Dola (27) was five-months pregnant when she set off on her journey to Europe in 2018. “I heard that if I could reach France and give birth to my child there, it would be very easy to get legal papers. And I thought that if this could happen, our lives would be happier,” she says.
Her journey was arranged by a smugglers’ group in exchange for over 8000 euros. First, she was taken to Libya, an infamous transit point for human trafficking on the route from South Asia to Europe. After over 14 days, the smugglers arranged a spot for her Mediterranean crossing: “there were four hundred people from different countries on the boat to Italy,” she recalls. From there, a lorry took Dola to France, where she expected to obtain citizenship for her and her baby. She also believed she could find a decent job, but remained unemployed for months, relying on a monthly allowance provided from the French government. She decided to return home when her application for a legal stay was rejected: “I realised there was no hope to get the citizenship. Also, I was told I could get some support to start anew at home.”
Dola was briefed about the ERRIN programme and contacted BRAC, ERRIN local partner, right after landing back in Bangladesh in February 2020. She wanted to establish her business and pursue a master’s degree – but the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic made things much more challenging.
“Due to the coronavirus I could not find a job and the university admission was closed too. Also, the lockdown delayed my reintegration assistance, as I could not collect the supporting documents for my business plan. I was spending the money that OFII gave me before returning and my father was also bearing some of my expenses,” says the returnee.
On top of things, Dola was very concerned about rumors spreading after her return and winning back the acceptance of her immediate environment: “Some of my neighbors and relatives blamed me for the failed migration and said I wasted money on my trip.”
This is when BRAC staff stepped in with much needed psychological support: “BRAC’s counselor frequently called me during the lockdown. He listened to my stories with empathy and advised me how I should overcome bad feelings. After talking to him I felt much relief.”
With the COVID-19 measures easing down, Dola purchased a CNG auto rickshaw with a reintegration grant from ERRIN and is now able to start building her future back home.
This story has been reproduced by courtesy of BRAC and IRARA.