By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC
Exhausted and hungry, plastic bags on their shoulders, a group of young people disembark one by one from an aircraft and walk towards a huge hall, specially set up for them, near the Dakar International Airport, in Senegal. Daounda Mbaye, 30, is one of the returnees. He braved the harsh conditions of the desert for 15 days to reach Libya via Agadez, Niger. Once there, he spent his entire savings and was exploited through forced labour. He suffered extortion by smugglers before being held for 11 months in an overcrowded detention centre.
“There was a lack of everything, including clean water, food, toilets and basic health services. It was the same food menu every day: Macaroni without meat, prepared with salted water,” says Mbaye.
This is the second wave of Senegalese migrants repatriated from Libya, in less than a week. The exercise was coordinated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Directorate of Senegalese Abroad. They are 165 in total, including one woman. Most of them were in detention centres in Libya.
In their attempt to reach Europe via Libya, many migrants were subjected to ill-treatment and abuses. Whether they have spent several months in Libya or only a few weeks, most of them have done small jobs to save money for their passage to Europe. Stripped of their money by smugglers, many of them found themselves jailed or kidnapped.
Fatoumata Tounkara, 27, the only woman in the group of the repatriated migrants who, alongside her husband, tried to reach Europe—is now relieved. Like all her fellow migrants, including her husband, Fatoumata has accepted the voluntary return so as to put an end to a cycle of imprisonment, humiliation, fear and disappointment.
Senegalese Red Cross Society has mobilized its volunteers to support and comfort them upon their arrival.
“Most of migrants face extreme experiences and need support to get back on their feet. With the support from the IFRC, and in coordination with IOM, we are working on a plan to accompany them through provision of psychosocial support and reintegration programmes,” says Abdoul Azize Diallo, President of the Senegalese Red Cross Society.
In early June, over 40 migrants were found dead in remote north-eastern Niger.The migrants are believed to have died from thirst when the truck carrying them either broke down or was abandoned about 200 kilometres from the town of Dirkou, in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Temperatures in the region can climb as high as 43 degrees Celcius in May.
Tales of exploitation from these returnees, and the recent tragedy in Niger, highlight dangers migrants face as they embark on perilous journeys to their dream destinations.