We meet migrants who took the back route but failed and returned to Gambia - Maisie Medcalf's blogGunjur - A birthday blog...but with a horrifying story: This morning, when we got to the TARUD offices where we’ve been working, everyone sang Happy Birthday – several times, in English and in Mandinka. It was amazing - they were so nice. And my Gambian partner, Mariatou, gave me some beautiful material which I’m going to have made into clothes.
When we got back to the Gunjur Project Lodge where we’re staying I got a cake with my name on it. The frosting was awesome, and we sang Happy Birthday again (on repeat), this time to African drums. It was a really different and lovely way to spend my birthday.
So, a happy day, but with a dark and sad side too. In the morning we were introduced to a group of young men who’d tried to migrate from The Gambia, hoping to get to Europe illegally on what they call ‘the back way’ across the Sahara.
We wanted to ask about what it was that had led them to want to leave The Gambia, who had arranged their journey, how much did it cost, what they experienced, and what their lives are like now.
Omar had taken the back way, aiming to get to Italy. He was kidnapped three times and was sold into slavery, was trapped and persecuted in Libya for four years before he decided to come back. He saw kids stealing whatever they wanted and you couldn’t do anything about it because the parents were looking on with guns.
During his time in Libya he’d been asked to shoot someone in front of him, and he’d refused. As a result, he’d been hit in the head by the butt of a gun and sustained serious eye injuries and now he can’t work. He was beaten with socks filled with sand. His experiences have had a massive negative impact on his life.
We wanted to know how easy it was to reintegrate into The Gambian community. His family had welcomed him back.
Hearing Omar’s story – the amount he went through before he came home – was shocking. He’d set out just to earn money to help his struggling family. What he endured for them was horrifying.
He met a man in Libya who helped him, who gave him food and water and money and arranged his travel back to The Gambia.
The last question we asked was: do you have any hopes for the future? His answer was simple and stark: no. It seemed very dark. He had nothing.
It put into perspective the fact that I was able to enjoy my birthday with friends old and new, and to talk to my family on the phone.
Maisie Medcalf, 17 (today)
St Mary’s, Calne