SIHMA | Scalabrini Institute For Human Mobility In Africa

SIHMA’s New Partner in Sierra Leone

For SIHMA, involvement in projects across the African Continent in different areas related to migration is always a source of new perspectives, different working models and enriching humanitarian collaborations.

Understanding the different personal contexts of each migrant is important when developing protection and intervention projects with the most vulnerable populations. For this reason, SIHMA's collaboration with different institutions seeks to reinforce the fabric of stability and development that all social actors are working to build. Although SIHMA's role and/or partnership in the different regions in the continent varies, the objective is always clear: to build links with organisations that work in the field with, support and/or train and empower migrants. Strengthening people's capacities is key to improving their integration and fostering their autonomy and intrapersonal development.


SIHMA's collaboration in different projects on the African continent

One of the regions in West Africa where SIHMA has recently collaborated is in Sierra Leone. This partnership stems from the participation of the Scalabrinian Order in a programme for migrants located in the region of Puglia, in the south of Italy. Participating in the support of projects in different regions is often an opportunity for the Scalabrinians to explore different realities. Additionally, with the preparation of a SIHMA project that compiles the history of migration in mind, SIHMA welcomes with great interest the opportunity to accompany and support the dissemination of information from a project in Sierra Leone that aims to make migratory realities returnees to Sierra Leone visible and help them tell their stories. Through the production of a documentary [1], the aim is to inform viewers about the issue of deportation and its ramifications.

This not only presented an opportunity to delve into a complicated issue that requires the analysis of multiple social actors, but also the experiences that the migrants involved in the project decided to share are a great source of information from a scientific point of view. The participation of deported migrants could help shed light on different patterns and trends in relation to this specific population around the migration process. Therefore, following the analysis of the documentary project, SIHMA is working on the development of a survey that will serve both the project developers in Sierra Leone and the Institute itself to collect data on the experience of these migrants who have returned to their country of origin, Sierra Leone.


Sierra Leone's migration-promoting context

The case of Sierra Leone itself bears broad similarities with other countries where the conditions, for some of its population, have posed an enormous challenge to the development of their life goals and livelihoods, generating an urgency to migrate to more favourable contexts. In a country with almost 8 million inhabitants [2], the not-so-distant context of internal conflict until the early 2000s, and the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, have hindered opportunities for growth and economic development for the population. There were a further approximately 3000 people displaced in post-election violence in 2018 and then internal conflict in the Pujehun region in January 2019 caused a further displacement of 2,500 people. This environment encouraged both migrations to bordering countries, and further afield international migration. The desire to seek better opportunities comes almost naturally to many Sierra Leoneans: "In my country, Sierra Leone, many people are interested in going to Europe, maybe because it is closer. There is a big fever, about Germany. But I still cannot understand it. Nobody speaks German but many of my compatriots dream to move to Germany" [3]. According to official data, between 2005 and 2010, 49.9 thousand people emigrated from Sierra Leone [4]. Despite the fact that the civil war is over, social reconstruction is a process that is taking time and the different social orders and organisations working in the area continue to focus their work on covering humanitarian aid needs as well as developing multiple projects such as, for example, those focused on AIDS prevention, food security and the empowerment of the young population [5]. The high levels of youth unemployment were one of the main reasons for the emigration of the population [6], with an almost equal number of women (25.97 thousand) and men (23.93 thousand) emigrating in the period from 2005 to 2010 [4]. Young people who suffer the conditions in which their country finds itself, sometimes without family, sometimes without other resources and with the only hope of finding an opportunity that will allow them to move forward and build a better life. People have continued to depart from that country with 152,500 emigrants from Sierra Leone at mid-2020 [7].


The abrupt closure of the migration process

Between those who leave and those who stay, another figure emerges: the returnees. Those who are deported/ returned back to the country and are faced with the enormous challenge of finding themselves back in their country of origin. A country to which they have been returned against their will. A new phase begins for them. Some must face the shame of a forced return in front of their family and friends "They don't understand. They don't know what it could mean to be not accepted. I could feel their disappointment. I told to everybody that I was deported. But they don't know what it means to live somewhere else. They don't have any idea on how difficult it is to get a Visa. They cannot understand how lonely you feel as soon as you discover that the only solution can be go back to your own country" [3].


Visibility of deportees

These cases of nationals returned to their country have been collected through a documentary called "The Years We Have Been Nowhere" [1]. In it, there are the testimonies of three people who chose to emigrate to Europe or the United States with the idea of improving their conditions and at the same time participating in improving the welfare of their own families in Sierra Leone. After managing to settle in a foreign country, work and participate in the local economy of their destination country by paying taxes, they find that the changing migration policies of these countries consequently have a marked effect on their lives. The families that started in the countries of migration are fragmented and the lives of the protagonists are turned upside down.

After facing the difficulties that a migration process entails, the search for resources in a foreign country and the pressure about the irregularity of the administrative situation, the end of their stay in the country of destination is suddenly announced. The return to Sierra Leone takes place without time for assimilation and processing the break with the life they have built abroad. Return brings with it a new wave of frustrations, both their own and those of family and friends who see the return as a defeat and a failure.


What does the collection of these testimonies provide us with?

The collection of these testimonies aims to give a voice to the cases of migrants who are involved in non-voluntary return to their countries of origin, to raise public awareness about detention systems and repatriation procedures. Undoubtedly it allows, not only knowledge of different points of view and experiences, but also encourages debate on the migrant management systems of the different destination countries. It further evokes discussion on how bureaucracy and administrative procedures, even if they meet legal standards, do not cover the broad spectrum of realities that are built by these people in the destination countries. In addition to being an opportunity to share the different realities of migrants, it allows us to delve into the analysis of different migratory trends and to review the motivations that are given for the beginning of the mobility undertaking.

This type of audio-visual project facilitates the access of the general public to a reality that is as harsh as it is real and favours the humanisation of the different cases that are often deprived of the personal element in the current of the normalisation of migration and deportation. This is not intended to highlight cases of migration with a background of difficulties, but to avoid grouping these cases into mere numbers, forgetting that behind each of these migratory processes we find human beings who respond to needs and aspirations as fundamental as their rights to an integral wellbeing.


SIHMA's collaboration's goals

In view of the human nature of this issue, SIHMA's participation in the collection of information, support in the dissemination and promotion of awareness-raising actions involves the combination of scientific and humanistic interests. If SIHMA's participation in this type of project contributes to a better understanding of the phenomenon of migration in Sierra Leone and the effects that the deportation of Sierra Leoneans has on the individual and on society, we can fully realise the initial purpose of the collaboration.

This undoubtedly implies the establishment of fruitful working links with other institutions that help to continue weaving a network of mutual support and collaboration on the path to the defence of the human rights of all categories of migrants in Africa.


James Chapman           and           Nicolette Pérez Verwer

SIHMA                                            SIHMA
Project Manager                             Research and  Communications Intern       



  1. "The Years We Have Been Nowhere" Documentary. You can find more information regarding the documentary at the following links:
  2. Data from 
  3. Quote form the documentary "The Years We Have Been Nowhere"
  4. Migration Data Portal 2010, accessed at:
  5. Caritas' work in Sierra Leone:
  6. Unemployment data:
  7. Migration Data Portal 2020, accessed at:




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