Migrants who return home often face significant obstacles in rebuilding their lives. When her situation in Egypt became too difficult, Fatima decided to move back to Sudan, her homeland. With the help of the UN, she has started a small business, and is providing for her family.
After her husband left her, 49-year-old Fatima became the main breadwinner for her four daughters. Motivated by the desire to secure a better future for them, she migrated to Egypt in 2017, taking the two youngest children with her.
“I took one step at a time, but I always had the mindset of trying to succeed for my daughters,” she says. “Leaving my eldest daughters behind was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.”
Once in Egypt, Fatima barely managed to survive on short-term jobs as most employers would not hire her because of her age. “They told me I was too old and unfit, and when my daughter, who was 17 at the time, applied for jobs, they told her she was too young,” says Fatima.
Before the onset of COVID-19, migrants in Egypt and elsewhere were already vulnerable. This worsened after the pandemic, and Fatima and her daughters struggled to make ends meet. “We suffered even more and there was no one to help us,” Fatima recalls.
UN News/Abdelmonem Makki
UN-provided reintegration assistance
Through the Sudanese community in Egypt, Fatima learned about the UN migration agency’s (IOM) Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme, and realized that a return to Sudan was a viable option.
In June 2021, IOM arranged for Fatima and other Sudanese nationals stranded in Egypt to return. After arriving in Sudan, Fatima was among those who received reintegration assistance in cash, which allowed her to cover her needs across the economic and social dimensions of reintegration.
Sudan continues to face several overlapping challenges, including internal population displacement triggered by conflict, climate and socio-cultural conditions, leading to elevated levels of food insecurity. The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 worsened the already rising prices of basic food, medicine and other commodities, rising unemployment and falling exports.
A successful entrepreneur
Nevertheless, with the assistance she received from, Fatima was able to set up a micro-business. IOM also helped her to register for national health insurance, which covered her and her two daughters, both of whom received support to pursue their education through the programme.
Cash assistance provided by IOM Sudan proved to be a fast, flexible way to help her reintegrate. This method of support allows her, and others in her situation, to choose which business they wanted to start.
Fatima had set her sights on selling utensils. “It took less than a month for me to receive assistance, which made me even more determined to start a business of my own,” she says. She bought some household utensils from a wholesale market to sell to the women in her community, who soon became her customers.
To further expand the business, Fatima also started selling cooked meals to the health-care facility in her neighbourhood, which was lacking a cafeteria for patients and visitors. “My businesses are going well,” she says, “and I can now provide for my daughters. Returning to Sudan was the best thing I could have done.”
UN reintegration support in Sudan
- In 2021, more than 3,800 returnees in Sudan have received reintegration assistance under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.
- Worldwide, IOM supported close to 1.9 million aid recipients with cash-based interventions across 119 countries.
- IOM Sudan provides reintegration assistance for voluntary humanitarian return recipients and stranded migrants, which include the provision of economic reintegration assistance in the form of mobile money.
This is complemented by business training to equip returnees with skills to set up and manage their own business as they restart their lives.
More information can be found on IOM Cash-Based Interventions in the IOM CBI Annual Report and Case Studies 2021.