Young Gambian shines light on risks of perilous migrant routes

Like many young Gambians in search of a better future, 25-year old Mustapha set off on the perilous journey from Africa to Europe. He now shares his harrowing experience with other young people to deter them from following in his footsteps.

BANJUL, GAMBIA (UNICEF) – Twenty-five year old Gambian, Mustapha, recalls his perilous journey from Gambia to Libya, where he was detained as he tried to make it through the desert to Europe.

“Everyday you hear gun sounds. You see people getting shot, people being beaten, people getting tortured, Every day you see it. I never heard the sound of a gun until I reached Libya. In Gambia I never heard gunshots until Libya. And Libya – every day here, morning, and night, anytime. You would hear heavy weapons like RPG’s – BOOM! Until the house would be shaking,” he said.

Now back in Banjul, he’s keen to prevent other young people from taking the same perilous path.

Alongside his friend Lamin, they’re working with Youth Against Irregular Migration (YAMI) to warn others of the dangers of illegal migration.

“So after reaching to Libya, at the first checkpoint, they stripped us there and took all of our money, our belongings our bags – everything. They put us back to the pickup and said, ‘That’s our pay,’ before we entered Libya,” said Mustapha who used smugglers to cross the desert through Niger.

Libya is the main launching point for people risking their lives to reach Europe. But Mustapha and Lamin want to put an end to that.

“Libya is like a prison, that’s why we’re sensitizing all the young people so that they can stay and we can work on our future from here. We are going to help each other with this association so that we can try to take control of our future,” said Lamin.

Only last month Spanish police ship Rio Saguaro rescued 1065 migrants off the coast of Libya over 24 hours, police said in a news release.

They said the migrants were rescued from a number of dinghies that were adrift and included people from Nigeria, South Africa, Mali, Ghana, Gambia, Niger, Guinea, Benin and Togo.

Half a million people have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy over the past four years, mainly sub-Saharan Africans who pay smugglers to shepherd them across the desert to Libya, and onward to Europe in unseaworthy dinghies.

At least 20,000 migrants are being detained in Libya, the main gateway for those attempting to reach Europe by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.