Back-way returnees: ‘We need support or be criminals’

Monday, September 25, 2017

A young Gambian, who just returned from Libya where he spent most of his time in detention and seen people being shot death, said if the Gambian authorities do not give the returnees support, they may resort to crimes to eke out a living.

“If we are not supported, we can be anything including criminals, because of the life we have seen in Libya,” said Ousman Jeng, a 26-year-old native of Serrekunda who was among 151 returnees, including 148 Gambians, 2 Senegalese and a Guinea Bissau national, who returned to The Gambia on Thursday.  The returnees included 13 females and minors.

A lot of the returnees, all in their 20s, were just released from prison and detention centres in Libya, a move facilitated by The Gambia government through the International Organisation of Migration (IOM).

Ousman had briefly worked at a hotel in The Gambia before setting out on the journey to Europe, through Libya, nearly four years ago.

 He said in Libya, he had experienced terrible life conditions there, which he never imagined in his life. 

According to him, they used to eat ‘macaroni with tomato paste and pepper daily.’

“I have lived a life I never knew; Libya changes humans to unimaginable things,” he said.  “When I first reached Libya, I was detained for six months.  When I was released from there, I was also kidnapped in Ben Walid and was asked to pay 2,700 dollars.”

Ousman could not pay the money demanded by his captors and was detained there for seven months; he was to escape when Libyan police broke into the detention centre.

When he arrived in the capital of Libya, Tripoli, he was there too, he further explained.

“I am just released from another detention centre where I spent nine months,” he said with heavy hearts.

Ousman said he spent over D70,000 on his journey from The Gambia to Libya.

“I will not encourage anyone to take up this journey because a lot of people have lost their lives on the way and in Libya,” he advised. 

“On our way from Niger to Saba, our vehicle had a breakdown in the desert; we were with two Nigerian women in the vehicle and the driver told us all to come down and push the vehicle, the women said there were women and the sun was hot so they should be excused.  The driver stabbed both of them to death.

“So many Gambians also died in my presence.  Sometimes, a Libyan will have a new gun and call a migrant to tell him to stand in front of him to test the gun and he will shot the person with live bullet.”

Another returnee, Modou Lamin Bobb, a native of Ndofan village, Lower Niumi District, said he set out on the back-way journey in March 2015 with the hope of getting to Europe to live a better life.

“But eventually, God did not make it happen,” he said, expressing gratitude to Allah for their safe arrival in The Gambia.

Modou Lamin said in Libya, life was not easy as he was detained and tortured and was fed with “boring and poor food.”

“On our way to Tripoli, we were attacked and 13 people killed, 5 were shot and wounded, 6 of us escaped,” he narrated.

“In Tripoli, we usually pay money to agents to take us from one destination to another but instead the agents usually sell us to other agents who will detain us and demand money from us in order to be released.”

“I hustled until I got 1,500 dinar (Libyan currency) and paid an agent for a boat to Italy, but the agent left us on the seaside for three months; we did not even see him after. 

After that failed attempt, Modou Lamin was still determined.  He then engaged himself in a small business to be able to save again for the boat. 

“In the process, I was captured and taken to Azuay prison where I spent seven days in detention, but I eventually broke the prison and escaped,” he said.

“I paid for a second boat but that one also didn’t materialised and I was then captured and detained again for nine months.

“My final boat payment was 1,900 dinar.  That one, we already boarded the boat but we were captured in the sea and taken to Maraca where we spent three months; it is the most dangerous place I have ever seen in my life.”

 Sulayman Jallow, a 23-year-old native of Latrikunda German, said he spent about D150,000 on his failed back-way journey to Europe.

He said at one point on their journey, 27 of them walked 84 kilometres, because at a certain checkpoint, they could not pay the money demanded from them by officials at the checkpoint.

“Libya is run by mafias; we had no freedom while there.  We couldn’t even go out because the moment you step out, you are captured and detained,” he said. 

“Sometimes, we take risk by going out to look for jobs so we can earn money to survive.  Sometimes we meet good people who will give us jobs and pay us at the end of the day, but other times we meet people who will make us work the whole day and drive us away or threaten to kill us.  Some other times, we are fooled for a job and taken to prison.”

Sulayman said he had spent 9 months in detention after being captured for trying to cross to Italy.

“I will not even advise a dog to travel through Libya,” he said while calling on Gambians to join hands and work towards the development of the country.

“I will never leave The Gambia again for Europe, except with proper documents to travel by flight.”

The young man said there are still Gambians in Libyan detention centres, as he called on the government to intervene to facilitate their release.

According to officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1,102 Gambians have been repatriated since March 2017.  But he said there still remain 3 to 5 thousands currently in Libya, about 2,000 of whom are being detained or entrapped.

Ebrima Jobe, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the returned migrants were in a hurry to return home, due to the bad situation in Libya.

The Gambia government, based on voluntary request of the migrants to return back home, made all the necessary process to have them back home, with the help of partners, including the European Union through IOM.

“Not all sub-Saharan African countries allow their citizens back home,” he said.

He said each of the returned migrant would be given 65 euros as fare to their final destinations, noting that the returnees will subsequently enjoy an EU grant.

The deputy permanent secretary said the government helps in rehabilitating some of the returnees through counseling and other means, in order to ensure their reintegration back into the society.

He said by now potential back-way migrants should question themselves: “Why am I going when others are voluntarily returning?”

Chief Superintendent Foday Gassama, head of Irregular Migration Unit at the Gambia Immigration Department, said the government is working tirelessly with the development partners to ensure that the returnees are properly reintegrated into society. 

Author: Cherno Omar Bobb
Source: Picture: Back-way returnees going through airport formalities at the Gambia airport