‘’We ate cockroaches to survive’’ – Gambian returnee from Libya

Back in 2014 Babucarr Bah, a 25-year-old native of Nema Kunku Village in Western Gambia, closed down his thriving barbershop and set out for Europe, travelling via Libya. The economic hardship under Gambia’s former hardline ruler, Yahya Jammeh and the deceptive images of a better lifestyle displayed online by his friends who had already made it to Italy drove him to venture into the unknown.

Little did Bah know that he would soon regret his decision. In an interview Bah recounted the unspeakable hardship he suffered in detention in Libya. His voice was marked with anguish as he recalled how he spent six months in prison after rebels captured him, along with migrants from other African countries.

“They used to beat us and insult us and calling us names, they give us little food and sometimes no food other than only water,” Bah recounted. The returnee also described times when he and his fellow prisoners had to eat cockroaches just to survive.

Bah’s lucky day came largely by chance when the armed guard watching over him and other migrants fell asleep at his post. Along with some friends, Bah managed to escape the prison by scaling a 10 metre high wall surrounding the prison compound. Sadly, some of his friends were shot and killed while running for their lives, while others who sustained gunshot wounds were recaptured and taken back to prison.

Ultimately Babucarr Bah made it out with fifteen other migrants running for three days to reach the border town of Agadez. By the time the escaped migrants arrived in Agadez, only five of them had survived the ordeal; the rest had succumbed to hunger and thirst.

“When we arrived in Agadez, we were lucky to be rescued by an Arab couple who hosted us for three days and gave us water and fed us properly.” Bah said that he and the other migrants fell ill during their stay in Agadez. “We were there until the United Nations repatriated us free of charge from Agadez to Dakar.”

Babucarr Bah has since returned to Gambia, where he is currently running the same barbershop business he had left behind. The business has taken off again and his old customers have started to return.

Traumatised and haunted by what he endured in Libya, Bah is using the power of music to inform young people about the dangers of taking the so-called ‘’backway’’ to Europe, hoping to inspire young Gambians that they can make it in the country if they stay.

‘’I believe embarking on this journey was my biggest mistake because I was turned into a slave. But thank God I am making much progress earning a decent living giving professional haircuts,’’ he said, while expressing hope for better prospects.

TMP – 12/07/2018