A world map highlighting the Ivory Coast

Home to more than 60 ethnic groups and the world's largest church building — the Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in the capital city — the Ivory Coast stretches north from West Africa's southern coast through forest, cultivated land and high savanna to Mali and Burkina Faso. Nearly 26.4 million people live in this country bordered by Liberia and Guinea to the west and Ghana to the east.

A former French colony that achieved independence in 1960, the Ivory Coast's economy has expanded by an average of 8 percent each year since 2011, making it one of the fastest growing globally. Its economic capital, Abidjan, has an estimated 5.1 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, the third-largest French-speaking city in the world.

However, political unrest and civil war in recent decades have troubled the country's economic activities, and equitable distribution of the benefits of its growth remains problematic. Close to one in two Ivorians lives in poverty. The country is near the bottom of the UN's Human Development Index, with an average life expectancy of 54-56 years. Only about a third of the population completes lower secondary schooling, less than half are literate.

Labor migration has long played a key role for this top producer of cocoa and coffee, with laborers from surrounding countries, in particular Burkina Faso, coming to work on plantations and in fishing, trade and industry. The Ivory Coast is a main destination country for labor migrants from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Ivorians too have migrated in search of work. Until recently, internal migrants moved from rural to urban areas where there were better employment possibilities and living conditions. However, researchers have observed that increasing urban poverty and precarious work have begun driving a return to the inland areas, while civil society actors note a turn to emigration.

The rise of precarious employment, with a resultant "push" towards often irregular migration, is hitting young Ivorians hard. They form nearly two-thirds of the country's population, which has a median age of 19. With an unemployment rate of 36 percent, young people aged 15-35 face daunting employment realities. If they do find work, it is often not dignified, decent work: Nine out of ten young people work in the informal sector in jobs with a lack of security and often low pay, with young women at particular risk.

According to the Jesuit-run Center for Research and Action for Peace (CERAP) in Abidjan, this uncertain employment situation serves to heighten migration's attraction. Not seeing any way to support themselves and their families and contribute to society at home, many young people will choose to emigrate, often braving the dangers of irregular migration. Nearly two-thirds head to Burkina Faso, while others seek a better livelihood in Europe, despite the journey's risks of exploitation, trafficking and violence.

CERAP is taking a human integral development approach to these social challenges. The organization's "Social Action in Urban Areas" (ASMU) service offers professional training for youth living in poverty in Abidjan. As well as learning a trade, program graduates hone life skills — interpersonal communication, financial management, leadership, civic engagement — and improve French literacy. By involving local businesses in the apprenticeship, CERAP strengthens inclusive community development. The organization also offers an MBA program promoting sustainable entrepreneurship and works with Ivorian NGOs to address unemployment and irregular migration.

People on a beach and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean near Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Beach near Abidjan where city dwellers go on the weekend to cool off in the hot and humid climate. The city is the most industrialized in the Ivory Coast and is therefore a destination for migration, rather than a point of departure. Internal migrants flood into Abidjan from other areas of the country, and migrants from other African countries come here to do business or in search of opportunities for a better life.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young female weaving apprentice in front of a building in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I came here to Abidjan to study. I migrated from a village here in the Ivory Coast when I was 15 years old. In my village there were schools, but no centers for higher studies, and so, to improve my prospects, I had to leave. Here, I don't experience discrimination. I am an Ivorian and with my friends and the people of my community, I never feel discriminated against.

When I was looking for an opportunity to continue my professional career, my sister told me about the Center for Research and Action for Peace (CERAP) and advised me to contact them. So, I came here and have begun training to become a weaver. CERAP's "Social Action in Urban Areas" (ASMU) initiative offers training in a variety of trades. First, I followed a work preparation course before qualifying to begin the manual training. Now, I have learned this trade and can hope to use this period of study to reach a higher standard of living for the future. I want to work in this sector and hope to open my own workshop. I also want to get married, to bring children into the world, have a family like everyone else. My day is divided into two: In the morning I get up early to come to the workshop, and, in the evening, I carry on with my studies. I have understood that by studying and continuing my training, I will be able to improve my standard of living and that of my family.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young male beneficiary in a tailoring shop in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I was born in the Ivory Coast. My parents are originally from Burkina Faso; they migrated here some years before I was born in search of a better future for me. I am a tailor, thanks to ASMU, and I was able to take a course of professional training that, today, has given me the chance to find a job. Before this, I benefited from three months of vocational orientation and formation, and then I graduated to a training school. Once that was finished, I received a diploma and the work material, thanks to a subsidy. This made it easier to start my professional trade, and today I am working as a tailor.

I have never had the chance to emigrate. No one ever proposed that I should leave, and, anyway, I would not know where to start. But if the chance arose, I think I would leave. Because I know that in Europe, things are better and that I could earn a lot, have a family and be able to give them a little peace of mind. I know that my training would be more useful in Europe than here in the Ivory Coast.

There are various ways to emigrate, but I would not take the irregular route because I am afraid. I have heard many stories of people who have died, of kidnappings, of many dangers. Many choose that road even though they know there are many dangers because they have no other choice. Your family often needs help, and you are their only possibility. So, you are ready to do anything.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young male apprentice in a tailoring shop with finished garments behind him in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I came to Abidjan by following my uncle. He is a fashion designer, and I always knew that I would follow his path. So, one day, I said goodbye to my parents and set out from Burkina Faso on the road to the Ivory Coast. I left the village of farmers in which I was born and grew up. My parents would not have been able to pay for my studies.

When I arrived, everything seemed difficult. I had no qualifications, and the future looked uncertain and dangerous. Then, a friend told me about CERAP and ASMU, and so I came to their offices in search of information. They enrolled me in the apprentice training program for sewing. The course lasts three years, and now I am finishing. In a week, I will receive my diploma and will be able, finally, to begin work. ASMU will help me with materials for the work. In fact, the program includes the provision of professional equipment to launch a business. At last I will be able to open my own workshop.

Here, I am living in my uncle's house. My parents remained in Burkina Faso in our village. I miss my village; I miss the atmosphere, the people, the fields and the houses. I miss everything; I miss my family. Soon I will return home. With what I have learned, I will be able to set up a little business in my village and help my parents to live an easier life.

Abidjan, November 2018

Three young female tailoring apprentices chat in a workshop in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

ASMU tailoring students. Courses are based on the "meister" model, that is, a man or woman who has already launched a business and who, in their own shop and in collaboration with CERAP, monitors the training plan of ASMU students.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young female beneficiary with son in a baby sling in her hairdressing salon in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

A young CERAP beneficiary who started her own business, a hairdressing salon, together with a friend after completing the ASMU training program.

Abidjan, November 2018

Fisherman steers a small boat into the port of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with larger vessels behind him

Port of Abidjan, where fishing boats belonging to large companies have docked.

Abidjan, November 2018

Group of ten fishermen stand on a boat docked in the port of Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Fishermen are often migrants, and their conditions of work are difficult and closely linked to the nationality of the ship owner who employs them. There are clear differences of treatment between one company and another.

Abidjan, November 2018

Stella Maris Association beneficiaries

Young fisherman stands on the dock in the port of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with two boats behind him

Fisherman in the port of Abidjan. Besides the very difficult work conditions, fishermen must cope with poor accommodation and lack of safety measures at sea. In addition, their rights as workers are often not respected. The conditions for those working on smaller fishing boats are often better, even if these fishermen face different difficulties.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young fisherman stands on the dock in the port of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with two boats behind him

Labor migrants such as this fisherman may not have documentation proving their identity or residency. Without the right documents, it is truly impossible to get a fishing license, and so migrants from other African countries in particular are victims of very severe discrimination.

Abidjan, November 2018

Fisherman chops one of many fresh fish on a table in the port of Abidjan, Ivory Coast

A fisherman prepares freshly caught fish for sale in the market.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young male mechanics apprentice sits in an outdoor garage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I am from Burkina Faso. I came to the Ivory Coast to learn [the mechanics] trade because in my country it is very difficult to access training and there are not many possibilities in my village. So, I and my family left and came to Abidjan. Once here, some friends told me about ASMU, and so I applied and began a mechanics course five months ago. I am learning a lot, and I doing well with my team and my boss. We are one big family. My dream is to one day open a garage of my own.

Abidjan, November 2018

CERAP beneficiary

Young male mechanics apprentices in an outdoor garage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

CERAP/ASMU training beneficiaries in their outdoor workplace. Most workshops are outside; only a few trades are carried out inside.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young male mechanics apprentice with cars for repair in an outdoor garage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I have a cousin who took part in a CERAP professional training course. He put me in touch with their office, and I was able to start the mechanics course. I am from Burkina Faso, but I was born in the Ivory Coast. I was integrated at CERAP thanks to my cousin; I don't know what I would have done otherwise. Here, I have learned how to be a mechanic. The program lasts four years, and I am learning, phase by phase, all that I need to know about this trade in order to realize my dream of opening a big garage and giving work to many people. I want to become a big businessman and to support my family.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young male mechanics apprentice with cars for repair in an outdoor garage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I am originally from Burkina Faso, but I was born here in the Ivory Coast. My parents moved here to Abidjan when I was small; they did not have enough money to pay for me to go to school. So, I had to find a path for my future. Luckily, I stumbled upon CERAP and thought that this was perhaps an important opportunity for me. So, I decided to register for the mechanics training course. My plan for the future is to become a big businessman like my boss and to open my own garage here in the Ivory Coast because this is my home. I have no plans to leave because CERAP has taught me to read and write. The CERAP team is helping me to find my place in society and supporting me while I take the first steps in the world of work.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young male mechanics apprentice in an outdoor garage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I am originally from the Ivory Coast. My family came from an inland village. There are large tea and coffee plantations there, so everyone worked on the production line, and there was not much space for other kinds of work. I, on the other hand, dreamed of doing something different. I wanted to become a mechanic. So, my whole family, to support me, decided to move to the city and to change their way of life. While I was looking for opportunities to train as a mechanic, I discovered CERAP, and it was like finding a new family.

The courses helped me to develop my potential. They taught me to speak in public and to have confidence in myself, all things that before were difficult. After four years I finished the course, and thanks to [CERAP] I found work. Today, I work in this open-air garage with my friends. It is great to be working together on something about which we are passionate.

If I had the chance to go to America, I would because I am attracted by the lifestyle that I see in American films. I would like to go there and work in a big car factory, study and then get a better job.

Abidjan, November 2018

Three young male mechanics apprentices in an outdoor garage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

CERAP/ASMU beneficiaries training to become auto mechanics. Nearly 60 percent of Ivorians are under the age of 24. For these young people, finding a decent job to support themselves and help out their families is an existential challenge.

Abidjan, November 2018

Young men and woman watch a teacher write on a chalkboard in a classroom in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Young students in a CERAP literacy course. The first part of the CERAP/ASMU course is focused on literacy. In parallel, a theater workshop is also developed with a view to making it easier for course participants to speak in public.

Abidjan, November 2018

Female human trafficking survivor in a courtyard in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I am from Abidjan. Having twice failed my bachelor's degree and after the death of my father, I decided to leave this place to find work. A friend of mine told me about opportunities to work in domestic help in Tunisia. On paper, it seemed like a simple job with which to earn a lot. So, I left and in 2014 went to Tunisia. My aim was to work without spending a lot, to save as much as possible, and then to come back and, with that money, finish my course of studies and help my family.

When I arrived at the airport in Tunisia, the family for which I was going to work were waiting for me at the airport. As soon as they recognized me, they took my passport away. They took me to their home, and I worked there for five months. The conditions of work were really difficult. I had to clean every part of the house including the garden. I was responsible for looking after the children. I had no time to rest, I was obliged to be continually available, like a toy for the children, yet at the same time I also had to do all the housework.

After five months, they had not yet paid me anything, and they refused to give me back my passport. They told me that they would have paid me and given me back my passport after the three years of the contract, but naturally I had never signed any contract. I asked them to let me go to the Ivorian embassy to be recognized as a migrant worker in Tunisia, but they refused. And so, I decided to defend myself. I refused to work, and they sacked me. They gave me my passport and a handful of money and threw me out into the street.

It was a very difficult situation, but, fortunately, I had contacts in Abidjan on whom I knew I could rely. They put me in touch with Ivorian friends in Tunisia who gave me another job where I worked for the next three years in domestic help in Tunisia. My work situation was better than before, but the living conditions were very hard. My employers looked down on me and discriminated against me. Even worse, I was [in an irregular situation], without a visa or a work permit. I was forced to hide from the police all the time to avoid being discovered. There was no stability, always tension. Furthermore, the money that I was earning was never enough; I couldn't manage to save the money that I wanted to send to my family.

So, one day, thanks to an [International Organization for Migration] repatriation program, I decided to return home to the Ivory Coast to study and finally managed to get a bachelor's degree. Today, I am not working, but I live in peace with my family, and I have an aim in life. I wish to continue to study and become a business leader.

What I would like to say to my fellow [compatriots] and to all those who want to emigrate is: Check the information before leaving. I did not have the right information and that's why I ended up a victim of human trafficking. You must find the correct information; this is absolutely vital.

Abidjan, November 2018

Stella Maris Association beneficiary

Male NGO worker and former refugee in a courtyard in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

I am originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and now I live in Abidjan. I was a student in one of the main universities of the Congo from 1990 to 1995. I was studying social sciences and international relations. Unfortunately, in 1995, because of social tensions and violence in the country, the university was forced to close, and as a result many students abandoned the country in search of a better future abroad. I was one of the students who headed for Zambia.

I was not alone. When I arrived, my status did not allow me to study. With some friends from the university, we then decided to go to Senegal. On our arrival, we headed for the [UN Refugee Agency] UNHCR, which rejected us immediately because, since we came from the Congo, we ought to have gone to central Africa. Some of my friends who had families with resources to help them decided to go to Europe. I decided to come to the Ivory Coast and arrived in Abidjan in 1998.

When I arrived, it was difficult. I was alone in a strange land without a job. I didn't know anyone. And even if many people were supportive and helped me, little by little I slid into depression and started to have serious health problems. Fortunately, I met someone who worked for Caritas, which came to my aid. They gave me a house, medical treatment and food until 2002. This helped me to regain confidence in myself, and I managed to re-integrate in society. They financed professional training, and I learned a trade: how to repair refrigerators. I became an apprentice and began work in a small factory.

Then civil war broke out, and my situation remained on standby between 2002 and 2011. Once the war was over, I was able to start new professional training and learned to repair mobile phones. While studying, I did small jobs here and there to survive. Today, I still live in the Caritas house, and I don't have a stable job. Every morning I go to the market with a little portable table. I sit down and repair mobile phones for customers.

I had to escape from my country because of political instability and danger. Today, many years later, I am still looking for economic independence. I hope to fulfill myself as a person one day and bring to fruition my aim to open an electrical equipment shop.

Abidjan, November 2018

Stella Maris Association beneficiary

Male director of a migration-related NGO in a garden in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Director of a local NGO engaged in preventing undocumented migration and supporting victims of human trafficking.

Abidjan, November 2018

CERAP partner