Alone in Libya : Children Returning to Burkina Faso Assisted by IOM

A child paints a wall on International Day of the African child in Tenkodogo. Photo: IOM/Alexander Bee

Tenkodogo – Since the 2017 launch of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, IOM Burkina Faso has assisted with the voluntary return of 60 migrant children under 18 years of age from among 1,681 Burkinabe returnees, the clear majority of whom returned from Libya.  

The effort is funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. 

Social Action, with the technical and financial support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and in collaboration with other actors involved in child protection, provided them with medical, psychosocial and educational support as well as counselling and vocational training for older children.  

“When I was 13, my brother persuaded us to go to Niger, then Libya. We crossed the Sahara; we were thirsty, very hot but also very cold in the evening. Many died of hunger and thirst on the way,” explained 17-year-old Catherine, who recently returned from Libya. “We stayed there for four years. I was working as a cleaner for 20 dinars (USD 14) a month. Now I’m back and IOM is supporting me for a tailor training. I want to become a famous tailor!”  

Tenkodogo is one of the largest cities in the Central-Eastern region of Burkina Faso, the region with the highest migration rate in the country, with 60 per cent of outbound migration. 

To mark the International Day of the African Child, IOM organized events and activities on 16 June, bringing together 300 host community children and those of returned migrants. Performances including dance, songs, poetry about migration as well as graffiti took place throughout the day.  

“An activity such as this one promotes exchange, sharing of experiences and social cohesion. This day reminds us that children need a healthy and safe environment, with their parents by their side,” said Marie-Thérèse Sombougma, Regional Director of Social Action. 

Djémilatou, 16 years old, lives in Tenkodogo and he was moved by Catherine’s story. “I did not know it was like that. I am sad when I hear what they have been through. To all parents who have left, I encourage them to return home. Their children are unhappy without them and need them… for food, clothing, health, for everything!” 

Madina’s brother left for Benin three years ago. “He sometimes calls us and says that everything is fine, that we should not worry about him. But when I hear these stories, I realize what my brother has been through and I am sad. In any case, I do not want to leave, I want to stay in my country.” 

“Our country is Burkina Faso; what we think we can have elsewhere, it is here that we can find it. I think about my children; I do not want them to go through what I did, I want them to be happy here. We do the best with IOM’s assistance. We are able to pay for school and cares,” says Boukary, a young Burkinabe.  

“We often identify unaccompanied children. Depending on their age, we either send them to school or training, and if they are underage, we find other activities for them,” explained Niampa Safiatou, IOM Reintegration Assistant.  

“Children are also a priority for food and health support. For migrants returning to their families, we consult with parents to decide what they want for their children. IOM also provides psychosocial support. We discuss with them what they have experienced, if they feel the need to share it. We also call on specialists, from the Red Cross or hospitals, when the traumas are too serious,” she adds.  

IOM coordinates with its partners which provide assistance to minors, including Social Action, UNICEF, Keeogo, Terre des Hommes, Save The Children and its implementing partners. This network covers a wide range of services that migrant children may need, especially when they are separated or unaccompanied and in situations that require specific assistance such as family mediation. 

IOM works closely with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the field of assistance to refugee, asylum-seeking and/or stateless children, as well as with other organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for family tracing and the Burkinabe Red Cross in the health sector.  

These activities took place as part of the #FasoNooma campaign to raise awareness among Burkinabe migrants and non-migrants about the risks of and alternatives to irregular migration, with an emphasis on local opportunities. Funded by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrants Protection and Reintegration, the Italian and Belgian governments through the project “Youth, Employment and Migration in the Central East Region”, and the United Kingdom Department for International Development through the project “Security, Support, and Solution Programme along the Road to the Central Mediterranean”, the campaign has already reached 9,062 people through an awareness caravan in several regions of Burkina Faso. A Maracaña tournament will also be held in July in the Central East and Central regions. The campaign will run until December 2019.  

For more information, please contact IOM Burkina Faso, Andreas de Boer, Email: or Marie-Stella Ndiaye, Email: