Many Gambian migrants who reported cases of severe abuse during their detention in Libya have returned home. But now that The Gambia is transitioning to democracy, what will happen to those who made it to Europe?
On April 4, 169 Gambian migrants returned home voluntarily. They had left The Gambia, in many cases more than a year ago, with the intention of reaching Europe. Their journey was cut short in Libya, where many were arrested and detained, often under dire conditions.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Gambians have reported that they were subjected to torture and lack of food while in detenion in Libya. Some have described the emergence of a "slave market," with captors demanding they call their families to ask for money in return for their release.
With the help of the IOM and the Gambian government, some Gambians were able to walk free from Libyan detention centers. The returnees arrived at the airport in Banjul, the capital of this small West African country, and queued to obtain emergency passports and a small amount of money to get them home.
Had they made it onto a trafficker's boat, as was their intention, they would have faced a perilous journey across the Mediterranean - most likely in an overcrowded rubber boat. More than 5,000 people are estimated to have drowned during such journeys in 2016.
In December 2016, long-term ruler Yahya Jammeh was ousted by opposition candidate Adama Barrow (pictured). Jammeh resisted, but eventually fled after West African troops threatened to remove him by force. This was seen as the beginning of The Gambia's transition to democracy. Peaceful, multi-party parliamentary elections followed in April 2017.
Gambian migrants who have made it to Europe are now facing the threat of deportation. Gambians currently make up the third-largest group of African refugees in Germany, but if The Gambia is designated a "country of safe origin," their applications for asylum might be rejected.
There are high hopes for the future of a democratic The Gambia. However, the country's authoritarian past - including reports of prison torture and the detention of opposition figures - still needs to be addressed. The EU has pledged 75 million euros to support Gambia's return to democracy and boost the economy.
First published April 12, 2017
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