His bags packed and his mind already made up, Musa took his family by surprise when he told them he was migrating to Europe.

His father Ahmed later recounted: “Although we were terrified for his safety, we had no choice but to support him. We knew he was migrating to better our living conditions."

That was back in 2018 and Musa had had no history of mental illness, a condition whose sudden onset almost changed his life permanently.

Musa was only a child when his family relocated family from Gadaref, in El-Fashir state, to Khartoum. Upon graduating from college, he struggled to find a job and being the eldest among five siblings, his priority was to support them financially. Thus, Musa decided to migrate.

At the age of 28, Musa and a group of fellow migrants took a long and challenging route, travelling to Egypt where they met up with a smuggler who promised to take them to Libya. “There was a time when we travelled for a-day-and-a-half on foot across mountains, carrying hopes and belongings on our backs,” said Musa.

Every year thousands of Sudanese nationals like Musa embark on the journey from Egypt to Libya with the aim of securing better work opportunities in Europe. But the journey has always been a challenging one.

Musa was concerned for his safety and yet proceeded, despite skirmishes among militias south of Tripoli, in the Ain Zara region. Fortunately, Musa ended up in Wadi Rabie, an area in Tripoli where he found employment at a farm and worked for five months to fund the rest of his journey.

He set off for Algeria, but the journey came to an abrupt halt as Musa and several others were held by the authorities and later repatriated, not to Sudan but to Niger.

To avoid being identified or deported to their countries of origin, migrants often dispose of or hide their identifying documents. Musa hid his personal documents in Algeria, resulting in the authorities being unsure of his nationality. Hence, he ended up on the Algeria-Niger border.

Musa ended up in the Agadez Rescue Operation Centre in Niger which provided migrants with tents and food. However, one night a protest broke out, resulting in him being injured despite not being among the protesters. That was when he began experiencing psychotic episodes.

“I was beaten by the (Nigerien) authorities and got admitted to hospital twice. I broke a finger and an arm. All I knew is that I wanted to return home. I felt depressed and started hallucinating. I could not tell what was real and what was not, I completely lost myself,” he narrated.

The IOM team reached out to Musa and other migrants, providing them with information on return and reintegration. But due to the severity of his condition, Musa was admitted in a specialized hospital.

His father Ahmed was contacted through the family tracing process and travelled to Niger intending to bring his son home. However, Musa's condition was so severe that the father had to return to Sudan without him.

After three months, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa (the EU-IOM Joint Initiative) assisted Musa to return to Sudan accompanied by a mental health technician.

Since 2017, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has supported more than 3,000 migrants to return to Sudan, with 80 per cent coming from Libya. Over 300 returnees were provided with mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS).

“Experiencing discrimination, stigma, extreme stress and violent traumatic events before or during the migration journey and at times  in the host country may trigger a predisposition to mental health problems which is a key factor for returnees developing mental health issues,” said  Khalid Hawli, an MHPSS assistant with IOM Sudan. 

Musa is lucky to have been properly diagnosed because it allowed him to be enrolled for treatment under IOM’s MHPSS activities. He is now fully recovered and living a normal life.

“My family were not ashamed of my mental health. They supported and helped me; I am grateful to have them by my side," said Musa.

About the EU-IOM Joint Initiative

Launched in December 2016 and funded by the European Union (EU) Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the programme brings together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU, and IOM around the goal of ensuring migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.

For more information please contact Fathia Amin, email: famin@iom.int or at Regional Office: Julia Hartlieb, email: jhartlieb@iom.int and Wilson Johwa, email: wjohwa@iom.int