 in the sub-region, is a good example of the willingness and ability of returning migrants to address mental health issues.

Resilience also needs to be considered in a holistic way. The family is often the first place that people turn to, and therefore needs to be given special attention. Family support with respect to the return of migrants is crucial. IOM works on positive communication and interpersonal caring. Families are empowered to move forward after a crisis. Some factors are indicators of family resilience: family size, socio-economic status, migration history, gender discrimination, family dynamics or the family’s status in the community. Indeed, the family is part of a wider community context. The latter is important, as communities with strong social networks and access to resources can provide support and protection. Community leaders, spiritual leaders and influencers are therefore targeted by IOM’s approach. Awareness-raising sessions on mental health issues and community psychosocial support are frequently organized. These sessions help to support collective resilience by involving into cultural and religious traditions.Launched in 2017, the joint EU-IOM initiative for the protection and reintegration of migrants is being implemented in 13 countries of the subregion, considering the multiple levels of resilience that coexist and complement each other.

New information technologies are also integrated by IOM to facilitate access to available resources and information. IOM regularly uses e-learning to disseminate content to a non-professional audience. It is an effective way to build the capacity of actors involved in psychosocial community support. Recently, IOM has posted online information on health services available in eight countries of the sub-region : Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

At IOM, the holistic, community-based psychosocial approach effectively contributes to improving the conditions under which migrants reintegrate into their communities. As Émilie Sepulchre reminds us, “Psychosocial intervention within the migrant’s reintegration setting is very important and its effect is measured compared to the family reintegration sustainability.”