Press Release: New Harvard FXB/IOM Report Highlights Need for Better Support for Young Migrants Who Returned Home

New Harvard FXB/IOM Report Highlights Need for Better Support for Young Migrants Who Returned Home

For Immediate Release

November 12, 2019

A new Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and International Organization for Migration (IOM) report finds that young migrants who returned home from Libya to Nigeria often face serious challenges in their efforts to reintegrate into society.

The report, “Returning Home? The Reintegration Challenges Facing Children and Youth Returnees from Libya to Nigeria,” highlights the dangers and risks that a particularly vulnerable population, children and young people from Sub-Saharan Africa, faces while migrating. These dangers are often exacerbated by exclusion migration policies. The report documents the challenges facing young migrants whose return home from Libya to Nigeria is funded by the European Union and mediated by the IOM. The report’s authors – Harvard FXB Instructor Vasileia Digidiki and Harvard Professor and Harvard FXB Director of Research Jacqueline Bhabha – build on the young migrants’ experiences to make recommendations that promote sustainable reintegration and capacity building of relevant government agencies.

“Our findings highlight the severe human costs of current European migration policies for children and young people seeking to escape very harsh living conditions,” said Professor Bhabha. “They point to the need for more robust human rights protections for some of the most vulnerable migrants of our time, and to the unmet responsibilities owed by some of the wealthiest nations on earth. On this 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, resolute improvements in access to basic human rights are urgently needed for migrant children and young people who are returned to their countries of origin because other avenues are not available to them.”

“Current migration policies have doubled down on exclusion, preventing thousands of children and young people from accessing safety, education, and a chance at a better life,” said Instructor Digidiki. “With their migration cycle interrupted and their dreams unfulfilled, thousands of migrant children and young people trapped in transit opt to return home as the only solution to a life of destitution and despair. But when their return home is not accompanied by active measures to promote a sustainable reintegration or viable pathways to establishing a livelihood, these young people will continue seeing irregular, high-risk migration as a dominant life strategy. As voluntary return continues to increase, the urgency of investing in achieving sustainable reintegration for returnees cannot be more apparent.”

Key Takeaways

  1. Multiple factors drive the decision of young people to migrate, including personal drivers, family livelihood, peer influence and social perceptions about migration. Successful interventions should target: a) individual drivers for migration that can impact reintegration; b) any “intra-familial implicit contract;” and c) idealized societal perceptions about “successful” migration.
  2. Young people tend to use lifetime savings, sell income-generating assets or enter high levels of debt to pay for the migration journey. Young people may experience serious difficulties re-establishing incomes reliant on the assets they sold and face hardships overcoming debts. Interventions and efforts should target returnees’ access to income generating opportunities including employment schemes, apprenticeships, development of public-private partnerships to stimulate job opportunities, and expanded grant opportunities. In a minority of cases, low-risk loans and the opportunity to develop self-employment ventures may be appropriate.
  3. Returnees that have experienced or witnessed torture, exploitation and abuse are in need of specialized assistance. These experiences can trigger or intensify trauma and severely undermine mental health, consequently impacting reintegration. Previous research has shown that those returnees who have been exploited during their journey may experience shame and be stigmatized and discriminated against by their families and communities. Reintegration efforts should aim to restore emotional stability and well-being, ensuring complementary direct assistance and psycho-social support. Additionally, awareness campaigns targeting receiving families and communities can further facilitate their effective reintegration by preventing and addressing discrimination and discussing returnees’ needs and expectations.
  4. Returnees who feel they have not reached their migration goals may find it difficult to reintegrate and may opt for repeat migration. Return and reintegration efforts should take into account the complex background of a returnee. Accurate but neutral information should be provided during the return process, to allow migrants to reach an informed decision about their return. Furthermore, an individualized reintegration plan should be made to cater to both the immediate and long-term needs of the returnees, contributing to their self-sufficiency.
  5. Returnees who feel they have not received clear and concise information about the return process and the situation in their home country may mistrust the whole process of return. This mistrust, intertwined with the traumatic experience of the migration journey, can further increase anxiety, hindering effective reintegration.
  6. Reintegration interventions and efforts should focus on effective counseling, preparing and assisting families in welcoming and supporting young returnees in an effort to establish strong social networks and strengthen their psychological well-being. Familial support is a critical component of the successful reintegration of a returnee regardless of the conditions under and the reasons for their migration in the first place. Whether migration was a family investment or an individual decision, supporting a returnee’s family can help support the returnee to effectively navigate through the different challenges of reintegration.
  7. Tip for sustainable reintegration: Data on instances of domestic violence reveal an opportunity for further improvement of the return program and efforts. If violence had occurred prior to migration: Evidence of preexisting domestic violence should be carefully and extensively assessed and discussed during the pre-departure counseling. Quantitative data from this study indicated that 33.9% of respondents had not discussed difficulties at home during the pre-departure counseling. This can be attributed to multiple factors that should be understood and effectively addressed. If domestic violence commenced after the young person’s return: Reintegration efforts should focus on family’s preparation for and support during the reintegration process. If both situations are not considered and addressed during return and reintegration programming, returnees may end up in potentially dangerous conditions, leading to potentially harmful future decision making.

This pilot study, commissioned by the IOM, was conducted in July 2018 in the four States of Nigeria with the highest number of Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) program children and youth: Delta, Edo, Lagos and Ondo. The VHR program is operated by the IOM, in collaboration with governments in the countries of origin. Data was collected by the IOM Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Office, which provided ongoing assistance during the analysis and reporting of the data.

This report is part of a large-scale Harvard FXB and IOM research project of return and reintegration of children and young people to African countries. This project was developed with the continuous support, consultation, expertise and insight of different IOM staff.

To read the full report, click here.


Recommended Reading

Digidiki, V. & Bhabha, J. (2019). Leaving and Returning “Home”: The Elusive Quest for Belonging and Adulthood among African Adolescents on the Move. Culture and Education, 124 (2),143-156.