Ivorian migrants from Libya arriving in Abidjan, Ivory Coast | Photo: EPA/Legnan Koula
Ivorian migrants from Libya arriving in Abidjan, Ivory Coast | Photo: EPA/Legnan Koula

The UN migration agency, IOM, says that more than two-thirds of West African migrants returning to their home countries are in financial debt. Many also feel that shame prevents them from reintegrating in their communites, an IOM study has found.

A study carried out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the impact of indebtedness on returnee migrants in six West African countries revealed that 68% are in debt, while over two-thirds describe either the shame or the burden of their indebtedness as an obstacle to their reintegration in their home communities.

Debts to migrate

The IOM said in a statement published on February 5 that "as migration becomes increasingly hazardous and costly, many migrants take out loans and incur debt from relatives ad friends to finance their journey. On a personal level - social and psychological - many of those surveyed cited feelings of anxiety, failure, social isolation and fear of not being able to repay their obligations."

The organization said the survey was led by its regional office in Dakar and conducted in Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Senegal and The Gambia. About 8% of participants said they were physically assaulted by their creditors. A returnee in Mali said he lost the use of his left leg after being shot by a lender.

To date, IOM has assisted 68,842 migrants to return to the six countries considered for the study under the IOM-EU joint initiative for migrant protection and reintegration. The study showed an average of €511 of debt per migrant, a significant sum considering that, for example, €800 is considered an average annual salary in Burkina Faso.

Overall, the estimated amount of indebtedness of all returnees across the six countries surveyed could reach €15 million, the IOM said. This sum is the equivalent of about 10% of all remittances sent back to Mali by migrants from France.

Threats and abuse by lenders

According to Sokhna Sy, regional research officer for IOM in West and Central Africa, returning home without any contribution for the family - but, on the contrary, in an even more precarious state than before departure - can constitute a failure for families. "This has lasting consequences on the socioeconomic reintegration of returnees," she said.

Moreover, borrowing money to migrate and then being unable to repay these loans can represent a palpable, physical danger for migrants and their families.

The study revealed that one out of five returning migrants in debt reported having been threatened, abused or subjected to acts of violence to force them to repay their debts.

IOM encouraged the implementation of programs to raise the awareness of potential migrants, returnees, their families and communities on the economic, social and psychological impact of debt connected to migration on reintegration.

The organization also called for the development of protection programs for indebted returnees.


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