At least 312 Gambians have been repatriated to the Gambia since President Adama Barrow came to power after being holed up in inhumane condition in Libyan prisons.
Hundreds of Gambians are kidnapped in the Sahara and being forced into slavery in Libya where factions are fighting to gain control of the failed state. Some say they have been forced into fighting and reported being tortured and starved.
Hundreds of Gambians have been sold for a few hundred dollars, according to the IOM and families have been forced to pay for their release.
Gambia has the third largest arrival of migrants by sea to Europe. A return to democracy has decades of repressive rule has made many of its citizens to perilously journey across the Sahara to cross the Mediterranean to Europe to seek a return to their native country.
The EU has given the Gambia more than US$25 million to help create jobs for the youths, who were mostly seeking better economic opportunities in Europe.
Gambia’s President Adama Barrow has expressed deep concerns about the safety and security of Gambian migrants. His visit to Congo-Brazzaville has raised eyebrows and some called it “ill-advised.”
But Brazzaville’s dictatorial leader, Denis Sassou-Nguesso is the head of the African Union’s committee leading peace efforts in Libya. For the safety of his citizens, while it may not be enough a reason for Barrow to travel to Brazzaville, it could have been the center of his visit to secure the release of hundreds of his stranded citizens and ensure make their safety a priority to regional leaders.
Former President Yahya Jammeh had declined to repatriate stranded Gambians in Libya. He chose to blame them for endangering their own lives by refusing to “go back to the land” and follow his call to farm.
But less than a thousand miles from Brazzaville is Malabo, Equatorial Guinea where Jammeh is holed up and took up farming. Jammeh unceremoniously vacated the presidency after igniting a political standoff that brought the nation of fewer than two million people to a near civil war.
He fled to Equatorial Guinea with millions stolen from Gambians and shipped luxury cars and goods with him. He is also wanted for crimes against the state and human rights abuses.
The visit could be an effort to recover some of the stolen wealth and to explore the possibility of having Jammeh returned to the Gambia to face charges for crimes he committed.
Barrow’s government is authorizing an investigation into Jammeh’s businesses, financial transactions, and crimes. A truth commission over rights abuses will commence hearing by September.
At least dozen members of a hit squad commissioned by Jammeh have been arrested and mass graves were uncovered by investigators.
Equatorial Guinea is not a member of the International Criminal Court, the global justice tribunal that Jammeh unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw the Gambia from. Barrow swiftly reversed Jammeh’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the tribunal.
Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea is also ruled by a brutal dictator, who came to power in a coup by ousting his uncle. Theodore Obiang is accused of corruption and corruption by activists and rights group. His son, also his vice president is facing corruption and money laundering charges in France.
It is clear that it will take long tiring international efforts, mostly through mediation to have Jammeh extradited to the Gambia. The Gambia is seeing signs of success to have former officials wanted for human rights abuses surrendered.
Unlike Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor, who chose a democratic nation, Nigeria, where he was extradited from, as a safe haven, Jammeh rejected resettling in any democratic nation, opting to live in a mansion in Equatorial Guinea, where it would be difficult to negotiate his return to face justice.