Mustapha Sallah is Secretary General of a group of migrant returnees called Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM).
Sallah, 32, was repatriated from Libya in April 2017, and today he thanks God he escaped death, which could have come from being shot, beaten, starved, being burned alive or succumbing to disease.
YAIM was founded by Gambian returnees who warn of the dangers of irregular migration and advocate for migrants’ rights. They speak in town gatherings, on the radio, on social media and organise “caravan tours” to take their message to other regions of the country.
Back in January during a caravan tour Sallah addressed the people of Njaba Kunda and several village chiefs, telling them, “While I am alive and here today to recount this story to you, my friends have been shot, died of disease or been beaten to death before my own eyes. I was helpless; I could not do anything to help them.”
The village of Njaba Kunda has been reduced to just 3000 inhabitants after over 2000 of its citizens left on the perilous journey to Europe over the past nine years. The villagers survive by farming peanuts, coos, maize, watermelon, and now cashews.
The district’s chief, Alhagie Jagne, and other chiefs in the district came to listen to the message of the returnees. Elders and chiefs sat on plastic chairs under a neem tree, in the mid-day sun, opposite the market square. The location was ideal, as women were also present at the market, and a public-address system was used to speak to the community.
A young woman returnee also took time to explain her experience. The woman was dressed in a white T-Shirt, like the other members of the group. She also wore a white headscarf, as is customary in The Gambia when a woman stands before elders. As she recounted her story of life in Libya, another female colleague moved away from the crowd with tears rolling down her face, recalling her own painful experiences.
When the woman returnee finished her story, it was visible that the message sank into the hearts of many of the gathered community leaders and villagers, “We did not know that they go through such things on the journey to Europe,” said Aminata, a resident in her 60s. “We encouraged them to go because they had ambitions to make lives better for us here. There were no jobs they could do here,” Aminata told me.
YAIM, held road shows around market and border towns, they also visited schools, and held meetings with communities. The message was the same everywhere: The backway is perilous. Do not send youths to die there. The group’s Summer Caravan will take place from 29 July – 6 August in the regions of URR and CRR-South.
YAIN receives financial support from the German embassy in Banjul. Mustapha Sallah and his colleagues will continue travel from one district to another, educating young people on the perils of irregular migration. Who better to tell the story than those who have been there and lived it? They hope to change lives with the power of their stories.
Interview with YAIM’s Mustapha Sallah