Frederick poses in his barbershop in Benin-City, Edo State. Like him, thousands of Nigerians have returned home and with IOM’s support, they’re slowly rebuilding their lives. Photo: IOM/François-Xavier 

Benin-City, Edo State, Nigeria – Frederick could barely hold back tears as he recounted his story. Six years after his return, he is still healing from the trauma of his experience in Libya. 

“When I came back, I had nothing,” he says in a low, breaking voice, sitting outside his modest barbershop in a suburb of Benin-City, in Nigeria’s Edo State. “But today, at least I have a business and I am healthy. I was in hell in that country, but I am happy to be back home.” 

Hell, for Frederick, was Libya.

An only child, he decided in 2017 to leave Benin-City with the hope of settling in another country and earning enough to care for his ailing parents. “My mom had mental health issues and my dad had a stroke which paralyzed him from the waist down,” he tells us. “I had no help, so I had to do something.”

Through a friend, Frederick was introduced to a boga, a go-between who promised him passage to Libya from where he was promised he would reach Europe. The passage would cost him NGN 500,000, roughly USD 380, or 27 times the national minimum wage back then.

Desperate, Frederick sold all he had and raised NGN 400,000, promising the boga to pay the remainder of the fee once in Libya. With the deal sealed, he and six others took a car from Benin-City to Kano in Northern Nigeria from where they set to Zinder in southern Niger, before reaching Agadez, a major transit point for migrants linking Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. After two weeks in Agadez, the group was “handed over” to a smuggler who brought them to Sabha in southwestern Libya.

There, Frederick was shocked to learn that his [Mediterranean] crossing fee had not been paid by the boga and that he wouldn’t be allowed to leave or return home until he raised LYD 4,000 (about USD 825) to fund his crossing.

“I was frustrated,” he remembers. “I called home for help but once again, there was no one to help me.” 

Frederick and some others were subsequently put in a tranke room where those unable to make their payments were locked for long periods of time. For months, he and others were beaten “repeatedly”. Some days, they would go without any food. When food did come, it was stale bread dipped in water or days-old pasta.

Tragically, Frederick’s story is not unique. For nearly a decade now, thousands of migrants have risked their lives on treacherous migration routes through the Sahara, disillusioned by hopes of better economic opportunities in northern Africa or in Europe. 

In Nigeria, Frederick’s native Edo State is known as the epicentre of the exodus of young Nigerians in search of greener pastures. According to the latest data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the majority of the migrants returning to Nigeria with the Organization’s support identify as natives of Edo State.

Like Frederick, most of them left their homes out of despair, and with the support of unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers preying on their hopelessness. When they eventually return, starting afresh can prove to be a challenge and the journey towards healing can be a difficult one.

“I was very depressed,” says Blessing, who returned from Libya in 2017 and is now a successful entrepreneur. “A friend lent me NGN 10,000 which I used to rent a room, but my child and I were sleeping on the floor; we had nothing.” 

Blessing, her husband and her young boy are in their apartment in Benin-City, Edo State. Despite the hardship she’s endured in the past few years, she’s rising above the odds to start afresh. Photo: IOM/François-Xavier 

Having sold all his possessions to fund his trip, Frederick had nowhere to go. Frederick was selected to participate in a multidisciplinary coaching programme providing psychosocial support, technical and vocational training, as well as entrepreneurship orientation organized by IOM in collaboration with various State and civil society actors including the Edo State Skills Development Agency, also known as Edo Jobs. The programme combines technical and life skills to empower returning migrants to reintegrate more sustainably.

In addition to business skills such as e-commerce, digital marketing, sales, graphic design, and financial management, which are essential to operate thriving small businesses, returning migrants like Frederick and Blessing also receive psychosocial counselling and coaching to boost their self-esteem, and help them face the stigma that is often attached with returning home “empty-handed”. 

“We have understood over time that financial support is just the first step towards sustainable migrant reintegration,” explains Wintana Tarekegn, who leads IOM’s Sub-Office in Benin-City.

“This is why we’re working with partners and advocating for more comprehensive interventions that equip returning migrants with the business, emotional and social skills they need to sustain their emotional well-being, but also guide them to make the right decisions in the future,” she adds.

Since the launch of the project in December 2022, over 145 returning migrants like Frederick and Blessing have graduated from various training programmes and successfully rebuilt their lives.

“Today, my child has grown, and he is going to a good school now. I got married. I did the traditional marriage, the court and white wedding,” says Blessing. “I couldn’t be happier; God has been faithful!”

The Managing Migration through Development project is implemented in Edo State with the support of the Directorate General for Italian Citizens Abroad and Migration Policies of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. For more information, visit

This story was written by François-Xavier Ada, IOM Nigeria’s Public Information Officer. 

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