By MUHAMMED S. BAH
136 migrants from Griyana prisons in Libya, have been returned to the Gambia through the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
These migrants 90% of who are between the ages of 18-35, were received in the early hours of Wednesday 16th August 2017, at the Banjul International Airport.
Almost all the migrant returnees spoken to, said they were subjected to torture and harassment and that they received poor food.
Most of the returnees have scars and scratches on their bodies and almost all of them said they have been imprisoned for more than one year.
Griyana is said to be accommodating hundreds of Gambians who are yet to return.
The officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the International Organisation for Migration, the Gambia Immigration Department, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Red Cross volunteers, National Youth Council team of psychological first aiders, were all present to receive the returnees upon arrival.
Ebrima Jobe, Deputy Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained that the returnees decided to come home at their own will and none has been deported or forced to return.
Mr. Jobe said about 815 Gambian migrants previously returned and that, a good number of the returnees are traumatized as a result of the difficult moments they have experienced on their way to Libya and while in Libya; that this is why they will be given phonological help.
Mr Jobe said, an EU funded project in the Gambia, in consultation with government, has catered for young people and returnees and some of the returnees will be trained with skills and given money to help them get back on their feet.
He said the two Libyan warring factions are trying to negotiate a solution to put an end to the ‘back-way’.
He advised young people that they cannot forsake their country because of poverty and underdevelopment. He said EU countries spend lots of monies on migrants and that as at now, there are about 26, 000 undocumented Gambian migrants in Italy.
He advised young people to contribute in their own way, towards the development of the country to make it look like any other developed European country. “People need to face the reality and sacrifice in order to become productive. Irregular migration is a concern and every family member or parent is affected as young people are no longer focused on their education,” he said. ‘‘Some Gambians want to get money without earning it, but most well-off Gambians made it in the country, and did not travel outside,’’ he said. ‘‘You hardly see a homeless Gambian compared to other countries in the sub-region.’’
Amadou Jawo, Liaison Officer in charge of Libyan Affairs, commended the Gambian Association in Libya for the great job they are doing for Gambian migrants in the North African country.
Hon. Henry Gomez, Minister of Youth and Sports said it was with mix feelings that they were receiving their fellow countrymen.
“As the Minister for youth, I have to be with youth during your hard and good times and this is the reason why I am here,” he added. Mr. Gomez said the Barrow government will do all it can to support them and to settle down as well.
He appealed to all and sundry to join hands and work together because Gambia has change and ‘‘we all fought for the change’’. He appealed to all to give a helping hand to the returnees so that they can get back on their feet.
According to Minister Gomez, some of the returnees will be given opportunities of entrepreneurship, apprenticeship training among others so that they can learn a profession and move on with their lives.
“The way I saw them they are all friendly and healthy with no bad intention in them,” he said of the returnees.
Kawsu Jaiteh, a 47 year old native of Kuloro village in West Coast Region said he worked as a security guard and a farmer before venturing into the ‘back way’ journey.
“Libyans are now bankrupt and are surviving on migrants,” he said adding that he has seen people killed for not being able to pay monies demanded from them; that he was detained for 6 months because he was sold and couldn’t pay the money that his new agent demanded but which was eventually paid by his family back home.
He advised young people to desist from the journey and find a way out to make it in the country, saying, all of them regretted venturing into the journey and thank God to be fortunate to return with skills.
He called on government to support them, saying, he intends to venture into business now that he has returned and will continue to work hard to earn a living like he always did, before leaving.
He admitted that it was difficult for him to communicate with his family back in the Gambia.
Jaiteh also blamed our Gambian brothers working as agents in Libya and in the Gambia, as the biggest obstacles because they deal with Libyan agents.
According to him, Gambians detained in Libya are more than those that have returned and this is as a result of our Gambian brothers (agents) who are making it difficult because of money.
Abdoulie Bojang, a resident of Bundung and another returnee, said he left the Gambia at the end of 2015 but described Libya as very hard, saying their prisons are filled with Gambians.
Bojang indicated that people die in Libyan prisons on a daily basis and that this include Gambians.
He further explained that his friend he used to share the same bed with, was dropped at the last minute before they departed for the Gambia and appealed to government to help facilitate the return of the rest of the Gambians in Libya, in the earliest possible time.
He advised young people to find other options and never think of venturing into this type of journey.
The returnees were later taken to a lodge at Tranquil Brusubi, where they received bath and were given food.
In the afternoon they were given €65 each by the IOM as transportation to their various homes.
Mr. Famara Njie, IOM Reintegration Officer told the returnees that his Organisation will provide them with an opportunity in cash, amounting to €1000 Euro. This he said will not be given to them directly but rather as an investment for them to invest in their various skills of interest.