Seven Years in Europe – Musa’s Return to The Gambia
A migrant's personal story of return, resolution, and resilience
Photo: Musa Coker
Tübingen - It’s a warm summer day in 2021. Musa Coker sits in the office of his return counsellor. He has visited the small office in Southwest Germany multiple times this year, seeking information, advice and counsel and discussing his return to The Gambia, his country of origin.
Today, Musa will share his migration story in a video call with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) so that others can learn from his experience. It will not be easy—after all, motivations for migration and return are very personal and often emotional. “But I will sure try,” he says with a smile.
Like many other migrants, Musa’s story begins with hope for a better life—one with more opportunities. Nearly a decade ago, he began thinking about leaving The Gambia for work. He was still very young. “I wanted to find a job,” he says, “so I went to Senegal.”
After working for some time as a bus controller, he moved on to Libya. But with growing instability and Libya’s economy faltering, the working conditions in Tripoli were harsh and precarious. After enduring many difficulties, Musa crossed to Europe by boat and arrived in Italy on 4 February 2014. “I will never forget the date,” he says.
A Troubled Time in Europe
In Italy, Musa and about fifty other people first stayed in temporary housing, where they were given food, but not the employment assistance he had hoped for. At first, Musa was not considering moving on to Germany. But he was driven by the hope of finding work to support his family back in The Gambia. Heeding the advice of other migrants, he continued his journey north.
In the years that followed, life in Germany came with its own challenges and unmet expectations. While employed as a road builder in Tübingen, he had trouble connecting with fellow employees. Musa claims he experienced racism and a major cultural divide in the workplace: “To them, I will always be the black man,” he says about his colleagues. Thinking he would easily fit in, find a job, and send money home, instead Musa says he struggled to remain in long-term employment due to issues he faced obtaining a work permit. Musa was employed for only two of the seven years he spent in Germany. Eventually, his asylum application was rejected, and he was told that he had to leave the country.
“After that, everything was catastrophic,” he says. Coming to terms with the fact that life in Europe would not work out was difficult: “You can’t stay in a country where you have no documents and can’t work. That’s not why I travelled.” Musa became frustrated with his situation, and so consequently reached out to a return counsellor in Tübingen to discuss the possibility of returning to The Gambia. He had heard about the voluntary return process from other migrants, “I decided that if these people help me, I will go back to The Gambia. I will start little by little,” he says.
Helping the Gambian People
After receiving counselling, Musa decided that he would return to The Gambia. The counsellors explained the various available return and reintegration assistance programmes, including REAG/GARP and StarthilfePlus, which are funded by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), and ERRIN, which is financed by the European Union (EU).
Before his departure, Musa took a course on marketing, bookkeeping and customer service through Newplacement International, a programme funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). With these new skills, he developed a business plan to open a farm that would help people in his community change their lives for the better. His time in Germany showed him how Germans build and grow businesses, and he plans to adapt all that he learned to the Gambian context.
Photo: After his return
“It is a small country, easy to develop”, he says, adding, “It is important for me to help, not just to win.” With this support, Musa felt more hopeful about returning. “I want people to see that there is a man who was in Germany that went back to create his business.” he says.
The Return to The Gambia
We meet Musa again a few months after his arrival in The Gambia. Welcomed warmly by his friends and family, Musa’s most memorable moment was seeing his mother again: “I returned to the Gambia for my family, especially my mother and my son.”
Since his return, Musa is taking steps to launch his business. Pooling the money from his reintegration assistance and his personal savings, he purchased a plot of farmland and some animals. Building on his experience helping on farms, Musa began establishing links between fowl breeders in Germany and African customers who cannot speak German. He also intends to help less privileged young Gambians from his community. “Let’s invest in the youth, who can be useful for both The Gambia and abroad,” he explains.
While waiting for the rainy season to pass to get started on farming, Musa is keeping busy. He recently invested his savings and the last of the reintegration assistance in a car, which he is operating as a taxi to make money while planning his business. His biggest hope lies in livestock and agriculture, through which “Gambians can give back to the country,” he says.
Photo: Working as a taxi driver
Musa hopes that others will find courage from his story and see that with the proper education and training, young Gambians can work to provide for their families and contribute to The Gambia’s development.
Many people share Musa’s experiences in Europe. Some have their asylum claims rejected, others encounter difficulties integrating, while even more live far removed from any type of support system. The expectations of living and working in Europe are often not met.
If you are considering returning to your country of origin, visit ReturningfromGermany.de for more information on the financial, organizational and reintegration assistance you may be eligible to receive. The portal is available in ten languages, including Albanian, Arabic, English, Farsi, French, German, Pashto, Russian, Serbian, and Sorani. You can also get in touch by phone at +49 911 943 0. Counselling centres are available across Germany. You can easily find your nearest return counselling centre, and learn more about the assisted return and reintegration programmes available to you based on the country you are returning to.