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One Woman, One Voice: How to Support Returnees in Nigeria During the Pandemic

Volunteer Voices

“I am here to show you how to wash your hands. This is soap and this is water...There is no excuse why you cannot wash your hands.”

These are the words of Chylian Azuh in a video she recently produced herself to teach people how to wash their hands to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Chylian has become a public advocate in Lagos, Nigeria, raising awareness about unsafe migration. She is now informing people about preventing transmission of the virus. Chylian is a returnee and one of 250 volunteers trained and engaged under the Migrants as Messengers programme led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The initiative seeks to support returnees in seven countries in West Africa - Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone - to share their experiences and encourage people to make informed decisions about migration.

The volunteers are trained by IOM and former migrants in awareness raising and communication, learning new skills such as video production or public speaking to create and disseminate verified information about migration in their communities. The volunteers joined efforts to tackle the pandemic to provide preventative information and morale boosting messages.

Image removed.Chylian Azuh public advocate in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Adaora Okoli / IOM 

“I made the video on how to properly wash hands because people need to know how to avoid contracting coronavirus or spreading it. I was excited about creating the content, because it is a great way to talk about COVID-19. The video also helped to keep me engaged during this period,” says Chylian.

Since the first case of the virus was reported on 27 February 2020, Nigeria has recorded around 14,000 cases. Videos like the one created by Chylian and fellow volunteers are important to reach communities with prevention messages to halt the spread of COVID-19.

“My advice to fellow returnee migrants and the public on COVID-19 is to stay safe. Though some may not believe and may be nonchalant about it, know that if you contract it, you are endangering the life of your loved ones. If you really love them, you will protect them too. Ensure you wear face masks and necessary protective items. We have gone through a lot during our travel and we should not allow COVID-19 take our lives,” she adds.

Chylian’s endeavour is not limited to creating videos about coronavirus. When she was assisted to return to Nigeria in December 2017, after a gruelling journey to Libya, Chylian says she decided that a way to contribute to her community was to become actively involved in raising awareness about the dangers of unsafe migration.

Before the outbreak of the virus, Chylian was giving regular presentations in schools, markets and other public places about her experiences of migration. Recently, she featured as a panellist in a live online session organised in celebration of Children’s day by the Live Abundantly Initiative, an IOM Nigeria partner, to inform school children aged 12 and above about the dangers of unsafe migration and to promote safe migration processes.

Chylian also founded the Female Returnees Forum (FRF), a support network for female returnees and survivors of human trafficking in Nigeria. Members discuss their struggles, share coping mechanisms and ways to manage their lives going forward. Chylian encouraged the group to share messages about COVID-19 prevention.

Her reason for creating this group is simple. “I don’t want others to go through what I went through. People stigmatise female returnees but I want to encourage them to build confidence in themselves and fight the stigma.”

The group numbers 30 members from different parts of the country and carries out awareness raising activities mainly in the south-west region. Chylian hopes to expand this initiative to other states in Nigeria. For now, she says she is happy to be able to touch the lives of young women like herself.

“There was one female returnee who is a single mother. She was always down and complaining because of health and emotional challenges but now she is more stable. For a lot of them coming back to Nigeria and trying to stand and grow is not easy. I am happy to listen, assist and provide assistance where I can help,” she states.

The Migrants as Messengers programme is currently in its second phase and has built up a community of over 40 returnees in Nigeria, part of the network of returnees in West Africa, leading awareness raising and other supportive activities in their communities.