Sierra Leone: New awareness campaign on illegal migration

Caritas Sierra Leone has launched an awareness raising campaign on illegal migration and human trafficking.  Funded by the Dutch Ministry of Justice, the campaign is designed to make Sierra Leoneans aware of the risks and dangers associated with illegal migration, especially human trafficking and modern slavery.

The campaign on local media, radio and television reiterates that the promises of a better life abroad with good job opportunities, access to education and high quality of life does not always translate into the reality people envisage. Many young people make assumptions of living abroad that do not come to fruition. Smugglers and traffickers have become proficient at luring and deceiving vulnerable and unsuspecting people into exploitative situations. The Catholic Church is developing practical and pastoral responses to support victims of human trafficking.

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Migration can reduce poverty and for those who set out from Sierra Leone to the West, especially Europe and America, to carve out a path to realise this vision. The hope is always to improve life for themselves, for the benefit of their families and communities. Remittances to the country from Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora make a significant foreign currency contribution to the country’s economy annually. According to a UN report, the Sierra Leone “Government calculations place the number between $250 and $400 million, or 20-25% of GDP which would be among the very highest in Africa”.  Most Sierra Leoneans who leave the country as regular or irregular migrants envisage development in education, skills transfer, employment and investments. Remittances are fundamental, and there are assumptions that every Sierra Leonean will not only improve their life but will make some financial contribution to their families, communities and in turn the country at large.

However, the goal of reaching Europe, America, the Middle East and other destinations is not always achieved.  For example, several reports on the experience of migrants from Africa to Europe highlight the unimaginable horrors they face, particularly the treacherous conditions during the journey across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, and sometimes on arrival at their preferred or any country of destination.

On 14 November 2017, a CNN report on migrants trapped and detained in Libya amplified the extent to which human trafficking and modern slavery have become prevalent features along migration routes. Smugglers in Libya were auctioning migrants as slaves.  Other migrants were held in appalling conditions at detention centres in the country. Among those held in Libya were several Sierra Leoneans.  On 21 November 2017, the Sierra Leone Government and the IOM repatriated over 160 nationals to Freetown on a flight that was funded by the Italian government.

In March 2018 more Sierra Leoneans were repatriated from Libya to Sierra Leone.  With this growing trend of migrants from Sierra Leone, several initiatives are now taking place to highlight the scale of human trafficking in the country in awareness raising and education.