/gambian-migrants-choice-bury-the-stragg

  • Gambian migrants’ choice: bury the straggler alive or be killed

    Water was running low as the convoy drove through the desert into Libya, so Khadim was given a terrible choice: bury a sickly fellow migrant alive, or be killed by their smugglers.

    “They told us to bury him in the sand,” said Khadim, 29. “They started waving their guns. ‘If you refuse, you’re dead.’ We started digging and digging. As we buried him he said, ‘I’m not dead yet, why are you doing this to me?’ ”

    Khadim is one of about 2,600 migrants repatriated to the Gambia from Libya on flights paid for by European countries trying to stem crossings of the Mediterranean. The vast majority of those coming home are young men, who arrive at Banjul airport with at most a few belongings in a plastic bag, sometimes after spending years in Libyan detention centres.

    They are the among the first to be sent back since footage emerged in November of migrants being sold at slave markets in Libya. African and EU leaders agreed an emergency plan shortly afterwards to repatriate thousands.

    Many tell stories of frequent beatings, or of fellow migrants dying from hunger or violence. Others described watching companions drown on sinking boats in the Mediterranean.

    Like many others, Khadim was betrayed by smugglers and drivers before he saw the sea. He was kidnapped for ransom, arrested and put in a detention centre before he could reach Tripoli.

    He is relieved to have landed back in Banjul, the Gambian capital. Not only is he alive but there are promises of money to help him make a fresh start.

    The UN’s migration agency, as part of an EU-funded plan, can support people to go to college, start a business or buy livestock. Other EU help offers grants to those aged 15 to 35, returning or potential migrants, to start businesses.

    It likely to be just the beginning. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that up to a million migrants remain in Libya. Since late 2015, the EU has spent more than €2 billion in African countries trying to create jobs in the hope that people will stay.

    Those returning to the Gambia, where almost half of the two million population live below the poverty line, are provided with just enough cash to go home and live for a few weeks, after which they can apply for more help.

    Last week, a group of former Gambian migrants, with some funding from the German government, began touring the country to warn young people of the dangers of taking the “back way”, as the journey through the desert and across the Mediterranean is called.

    “Before we go we knew the risks involved, but we didn’t believe,” said Mustapha Sallah. “Most of the people that talked to us were government officials, activists who are living good. I was thinking they were just trying to discourage us.”

    With fellow Gambians who were incarcerated in Libyan detention centres, he has now started Youths Against Irregular Migration. As well as sharing their harrowing experiences, they try to persuade people to stop dreaming of Europe and make a living at home, through education, setting up in business, or agriculture.

    The Gambia’s nascent democracy, restored after the former dictator Yahya Jammeh was deposed last year, has prompted many to return from exile, as the fear of arbitrary arrest, detention and torture dissolved.

    The economy is growing at about 5 per cent but youth unemployment is about 44 per cent. Rising food prices mean many struggle. “The opportunities are not many and they’re not easy to get right now,” said Mr Sallah.

    Paul Jatta, 23, came home on a repatriation flight a few months ago and is trying to put the trauma behind him. Three times he tried and failed to cross to Italy in flimsy boats. On the last attempt he watched five people die as the vessel started to sink. “I seriously cried that day. Because I saw them drown but I couldn’t do anything to help,” he said.

    He said he had not received any support and was back doing what he used to, working in a computer repair shop and cleaning swimming pools in his spare time. He works up to 12 hours a day most days but earns less than £100 a month, and most of that goes to support his extended family.

    After spending his savings of more than £1,000 trying to reach Europe, he is now in a worse financial situation than he was two years ago, and has even less to lose. “I still want to go to Europe. I’m waiting for a miracle,” he said. “There are no opportunities here.”

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/world/gambian-migrants-choice-bury-the-straggler-alive-or-be-killed-62qf0qjbl
    #retour_volontaire #Libye #asile #migrations #réfugiés #retour_au_pays #renvois #Gambie

    Possible/probable future #migrerrance:

    After spending his savings of more than £1,000 trying to reach Europe, he is now in a worse financial situation than he was two years ago, and has even less to lose. “I still want to go to Europe. I’m waiting for a miracle,” he said. “There are no opportunities here.”