How COVID-19 affects the reintegration of migrants in Nigeria By Chioma Ezenwafor

by Dec 7, 2020Development, Environment and Climate Change, Forced Displacement, Health, Protection and assistance, Reintegration, security

“Life has been difficult and since I returned., I have not been able to do anything because of the lockdown”, says Ebhohimhen Osemudiamhen, a young tailor from Edo state who left Nigeria to Senegal with hopes of a better life but has now returned in March 2020 at a time Nigeria is struggling to overcome the impact of the deadly coronavirus.

Shortly after Nigeria’s index case of the coronavirus, schools and, markets were closed, and flights and interstate travel were halted to curb the spread of the virus.

This worsened Ebhohimhen’s situation who had hoped to rebuild his life in dignity after his return.
“I had to squat with my friend and I am still with him now”, he says.
 ”I was very hopeless while in Senegal and had to seek help from people there to be able to return home. “
 ‘My journey by road to Senegal was not a pleasant one, I spent all I had and my family members were unable to send me some money by the time I reached Senegal. After so much suffering, I decided to return home.” Ebhohimen recalls.

I want to resume my tailoring work but I don’t have any means of starting again because of the situation in the country now”,,’ said the young returnee. For Ebhohimhen, starting afresh has been stalled because of the pandemic’s disastrous impact on the Nigerian economy.

“The first help some returnees need is shelter“, said Chylian Azuh, founder of, Female Returnees Forum (FRF), a support network for female returnees and survivors of human trafficking in Nigeria. 

According to Azuh, every returnee has a unique idea of how they can restart their lives.
“My organization has received no support from the government even though most of our members are single mothers who need support to start a business”, Azuh said.

Reintegration Pre-Pandemic  

Mr. Nduka Nwawwenne, the Uyo Zonal Commander of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP), explains how the reintegration of returnees was organized before the pandemic.

It all starts with counseling.

“The National policy allows that the returnees are given a warm welcome on arrival, look at their health needs, give them counseling, we do the family tracing, we reunite them, they are engaged in a skill. After some time, the counselors will disengage. Normally, during counseling, we are able to identify what they want to do, some of them want to go back to school.” 

According to him, majority of the returnees want to acquire skills in hotel and catering management, baking, fashion, computer, and secretarial duties.

Reintegration During Pandemic 

However, the NAPTIP Uyo Zonal Commander pointed out that most returnees arrive in the country unaware of the seriousness of the coronavirus situation in Nigeria. 

“There is a lot of ignorance amongst the returnees regarding the coronavirus, with a lot of them believing the virus is a scam. It’s only when they come in contact with their counselors that they are sensitized on the dangers regarding the virus ”, Mr. Nduka says.

“Sustainable return essentially is key to avoid instances of remigration, particularly through irregular channels. For someone not to feel the impetus to move again through irregular channel, they must reintegrate sustainably. In order to understand if someone has reintegrated, we must understand the process of reintegration, how return migrants do or do not reintegrate, and the factors leading to or detracting from their reintegration”, says Katie Kuschminder, Doctoral researcher.

Reintegration in the new normal must take a new shape that not only captures the pre-pandemic needs of these returnees but the ones birthed in the wake of the virus spreading rapidly in the country. 

The wider community has to be involved in the reintegration process and not only pay attention to the returnees and their immediate needs but also the community has to be prepared to receive and join in supporting the reintegration process. 

Reintegration in the new normal has to adopt strategies that acknowledge the possible cultural changes that the returnee may have undergone while away from the home country.  

Perhaps it’s time for Nigeria to set up a Commission with the mandate to create economic opportunities for returnees. 

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