THE ACTIVIST: "I won't stop would-be migrants - it is not my duty"

by Kieran Guilbert | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 5 October 2016 10:00 GMT

Against his parents wishes, 24-year old Ousmane Thiam decided to head to Europe in the footsteps of many of his peers, but he ended up spending nearly two years in Libya, mostly in prison, and was repatriated to Senegal after three failed attempts to cross the Mediterranean. Photo taken from video footage.

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GOUDIRY, Senegal, Oct 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ousmane Thiam, 24, is the spokesman for the Association for the Returnees from Libya based in Goudiry in southeast Senegal. Against his parents wishes, Thiam quit his studies and decided to head to Europe in the footsteps of many of his peers.

However, he ended up spending nearly two years in Libya, mostly in prison and was repatriated to Senegal after three failed attempts to cross the Mediterranean.

"I sold my possessions, my computers to go to Ouagadougou, and then my family took pity on me and sent me money so I could leave and head to Libya. Whether they had sent money or not, I still would have found a way to continue my journey.

I was imprisoned three times during my year-and-a-half in Libya. I tried three times to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, but it never worked - I was too tired to try again after that.

After we were repatriated from Libya by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in March last year, we - the returnees - had a meeting and set up an association - to seek funding and development for the region.

If you wait for the government to come to you with help, you will have nothing. You must get up, knock on their doors, and speak out until they understand that you have serious problems.

We are trying to raise awareness to prevent young men from going but we can't stop them. 

People are trying to leave for Europe, even if they have already tried and failed, because they were with guys in Libya who managed to make it to France.

Even if I see someone leaving, I am not going to call the police or hold them by the collar - that is not my duty.

What I can do is to advise them and tell them about the instability in Libya, and what goes on in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean. That's it, that's all we can do.

What pushes young people to leave? Many young men are fathers and husbands, they cannot stay here without having money in their pockets.

They feel it is worth leaving and risking their lives to have a better future for them and their families.

Otherwise, they sit here, arms folded, with nothing to do. It really is not easy for young people in Goudiry.

There are many who left, and regretted it once they got to Libya, but even when they came back to Senegal, they then went to other African countries, like Gabon, to find work.

We hear in the papers, on the television and in the media that migration is dangerous and that the state will invest money in the region, to create jobs. Yet we see absolutely nothing.

The government and organisations beg people not to leave, but it doesn't mean a thing, because if they want people to stay - to not risk their lives - they must do something for them.

If they don't - people will keep being forced to leave."

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