Sudan - Between June 2017 and March 2018, IOM, the UN Migration Agency, helped 615 Sudanese migrants return home voluntarily from Libya, a country in its seventh year of crisis. Supporting migrants to psychologically deal with what they experienced before they came home and helping them set out a plan for their future are key to supporting their reintegration into their communities. 

Sudan borders Libya and most migrants cross directly into the country, many hoping to take barely sea-worthy rubber dinghies to Europe. The journey from Sudan to Libya is undertaken not only by Sudanese people but migrants from Ethiopia, Somalia and other countries. 

Enlisting smugglers to aid them in the journey, irregular migrants can become subjected to unspeakable horrors on this route, as with others throughout Africa and around world. Many are abused, raped, held for ransom and forced into hard labour for no pay. This came to prominence in the media in March of this year when a video of a group of Sudanese men being burned and whipped in Libya went viral. The captors sent videos of the horrid torture to the men’s families to force them to send thousands of dollars to save their loved ones’ lives. The families shared the videos on social media in a desperate attempt for help. The Sudanese Government deplored the abuse and called for immediate assistance to be provided to their nationals. After a few days, Libyan forces located and freed the migrants, who were then given urgent medical assistance in a State hospital and assisted by IOM. This is just one story of abuse among many. 

The support received by Sudanese migrants once they return home from Libya through IOM’s voluntary humanitarian return assistance is part of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, as well as the assistance given to them to get home. It has three areas of focus: 1. strengthening evidence-based return and reintegration procedures with partner countries and relevant stakeholders; 2. enhancing migrant protection and safe, humane, dignified voluntary return processes along the main migration routes; 3. promoting more sustainable economic, social and psycho-social reintegration benefiting returning migrants and home communities. 

In Sudan, at the end of February, IOM and the Secretariat for Sudanese Working Abroad (SSWA), which is the designated Sudanese Government institution responsible for all Sudanese migrants abroad, met to discuss key elements of the programme. The workshop focused on the national adaptation of Framework Standard Operating Procedures for Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration, identification of key stakeholders and fostering coordination. In April, SSWA and IOM set up a joint technical committee to expedite assistance given to returning migrants. 

“The continuous migration challenges that the world is facing can only be dealt with through more collaborative efforts and partnerships,” said Ambassador Dr. Karar Al-Tuhami, SSWA Secretary General, when asked about the SSWA’s engagement in the programme. “We are dedicated to the success of this project and its approach to reintegration, including the involvement of communities to which migrants return. We are hopeful that it will support the reintegration of Sudanese migrants, especially youth, in a way that helps them have a real choice about whether to migrate again in future,” said Ambassador Dr. Karar Al-Tuhami. 

IOM psychologist providing support to Sudanese returnees from Libya at the Khartoum airport. Photo: IOM

What comes after someone has been assisted in returning home from places like Libya can be more important that the return itself. IOM supports returnees to restart their lives in Sudan through a comprehensive reintegration approach that benefits both migrants and their communities, contributes to local development and mitigates some of the drivers of irregular migration. 

An important component of the reintegration approach taken by IOM is counseling: both counseling to provide mental health and psychosocial support, and counseling to start developing a returnees' plan for reintegration. 

In addition to the joint IOM SSWA technical committee, 15 SSWA staff members now work with IOM, helping conduct individual counseling for migrants at SSWA premises in Khartoum. IOM’s Reintegration Assistant Rania Elsheikh, who is now based at the SSWA premises, recently facilitated training for IOM and SSWA staff working on reintegration counseling to help familiarize them with reintegration counseling tools developed to include relevant questions from both organizations. The questions focus on what they would like to do in the future, as well as their journey to Libya, experiences in detention, education and work experience. Questions that would indicate the need for additional mental health and psychosocial support are also included. "The training has helped the team learn how best to conduct individual counseling sessions; we were able to talk through issues they saw before using the newly developed tools,” said Rania. Since 17 April 2018, some 109 returnees have been provided with reintegration counseling through this partnership and are soon to begin business and skills development training provided by IOM. 

When returning migrants are in need of further psychosocial support, Rania refers them to her colleague Rawan Hamid, IOM Sudan’s Cultural Orientation and Psychosocial Support Coordinator, who is Sudanese diaspora from Canada and holds both individual and group sessions for migrants. 

“Through working with Sudanese returnees from Libya, I have come to realize the damage their journey has caused to their mental health,” said Rawan. “Being exposed to trauma, all sorts of physical abuse in detention and reaching home empty handed with only shattered dreams, we see the utter importance of providing immediate psychosocial support and psychological intervention upon arrival. I am very happy and excited about IOM's working agreement with SSWA, and I look forward to working together with their psychologists in order to share our expertise through workshops to empower other local psychologists, providing all the professional help possible. Returnees desperately need this support to be on the road to mental health recovery, gain back their self-confidence and work for a better future,” added Rawan. 

These sessions provided by Rawan can help reduce some of the distress felt by returnees, due to abuse suffered while migrating or due to the feeling of shame at not making it to their planned destination and the often large amounts of money spent to do so. 

 “As we help more Sudanese migrants get home safely, we know that these collective efforts will lead to a stronger support structure in the country to help them with the transition home and reintegrate well into their communities of return,” said Linda Onias, IOM Sudan Reintegration Officer. “This network of partners will ensure the returnees economic, social and psychosocial needs are addressed,” added Linda. 

This support to returning migrants is a part of the larger EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, which facilitates orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration management through the development of rights-based and development-focused policies and processes on protection and sustainable reintegration. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative, funded through the EU Trust Fund, covers and has been set up in close cooperation with a total of 26 African countries. In the Greater Horn of Africa, the programme is also known as the Reintegration Facility.