Gambian Exodus from Libya   Leave a comment

Last night I witnessed 244 Gambian youths (ages 14-28) returning from Libya back to Ferefenni, The Gambia en route from Dakar via bus. The Red Cross/The Gambia were directly supporting the recently returned locals. After returning to Ferefenni, all 244 were stationed in the town’s radio station compound, of which was heavily guarded by armed national military units (see photo, left side). Family members and friends rushed to the scene to verify if their loved ones were included within the returnees (see photo, right side). Emotions were high.
Gele geles (van-like taxis) were summoned from the local garage/cap park to take all 244 from the radio station’s compound to various locations (Barra, Basse, etc.) to have the returnees go through Gambian immigration. The Red Cross/The Gambia vowed to assist the returning Gambians to travel to their home villages, provide them food, and assistance to find jobs afterwards.

A Gambian friend of mine went to the scene to confirm if his brother-in-law – who recently traveled to Libya – was within the 244. The brother-in-law was in fact apart of the returned 244 but the armed military would not allow my friend to even speak to his relative, let alone take him with us back to Kerewan.

Since the downfall of President Gaddafi of Libya, Gambian youth have struggled to make the long-distance trek to Libya. Gambians strive to get to Libya for two reasons: 1) They know Libya is under reconstruction and thus jobs will be ‘available’; and 2) If they are in Libya, they are a stone-throw away from Italy. Many European countries, including Spain and Italy, are hot-spots for Gambian/Africans to immigrate illegally (or how Gambians call it, the ‘back way’, which means traveling by boat in very unsafe conditions). Local youth feel there are no opportunities, or the opportunities are too ‘difficult’ (cf farming), in The Gambia thus they strive to leave their home country for north Africa (in hopes to enter Europe later). In doing so, they feel the work they acquire will bring about high quantities of money, which could be used to ‘enjoy’ themselves or to send remittances back home to their families. However, upon entering Libya, Gambians find the conditions to be unbearable, work lacking, and being treated like second-class citizens.

To travel from The Gambia – one of the smallest and poorest African countries – to Libya, Gambians must need a minimum of 20,000 Dalasi (~ $666 USD). This money is usually obtained by borrowing from family members, who themselves are struggling to survive. Bus, taxi, and walking are the main ways to travel from The Gambia overland through Senegal, Mali, Chad, and Niger to Libya. Before their departure, they pack non-perishable food items (ground nut cakes, etc.) to sustain themselves for their trip.

President Jammeh of The Gambia has supported Gambian youth coming back home in the past. Local NGOs are also planning to support returnees in the future, and hindering other youth not to make the trek north by providing occupational training and educational awareness that illegal migration is not the answer to their ‘problems’. The NGOs are contemplating hiring returnees for them to be able to share their experiences with others, on top of offering them jobs. The returning youth who are still of school-age, I hope, will be re-enrolled into local schools.

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Posted November 22, 2012 by Travis Warrington in Development

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