“Every day was worse than before”, explains Taju previously an irregular migrant who returned to Ethiopia from Libya a year ago, having lived in the conflict-ridden country for five years.

Taju had set off for Libya after hearing endearing stories by his neighbours about how many other Ethiopians who embarked on the journey had changed their fortunes. But it turns out that was never the full picture.

“No one was talking about the war in Libya. Even the broker, who promised us safe travel to Libya through Sudan didn’t mention the war. I am sure he knew that war is still on.”

Taju, his sister, and other friends first went to Sudan, then crossed the Sahara Desert into Libya. “I paid around 31,000ETB (about USD 1,100) to reach Libya,” he says.

Yet some paid with their lives. “When we started the journey from Sudan, we were 23 people,” Taju says. “In the desert, five died…we left them there.”

Even then, the true picture of Libya only emerged upon their arrival. Even though most managed to secure employment, the harsh working environment coupled with the shortage of food and wanton mistreatment made their lives miserable.

“Often we worked for free, and even when they paid our wages, they took the money back…I don’t want to remember it,” says Taju, staring blankly away as if to hide the tears forming in his eyes.

He learnt about the International Organization for Migration (IOM) from a message posted on Facebook. “When the IOM officers asked me what I wanted to do, I told them I wanted to go back home,” says Taju.

Now back in his hometown of Assela, he is grateful for being alive and of the opportunity to make a fresh start with his family on his side. The 43-year-old is among other returnees in Arsi Zone, Oromiya region, who received training and economic support from IOM.

Through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa, IOM offers migrant returnees assistance aimed at supporting them re-establish themselves in their communities of origin. Such support takes various forms: economic, social and psychosocial.

Five months after Taju’s voluntary return, he enrolled for a three-week training provided by IOM in collaboration with the zonal labour and social affairs office. The training also covered Kaizen principles and psychosocial support.

Upon completion of the training, Taju and other returnees developed individual business plans. Taju focused on the idea of starting a business to produce building blocks.  IOM supported him to buy the required machine while the Dera City administration in Assela allowed him to use a vacant space. He now employs four people.

Taju has already started marketing the building blocks and is getting orders. Since he received the reintegration support, he has doubled his business. “My plan is to expand this business and create opportunities for others to work with me. I want to support my family with the income I am getting. I have promised myself that I will never leave my wife and six children again.”

Taju’s first born daughter is now 17-years-old. He wants her to go to college. In this regard, he is now advising her and all his other children, together with the youths in his town, not to be deceived by brokers and people who talk highly of irregular migration. “I tell them openly that it is dangerous, it is expensive and it is not good.”