Many people in The Gambia associate migrants first and foremost with young men taking irregular migration journeys in search of better economic opportunities abroad, however, this category of migrants represents only one facet of the global migration phenomena. Across the world, migrants are professors and students, doctors and dentists, nurses and lawyers, internally displaced persons and refugees, entrepreneurs and farmers, athletes and artists, actors and activists, and more importantly, they are just like the rest of us: our neighbours, friends, and fellow community members.
This year, on International Migrants Day, we wish to humanize mobility as a force that contributes to social cohesion by amplifying the voice of migrants. This page serves as a platform for migrants to share their stories and to use this vehicle to educate audiences about migration, and ultimately, the roles of relevant local actors in the field of migration. We invite you to read their stories below.
“I have been inspired to study a humanitarian course. I want to help people, because I know how it feels to be treated inhumanely.”
After graduating from high school Muhammed worked in the hospitality industry. When COVID-19 hit, he lost his job. Frustrated and tired, he decided to migrate to Europe through the backway. In Libya, he was detained and put in prison where he was forced to face inhumane living conditions.
Eventually Muhammed received support to return to The Gambia from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). After coming back, Muhammed received reintegration assistance from IOM to help rebuild his life back home. He wanted to use his assistance to do something that would changes people’s lives. Now he is studying Diplomacy, Peace and Conflict at a local academic institution.
“Just being able to talk to someone alone about our problems in this crisis really encourages us. It helps us to feel a little more comfortable even though there is no certainty about the future.”
Together with her husband and seven children, Kaddy fled north to The Gambia, eventually finding her way to a small village in Janack district, in an area popularly known as ‘Foni.’
Having left with nothing, Kaddy and her family had to rely on the hospitality of the local community for food and shelter.
Kaddy is among the thousands of Senegalese forced to flee to The Gambia after clashes broke out in January 2022 along the Gambian-Senegalese border in territories occupied by the separatist movement.
“I am so happy my family was there to help me reintegrate back into my community, and for all the love they showed me upon my return.”
After hearing stories of success from friends who took the backway and some convincing stories from peers on the benefits of leaving, Ebrima embarked on a journey to Europe on May 2015 in the hopes of finding a better future for himself, his wife, and three kids. However, the realities of taking the backway dawned on him. His arrival in Libya led to his capture and arrest just as he was about to cross the sea to Europe. He was detained there for a year and three months before being able to call his family.
He was able to return home after two years where his family and community welcomed him back with open arms.
“Despite the challenges I face as a young lady in this profession, I just let my work speak for itself.”
Growing up, Njowene always knew that she wanted to work in a field dealing with the human body. After finishing high school in 2010, she took a gap year to work as a lab technician at the Medical Research Council in Fajara. This led her to apply to a Science and Technology University in Ghana, where she was accepted into the six-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery program.
“After graduating, I considered remaining in Ghana to work as a dentist. However, I remembered the promise I made to myself about moving back to The Gambia to make a positive impact in the nascent dental sector. I moved back home in 2020 to educate people about oral health and improve people’s access to dental services.”
“We all know football is a game that brings a lot of joy. After the game we talk about the experiences we went through and try to help each other.”
In 2014 Mustapha took the backway journey and made it to Morocco. After spending six years trying to get to Europe, he returned in 2020 alone and empty-handed.
“When I came back, I could tell my community viewed me as a failure by the way they looked at me. Several months after I returned, I was told about migrant peer support groups where we are able to talk to fellow returnees about the experiences we went through on the journey or after coming back. Every month we have activities such as football games or home visits to reduce stress and have group discussions. Talking to people in the group helps a lot. The relationships I’ve built here will last my whole life.”
“I decided to come home no matter what I would go through. When I returned home, I thought I would get rid of all the pain... I did not know what was waiting for me.”
In 2015, Amie traveled to Egypt with the promise of a job with a good salary. She was shocked to learn that they were hiring her to work as a domestic helper. This was when Amie realized she had been trafficked. Trapped with no money and papers, Amie worked in distressing conditions while serving three different families in a span of seven months. She took the first chance she had to return home but was met with discrimination. To help process her experience, she joined a network of fellow returnees who work to combat human trafficking and irregular migration. In The Gambia, she participates in awareness raising and advocacy activities on trafficking in persons.
“My goal is to tell my peers that everyone has the right to migrate and that every life experience has contributed to the person I am today.”
Mamina returned from Libya in 2017, and joined Migrants as Messengers two years later to discourage youth from taking the dangerous journey. Having first-hand information about this journey, their stories and testimonies are crucial during awareness-raising activities and community sensitizations.
One of the ways they do this is through community bantabas, which are important in Gambian culture and society to hold village-wide discussions. Mamina uses community bantabas to reach out to young adults to inform them about the risks of irregular migration and what local opportunities are available for them in The Gambia.
“Don’t ever give up. Just keep on pushing. With time, you will get the yield of it.”
When Mary was a child, she was inspired to start poultry farming after visiting her uncle’s poultry farm in Kaolack, Senegal. When she returned from his farm in 2016 – a year after completing her university studies – she decided to buy 25 birds to start her own business at home in Essau, The Gambia’s North Bank Region. A year later, her grandmother offered her a space to build two poultry houses in Brusubi, close to the capital, where she managed to move and gradually increase the number of birds to 350.
Today, she is the Founder and CEO of Benedict’s Poultry Farm. “I am hoping young people realize that there are opportunities available for each of us. If you want to go into poultry farming – commit yourself – because there are a lot of challenges.”
“I feel more included in society because of this project. It gave me a sense of belonging.”
Kalifa left The Gambia with the intention to cross the ocean in search of greener pastures. However, after several attempts he gave up and decided to return home to Sabou Sirreh, Upper River Region.
With support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), he received three multi-purpose milling machines to start a community-based reintegration project. One benefit of the project is that it has reduced the workload for women. It reduces labor and with the machine less flour is lost.
“The way people see me before I started the project compared to now is different.”
“I preserve my culture by promoting sustainable tourism.”
Ida studied Hotel Tourism and Catering Management in England. In 1989, Ida returned to The Gambia and has been working in tourism ever since.
Going abroad has been an eye opening experience for her. Working with Europeans for so long has helped her understand what they want. Now she runs a successful tourism company named after her mother, “Yabouy Home Cooking,” where she is able to share Gambian culture with travelers from all over the world. In turn, this has enabeled her to give back to her country by teaching Gambian gastronomy to a group of youth, consisting of mainly girls and some boys including a returnee. Through this she is helping to empower women and was even able to help the returnee find a job as a cook. Ida continues to promote sustainable tourism in The Gambia to help youth find employment.
“The Gambia Immigration Department is helping The Gambia by providing the basic information the government needs to make future plans.”
Dembo grew up in a small village called Pacharr, Central River Region. He moved to the urban area in West Coast Region for his first job as a nursery school teacher where he taught for six years. After, he started learning about Internet Technology, which led to his employment with the Gambia Immigration Department (GID) in 2011.
When the chance to join GID came, Dembo decided it was a good opportunity to go and help his country. Now he is the focal point for training front-line immigration officers on how to use the electronic data collection system for travelers entering and exiting The Gambia. This system helps to provide security for border communities and the country as a whole.
“It is important for women in this country to stand up for their rights and be resilient. We need to continue fighting for them to gain full control of their freedoms and rights.”
Fatou was born in Banjul and moved to Senegal at the age of six. After moving back and graduating from High School, she relocated to France to pursue her education and eventually received a Master’s degree in International Law.
While Fatou’s work in advocating for human rights started in The Gambia, her passion for it took her to South Africa where she worked for Article 19. Her work promoting freedom of expression led her across parts of Africa and the United Kingdom, before taking her to Senegal where she established and ran the regional office for Article 19. In her 24 years advocating for human rights and freedom of expression she has inspired women, youth and journalists across the continent.
“Mental health and psychosocial support helps you to reach your goal. It helps us know how to take care of ourselves and how to help others.”
When learning about psychiatry during his General Nursing program, Omar found his calling. After graduating with his Bachelor’s, he moved to Turkey where he lived for three years while taking a Master’s program in Psychiatric Nursing.
He started out as general nurse at Tanka Tanka and now manages the entire facility as Matron. As the sole psychiatric hospital in The Gambia, Tanka Tanka deals with a variety of cases. They receive Gambian returnees as well as migrants from other countries, such as Senegal, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Mental illness is a sensitive topic in The Gambia and can be very difficult to discuss. Omar believes when our problems are not talked about they become worse and we all need to look for better ways to cope with stress.
“I come from a family of migrants who have been on the move for generations. Now, I help others do the same.”
In the 1920’s, Krishna’s great-grandparents made the journey over sea to Uganda from India to seek better work prospects. Shortly after, they relocated across the border to Kenya, where they raised her grandparents who worked as account clerks at railway construction companies and hardware shops. Both of her parents were born in Kenya and lived there until the economy became unstable after independence in 1963. Upon migrating to the United Kingdom her parents fought to attain higher education and found employment, while adjusting to a context where discrimination against ethnic minorities was at its peak across Europe.
Krishna was born in London as a second generation migrant and now works for the International Organization for Migration in The Gambia.
“Living in different places provided me with the opportunity to realize my goals of attaining higher education and working with humanitarian organizations.”
At a very tender age, Lamin moved with his family to Basse, Upper River Region, from Kaiaf, Lower River Region. Little did he know that he would spend most of his younger years moving from place to place. In 2008, he had the chance to move to Brikama to attend college. This offered him a unique opportunity to interact with people from all over the country with diverse geographical backgrounds.
Having moved within The Gambia for years, he eventually moved to Greater Banjul Area in 2020 to work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Lamin’s journey has been life-changing for him, but also for his friends and relatives as well. He often shares his stories and experiences from working in migration with them.
“My work helps me to be conscious of minority groups and vulnerable people to make the world a better place for them.”
Awa was born in Latrikunda Sabi, Kanifing Municipal Council. After high school, she moved to Taiwan in 2012 to pursue a Bachelor’s. Shortly after graduating, she went to Sweden where she completed her Master’s and spent several years working in the humanitarian field.
Living outside of The Gambia for nearly a decade has taught Awa countless life lessons. Determined to return home, Awa returned during the global pandemic to work for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2021. Here, she works to support the Government of The Gambia and enhance their border management capacities in the areas of community resilience, health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). While her experiences abroad have taught her many things, she is glad to be able to continue learning and growing back at home.