"I had a very positive experience with the psychosocial counselling support I received. Initially, I refused to attend the counselling sessions because I felt there was too much stigma surrounding this kind of service. But the more I talked to the counsellor, the better I felt,” said ‘Rustom’ after completing a counselling session initiated under the Prottasha project.

Rustom, 28, returned from Greece and is living in Shilmandi village of Narsingdi district. He had to stop his studies after secondary school as his family could not afford further education. At the age of 18, he started working in a textile factory in Dhaka to support his family; however, the pay was very low.

While working in the factory, he heard that one of his cousin’s had gone overseas and sent a significant amount of money home. This story persuaded him to try migrating abroad. Rustom contacted a middleman and paid them BDT 260,000 (EUR 2,738). He raised this money by selling his father’s land.

A counselor provides psychosocial support to Rustom at the Reintegration Service Center in Narsingdi district. © Prottasha 2021

In June 2010, he travelled to Iraq, where he began working as a construction worker. He was only earning BDT 20,000 (EUR 211) per month, significantly less than what the middleman had promised. Due to the unstable political situation in Iraq, Rustom lost his job in 2016.

He then contracted with another middleman and paid BDT 700,000 (EUR 7,400) to migrate to Greece via Turkey. The Greek navy intercepted the boat Rustom was on and arrested him. 

Rustom was released and he then obtained a stay permit from the Greek government. He started a part-time job at an agricultural business. He was earning BDT 25,000 (EUR 264) per month, which was  not enough to survive. Despite his efforts, Rustom was not able to get a permanent job. Finally, in July 2019 he returned home empty-handed.

Following his return to Bangladesh, Rustom was jobless and struggled to survive financially. He also developed acute anxiety and refused to leave his home for long periods. He spent most of his time alone in his thoughts, and his relationship with his family deteriorated.

In 2021, a Prottasha community mobilizer located and assessed him as a potential beneficiary, referring him to the Narsingdi Reintegration Service Center (RSC). RSC staff then profiled him and developed a tailored reintegration plan (TRP) for him. As part of the plan, a psychosocial counsellor worked with Rustom over five sessions to identify issues and develop some coping mechanisms.  
According to IOM monitoring data, the most common psychosocial concerns among returnees are anxiety, depression, and acute stress. These are usually identified during counselling sessions. By February 2022, 1,038 Prottasha beneficiaries had completed counselling sessions. The counselling sessions supported Rustom to address the mental health issues he faced for a while following his migration experience.

On the counselling, Rustom said, "I can't undo the past; the memories still haunt me. But the counselling sessions have helped me to come to peace with my situation. I have learnt to accept my circumstances and myself as I am now. "

The story is written by Md Sariful Islam, National Communications Officer, IOM Bangladesh.

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being