Gambia’s government and the International Organization for Migration repatriated at least 140 of the West African nation’s citizens who were trapped in war-torn Libya, Homeland Security Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty said.
The Gambians were illegally held in Libya and fell into the hands of kidnappers and criminals while attempting to perilously cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
Authorities say all 140 Gambians voluntarily returned and are among some 460 others from the small nation that registered with the IOM to voluntarily return.
IOM also helped 171 stranded Nigerian migrants – 76 men and 95 women – to return home from Libya by air.
Gambians are among the third largest arrival to Europe by sea. Although 75% of Gambian asylum seekers have been denied refugee status, more than 13,000 went on to apply in 2016.
Many reported being forced into slavery and hundreds of dollars extorted from families in Gambia to have them freed by criminals, a failure of which leads to long hours of torture.
Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh had refused to help citizens that were facing difficulties in Libya return home. He accused them of putting themselves in a dangerous situation by refusing to heed his call to embrace farming.
Libya is a failed state and has more than one government controlling different regions. It has fallen into the hands of ISIS fighters since the ouster of its longtime autocratic ruler, Colonel Moammar Ghadaffi.
The return assistance was funded by the UK Foreign Office, the Government of the Netherlands and the EU’s Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace. It was part of IOM’s return assistance program.
So far in 2017, IOM Libya has helped 1,164 stranded migrants return to their countries of origin. Of these, 298 were eligible for reintegration assistance.