By Halimatou Ceesay
In an interview with this reporter recently some returnee migrants have alleged that Gambian agents sold them into slavery after collecting money from them to help them travel to Europe. They are part of the numerous flights that brought hundreds of migrants from Libya recently.
They also lamented some of the difficulties they encountered following their return but added that they were gradually adjusting to life. Modou Lamin Bobb, a migrant returnee and the SG of Gambia Youth Returnee Association, said: “When we came back to the country newly it was very hard for us to get started or for things to run as they should. But now everything is going smoothly because we came together and formed the Association.”
Speaking on the reasons behind his decision to embark on the journey, Mr. Bobb said that although he was employed prior to his departure, he was not earning much and that having seen “fellow young people embarking on the journey and making it to Europe,” he could not resist the urge to also travel to Europe. “I also want a better earning and life for me and my family and to keep all the promises I made to my family. That was why I embarked on the journey,” he explained.
He added that the problems associated with irregular migration began to surface after Senegal. He said the peaceful part of the journey stops at Gambia and Senegal, noting that all sort of problems begin to occur once they entered other African countries.
He said that of all the countries they had to travel through, Libya was the worst and that when you get to the desert, conditions are so perilous that life is at risk. “At the desert you can expect death at any time. You will be in a truck and you will come across a truck in the desert that has a break down and when you approach, you will come face to face with dead bodies,” he stated, adding that there are times when they run out of food and water, amid frequent accidents that maim and kill some. Other hazards of the journey, he went on, include being beaten and forced to do all sort of hard labour.
He said that when you successfully survive the desert and enter Libya you then face even worse scenarios than what you encountered in the desert. “Libya was very hard for us and what makes it worse and heart-breaking is the agents who are our very own Gambian brothers who fan the flames of our suffering. Our Gambian brothers will come, put you in a vehicle and go and sell you. In your presence he will discuss your price and there is nothing you can do. Our agents who are our Gambian brothers will sell you for no reason just for him to have money to send to his Family back home,” he said.
Amid sobbing, Bobb said: “Libya is the worst and even their animals are better than us. Where their animals live and sleep is far better than where we live and sleep. We are scared of putting on clean clothes and you have to look dirty always. At Libya we (Blacks) are commodities that are put in a truck displayed for sale and people will come and buy.”
He said they paid the agents to cross to Europe and when the time came for them to be transported to the seaside, they put them in a truck and instead go and sell them. He said they will have hope that they are going to cross to Europe only to be sold.
“We are taken to the deserts where they dig holes and keep people inside. Every day they will give us a small size of bread and one bottle of water for seven people. To survive that is not easy at all and some people are kept in that place for months. I have been sold between Agades and Sabba by my Gambian Agent called Tijan after I paid him D150,000 to cross to Europe. What the Gambian agents did to us their own brothers, if they should come to this country we will have serious clash with them,” he said.
Samba Jatta, President of Gambia Youth Returnee Association, re-echoed the problems of lack of employment and under-employment, noting that a major source of motivation for the youth to travel to Europe is the fact that Gambians living abroad, most in Europe, have tended to fare much better financially than those in the country.
He also stressed the part played by the Gambian agents in their predicament. “Let the parents of our Gambian agents know that their children are selling us and sending them the money. The worst people you can ever come across on this journey are Gambian agents. We will pay our money to them and they will sell us. The worst among them is Sankung Janneh from Kanifing South and he has his own prison in Benwally. He is heavily guarded and he is like a president in Benwally and he has the most brutal boys under his command. He will just look at you and say: ‘You will die today,’ and that is what is going to happen because he will make sure you die,” he said.