Hundreds of Senegalese migrants who had been trapped in Libya were recently flown back home, and they have a lot to tell about their experiences in Libyan detention camps.
Although the majority of the migrants have returned home heavyhearted, hungry, and broke, they are happy to reunite with their families and friends, especially given the kind of brutal abuse they encountered on the way, according to VOA News.
The ongoing deportation is an initiative by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in conjunction with the Senegalese government to rescue thousands of Senegalese migrants currently held in detention centers in northern Libya.
On Tuesday alone, more than 160 migrants, mainly young men in their 20s, arrived in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, looking tired, frayed, and dazed.
Besides the physical abuse they endured at the hands of their captors, the returnees spoke of the grueling and perilous 1,200 km (750 miles) journey they took through the Sahara desert.
Last week, at least 40 West Africans, including babies, died of thirst in the desert after the truck they were traveling in broke down in arid northern Niger, reports Reuters.
“The Sahara, it’s another reality. There were 30 of us crammed in to a jeep with little to eat and drink for a week…I saw dead bodies along the way,” said 37-year-old returnee Thierno Mendy.
Illegal Detention & Slavery
Another returnee, 30-year-old Mohammed Gueye, told Reuters that returning home felt better than going to Italy.
“It was hell in prison. Everyone broke down eventually. I cried and gave up hope,” Gueye said as he recalled seeing fellow migrants die of hunger and illness during the nine months he was in detention.
The majority of detention camps that were initially run by the Libyan government are now in the hands of gangs and human traffickers who have been smuggling migrants to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.
These gangs are also accused of selling migrants in local slave markets, where they are forced in to forced labor and sexual exploitation. Others are forced to call their relatives back home and demand ransom. Failure to pay results being sold in to slavery or killed, according to IOM.
It is estimated that close to 20,000 migrants, most of them from West Africa, are currently being held as captives in Libya, which has become the gateway for those attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.
Even with the harrowing tales of hardship and death, many Africans are still making the perilous journey to Europe through the Libyan route.
“You can’t tell someone not to go to Europe. It is their personal decision,” Gueye said as he remembered how his friends who made it to Europe used to call him almost daily to boast about their new lives.
Poverty, famine, and war are a few of the reasons driving these young Africans to make dangerous trips to Europe in search of greener pastures.