By Fatoumata Joof
Mustapha Sallah, a young Gambian who embarked unsuccessfully on the perilous irregular ‘backway’ after being rejected visa to study in Taiwan, has been speaking about his ‘horrendous’ experience.Sallah said his journey started in Nigeria, where he went to apply for a visa to Taiwan, but was denied together with other colleagues in the wake of breakdown of relations between The Gambia and Taiwan.“It took me three days to travel from Abuja to Agadez in Niger, after which I paid D20, 000 to travel by bus to Libya,” he explained at a panel discussion organised by the National Volunteers Network in partnership with the UNDP, UN Volunteers and University of the Gambia Students Union, UTGSU.The discussion forum was held at the UTG Auditorium on Thursday on the theme dangers of irregular migration.
Sallah said he spent nearly seven days in the desert with limited food and water, and watched several he was traveling with die of starvation.“After crossing the desert to Libya, we were attacked by the Libyan soldiers. They took everything that we had. Women were sexually assaulted, our human rights and dignity were taken away from us,” he explained.He continued: “After reaching Libya, I went to Sabbha, a very dangerous place where one can hardly pass through without entering prison. I spent one week in prison. From there I went to Bani Walid where I spent four days, because I met one wicked agent and smuggler by the name Sankung Janneh, a Gambian who really gave Gambians tough time. He wasted our time and mistreated us.”Sallah said he then traveled to Tripoli, where he waited for a while before he could continue on his journey because most of the boats at the time were capsizing as a result of the cold season.“On the 14th of January 2017, we got attacked by the Libyan soldiers in our residence. Our houses were burnt, many people were killed and others badly injured. Some of us were taken to prison for 4 months,” he narrated.
He said it was only on 4 April this year the IOM and a Gambia government representative came to the prison, identified and brought back those who voluntarily want to come home.Sallah now founded and runs an organisation Youth Against Irregular Migration.Through the foundation, he is working to spread his “horrific” experiences to potential irregular migration travelers in an attempt to discourage them.
‘Discussing driving factors’Meanwhile, Abdoulie Singhateh, a member of the National Youth Council and an executive member of the UTGSU, said the driving factors of irregular migration were attributable to political, economic and social.“Young people engage in [irregular] migration in the past because their human rights were being violated by the former [government] administration. The other problem is lack of employment and poor education system,” he observed.Mariama Njai, a representative from the IOM, said the organisation has helped to reintegrate more than 1523 returnees.