The Gambia

The cost of taking the backway to Europe from The Gambia

The cost of taking the backway to Europe from The Gambia

Many migrants from the Gambia lose time, money and risk their lives on the irregular journey to Europe. Every month migrants who have already spent large amounts on the journey are choosing to return to The Gambia. Taking the backway to Europe is often more expensive than expected. Here, you will learn what it really costs to travel irregularly from The Gambia to Europe.

The hidden costs of the backway to Europe

Many irregular migrants from The Gambia choose to take the backway because they want to make more money. However, in reality, most people lose money and risk their lives travelling this way. Many migrants end up asking for money from their family and friends in order to survive.

The journey often costs more than people expect because many migrants get robbed on the way or smugglers lie about the costs and then extort more money. Often, migrants also have to bribe officials. Paying more does not guarantee safe arrival in Europe: many smugglers lie to migrants, take their money, then abandon them in the Sahara desert, on the Libyan coast or at sea.

Why many Gambians return home

Since the summer of 2017, despite having spent a lot of money migrating, many Gambians in Libya have decided to return home, because life there is very dangerous. Many migrants get trapped in Niger or Libya and return to The Gambia poorer than they were before so it is important to consider if the backway is indeed a way of achieving a better life.

Some migrants are detained in Libya and kept for many months in inhumane conditions. Others are trapped there and unable to return home because they have no money to go back.

From The Gambia to Europe: the cost of an irregular journey

Potential migrants told Seefar that they thought the journey would cost around 2,000 to 4,000 US dollars but in reality the journey costs far more. Beyond the travel costs, migrants also need money for food and accommodation along the way as well as to pay bribes and smugglers who raise their fees at will.

Travelling once you are in Europe is very expensive as well. A migrant told Seefar that smugglers are charging around 5,000 US dollars to travel from Calais on the coast of France to the UK, for example.

Smugglers say that the route is safe and cheap and promise jobs enroute and in Europe. This is not true. There are often unexpected additional costs and smugglers extort more money from migrants on the journey. Paying more does not mean getting the expected result: many smugglers leave irregular migrants in perilous situations with no money and support.

Migrants often end up in debt and lose money when they try to travel to Europe. In some cases, migrants report only paying half the cost at the beginning of the journey with the rest due in transit or at the destination.

Migrants are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking as the system of paying in stages places them in the smugglers’ debt. It can take many years to pay back borrowed money. Some Gambian women are forced to work as prostitutes in order to pay back the money.

Life in Europe

Cost of living

The daily costs in Europe, such as accommodation, transport and food, are very high. In many European countries, families spend around 700 US dollars per week to live. This number is based on the United Kingdom but does not differ significantly from other Western European countries.

Irregular migrants

In Europe, it is illegal to employ irregular migrants. Governments do not offer any support to those who have arrived via the backway. Living as an unemployed irregular migrant in Europe is difficult as the cost of living is high. Without a job it is hard to access housing, hence many migrants are homeless.

Asylum seekers

Migrants who can claim asylum might be able to receive papers to work and live in Europe. However, the asylum system is only for people fleeing war and direct persecution. Therefore, on the whole, Gambians are not directly eligible for asylum. Even for those with a legitimate claim, it is not possible to work and earn money while the asylum claim is being processed which can take many months to over a year.


“I spent a lot coming here. I could have had a good business in Gambia, but now I’ve been here a year and I have gained nothing… We are all praying to go back to our homeland,” confessed a Gambian migrant in Italy.

Taking the backway from The Gambia to Europe is both a highly risky and expensive option. Many irregular migrants have become a financial burden on their families and have had to ask for more money to support themselves. This is because:

  • Migrants may be kidnapped and their families must pay a ransom for their freedom
  • Smugglers lie about the costs and ask for more money while on the journey
  • Migrants often have to pay large bribes to officials
  • It is not possible to earn money while on the journey as there are no jobs for Gambians

in Libya and Niger and irregular migrants cannot legally work in Europe

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