The Long Road Home

Since 2003, the year that Jaime Sanchez left his country, his sister Juana had been trying to get help so that her 43-year-old brother could return home.

She approached the corresponding authorities at the time, but her petition was not received.  Then on 26 August 2007, Juana managed to deliver a letter to President Rafael Correa asking for his assistance, along with a photo of her brother and his children.

"I found out that the President was going to be at the 28th of May School in the Pascuales District promoting a programme to prevent dengue fever, so I personally went there and handed him the letter," recalls Juana.

On 13 September she received an official reply confirming that her brother would receive assistance to return home from the National Secretariat for Migrants (SENAMI, by its Spanish acronym).

Before leaving Ecuador, Jaime Sanchez worked as a security guard in the city of Esmeraldas, earning a meager monthly salary of USD 120, which he stretched as best he could in order to provide for his wife Mirella and their three children.

Jaime left for South Africa on a ship as a stowaway in search of economic opportunities and a better future for his family.  A friend had told him there was a lot of work in the diamond and gold mines.  "It was a long and difficult journey," Jaime says.  "I left Esmeraldas with my passport, but right after I arrived in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, I was robbed and they took my suitcase and my papers.  From that moment, I wanted to return to my country."

Once in Maputo, and later in South Africa, Jaime could not find work because he was undocumented and because he did not speak the language.  He managed to get sporadic jobs as a mason, a garbage collector, and as a mechanic's assistant, but because of his lack of papers, the work was poorly paid and barely allowed him to survive.

After receiving the letter from Juana, SENAMI contacted the IOM Mission in Ecuador so that IOM's worldwide presence could assist in locating Jaime who had been detained as an undocumented migrant by South African authorities on 22 November 2007.

In two weeks, IOM managed to locate Jaime in a jail in Durban, South Africa.  Immediately, Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration, through its Permanent Mission in Geneva, processed the necessary travel documents so that Jaime could be liberated and return to Ecuador.

And on 3 January 2008, Jaime's family received the best New Year's present: he was reunited with his family in Guayaquil.

Once back in his hometown, Jaime told IOM staff, "I left Ecuador four years ago, full of hope and dreams, prepared to make money to provide for my family, but everything went wrong.  Things aren't as they seem or as people tell you.  I lost four years.  I lost the chance to see my children grow up, to be with my wife and my family.  Now I have learned that here, in my country, I can still live well."

IOM Ecuador provided voluntary return assistance to Mr. Sanchez through the IOM Stranded Migrant Facility.

IOM is frequently requested at very short notice by governments and international agencies to provide humanitarian emergency assistance to migrants, particularly those who find themselves in difficult migratory circumstances for which funding is not readily available. The IOM Stranded Migrant Facility, created in 2005, provides a flexible and quick humanitarian assistance to stranded migrants in difficult circumstances for whom support is not readily available from existing programmes. The increasing demand for such assistance is straining IOM's limited resources so that it sometimes finds itself without sufficient funding to positively respond to many requests – global, timely and effective responses.