Migration in The Gambia has existed for centuries. Since the creation of man, our ancestors have migrated in many different ways.
Before, when a returnee would come back to his or her community or country of origin, members of his or her family, friends, neighbors and the community at large greet them with joy and happiness, as long as they made it back safely, even if they failed abroad.
The only thing they consider is their well-being. The person will be given support morally and financially given courage and confidence that they can make it in their home country.
However, in the 21st century, many migrant returnees face stigma and discrimination, especially those who have gone through the irregular migration route known as the ‘backway’ in The Gambia.
If one comes back to The Gambia without money or without entering Europe, many face a lot of stress, stigma and discrimination, on top of all the trauma they faced on the journey. There is one thing that cannot not be erased from your memory until you die: the regret of not being able to enter Europe with all the resources lost.
The moment some returnees return back to their country or the community they came from, they are not well-received. People do not consider whether they came with a sound mind or in good health conditions. The dignity and respect they deserve will not be respected by some.
A number of returnees come back with health complications and trauma. The first thing that people would say is, “all his friends and companions entered Europe, while he came home with nothing.” They will say the person is afraid, and they will also label the individual a loser and bad luck to the family and society. If the migrant is a woman, they might say she was involved in prostitution. If it is a man, they will say he was not trying.
Society might associate them with different bad behaviors. People will not even want to get closer to them or listen, despite all the experiences they had on their journey. Returnees might be categorized differently. Some people in the community and society will have a perception that they will not make it again in life.
For there to be a better world for migrant returnees in The Gambia, our family members, friends, relatives, and society should be a source of hospitality, not hostility. There should be proper mechanisms for migrant returnees to address their concerns and improve their situations.
In terms of their reintegration, family members and friends should welcome migrant returnees with open arms and accord them with love and respect. They should not be seen as guests but as ordinary people among them, who happened to travel and return. Having gone through a difficult past, they need support to achieve a good state of mind upon return.
It is time for people in societies to change their perceptions of migrant returnees, because migrants are their friends and family members first before they became migrants. Returning home does not mean you are a failure. What can be achieved beyond can be achieved within.
This story was written by Mamina Jallow, Migrants as Messengers (MaM) Volunteer in The Gambia.