‘I almost got frustrated when I first came back … today I’m proud’ – female migrant returnee

Fatou Njie

By Sally Jeng

Fatou Njie campaigns against irregular and undocumented migration by sharing her own lived experiences of the deadly journey. 

But her most unique and powerful tool is not just the journey experience, but how she is able to deal with the stigma and stereotype that greeted her arrival to The Gambia, when she chose to return – voluntarily.

The 30-year-old traveled to Libya in 2014 to meet her husband who was en route to Italy through the ‘back-way’, the Gambian parlance for irregular migration through the high deserts of Libya and the dangerous Mediterranean sea.

For about four years, until 2017, Fatou lived in Tripoli with her husband who eventually developed an ailment.

“He became seriously ill,” Fatou recounted with a crimson face.  “As undocumented migrants, we could not access the best of health facilities and that was when we decided to return home.”

Fatou and her husband were two of over 5,600 stranded Gambian migrants, as of August 2021, that voluntarily returned with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

Meanwhile, between 2014 to 2017, over 35,000 Gambians arrived irregularly on European shores, according to Frontex, the EU border agency. A lot more stopped in Libya, like Fatou and her husband.

The campaign 

“I almost got frustrated when I first came back, I had no one to support me, the stigma and also stereotype almost broke me,” Fatou said of her experience after returning home to The Gambia.

To add to her frustration, a few months after she and her husband returned, the young man passed away. He could not survive the illness developed in Libya. The couple had two young kids.

Despite the pressure of single-parent family upbringing, Fatou started a campaign against irregular migration with her fellow returnees. She uses the campaign platform to share her personal experience of the journey on which she suffered a lot and which caused the death of her husband.

“Our campaign is not just to discourage others against irregular migration but we also try to encourage other returnees that things can be better here,” she explained.

Fatou is not just telling returnees, and potential migrants too, that things can be better.  She is showing them, using herself as the model.

Through the reintegration support that she received from the IOM, the young widow set up a business. She was one of over 3,600 returnees who benefited from reintegration assistance under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration. The assistance comes in different ways: support to set up or strengthen a small business, to pursue education or vocational training, and so on.

Fatou chose to start a business. She opened a shop at Latrikunda market.

Through that reintegration support, Fatou was able to establish and manage a sustainable business. Today, she wants to venture into another business. 

“I now want to start a poultry farm to support other female returnees,” she explained.  

“Despite the stigma and discrimination, I decided to challenge myself that it is up to me to positively tell my story and today I can say I am proud of what I am able to do for myself and support from some family member,” Fatou explained.

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Mr. Sainey M.K. Marenah is a Prominent Gambian journalist, founding editor The Alkamba Times and formerly head of communications at the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and Communications and PR Consultant for The Gambia Pilot Program, under Gamworks. Mr. Marenah served as the Social media Strategist and Editor at Gambia Radio and Television Services. He is also the Banjul Correspondent for Voice of America Radio. Sainey is a human rights and developmental journalist who has carved a strong niche particularly in new media environments in the Gambian media industry. Mr. Marenah began his career as a junior reporter with the Point Newspaper in the Gambia in 2008 and rose through the ranks to become Chief correspondent before moving to The Standard Newspaper also in Banjul as Editorial Assistant and head of News. He is a household name in the Gambia’s media industry having covered some of the most important stories in the former and current government. These include the high profile treason cases including the Trial of Former military chiefs in Banjul in 2009 to 2012. Following his arrest and imprisonment by the former regime of President, Yahya Jammeh in 2014, Marenah moved to Dakar Senegal where he continues to practice Journalism freelancing for various local and international Media organization’s including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and ZDF TV in Germany among others. He is the co-Founder of the Banjul Based Media Center for Research and Development; an institution specialized in research and development undertakings. As a journalist and Communication Expert, focused on supporting the Gambia's transitional process, Mr Marenah continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a viable media and communications platform that engages necessary tools and action to increase civic participation and awareness of the needs of transitional governance to strengthen the current move towards democratization. Mr. Marenah has traveled extensively as a professional journalist in both Europe, Africa and United States and attended several local and international media trainings.

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