DAKAR, SENEGAL - Thousands of migrants flown back from Libya are likely to attempt the perilous journey to Europe again unless they find jobs at home, Senegal said Tuesday, after reports that slave traders were selling Africans in markets.
The West African country has some of the highest numbers of young men who get trafficked, imprisoned and sold in lawless Libya while trying to reach Europe, according to the United Nations migration agency.
"If we don't provide for their needs, they'll leave again," said Mariama Cisse, who coordinates government programs for returnees, including job training, loans and community projects.
"At the moment we cannot cover all the needs," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The trafficking and enslavement of African migrants has been in the spotlight after footage broadcast by CNN last month appeared to show Africans being sold in Libya, sparking a global outcry and protests across Europe and Africa.
Since then, countries such as Senegal have pushed to bring their nationals home.
Senegal is a stable democracy, but its rural villages have emptied of young men who are unemployed and see Europe as the only means to a better life.
"I cannot stay in this country and watch my parents suffer," said Djiby Diouf, one of 162 migrants who returned from Libya on Tuesday on a charter flight organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the government.
The 25-year-old electrician had hoped to find a job in Europe and send money back home. But he was tortured in Libyan detention centers for a year and suffered severe burns from gasoline that spilled on him in a boat that capsized while crossing the Mediterranean, he said.
Diouf plans to stay home only long enough to recover from his injuries.
"If the state doesn't help us, I will leave again," he said.
Other migrants on the flight said they were unsure of their plans, while several said that they would be content to stay in Senegal and try to get by.
To stem the tide of departures, the European Union has given Senegal over 160 million euros ($189 million) for youth opportunities, reintegration and development projects, IOM's chief of mission in Senegal, Jo-Lind Roberts, said.
But returnees in need of assistance are increasing, with many more expected in the coming months, she said.
More than 2,600 Senegalese migrants have flown home this year with IOM's voluntary repatriation scheme, compared with about 1,800 in all of 2016.
"It would be ideal for additional support for reintegration programs to be set up," Roberts said.