Welded into Shape: A Gambian Migrant’s Journey Comes Full Circle

Growing up in The Gambia, Sainey struggled to make ends meet as job opportunities in the small West African country were nearly inexistant.  

“The hostile political atmosphere made dire circumstances for young people like me even worse,” Sainey says. “There was unprecedented pressure to put food on the table for my family, among other needs such as school bills for children, healthcare and clothing.”

Feeling the weight of responsibility as breadwinner for his six children and wife, Sainey made the tough decision to leave home and try his luck finding work abroad.

With the little savings he had, he embarked on the back way (a local term for irregular migration). The plan was simple – to leave The Gambia via Senegal, Mali, Niger and Libya, before finally settling in Italy. During his journey, he ran out of money and stayed in Libya in search of work to pay the smugglers organizing his trip across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.  

In Tripoli, Sainey found work as a mason and welder. It was a tough couple of years as he lived in the shadows, afraid of being caught and unable to provide official documents if asked.  


“I was doing a lot of work at my employer's workshop, but I was paid pittance,” he recalls. “I continued to work hoping that one day, I would save up enough for the crossing and realize my dream, though I lost hope earlier than I anticipated.”

One day, he was arrested by a gang and detained for nearly four months.  

“I was subjected to inhumane treatment – no food, access to clean drinking water or any medical services. I was exposed to bugs and suffered severe skin diseases.”

With dwindling hope of ever reaching Italy, Sainey finally decided to return to The Gambia to reunite with his family. With the help of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), he got on a plane back home.  

Returning to his community after a failed migration journey, however, came with its own challenges. 

“I faced stigma and discrimination from people in my neighbourhood. They labelled me a ‘coward’ for not making it to Europe. But my family stood by me.”  

A month after returning to The Gambia, IOM provided him with the equipment he needed to open his own welding workshop and begin a new journey – one of reintegration.

“I repair and make irons roofs for buildings. I now earn enough to provide for my family and even allocate allowance for my parents.”  

Even during the pandemic, he adapted his skills and resorted to welding cars, which helped him sustain his income. Grateful for how far he has come, Sainey is now creating opportunities for young people in his country.  


“I am able to provide employment to four young people and three other apprentices. I pay them well. They are gradually improving and seeing that makes my heart fill with joy.”