By Moki Kindzeka
YAOUNDE — Families are in search of loved ones among the more than 2,000 Cameroonian migrants who were rescued in Libya and brought back to the central African state by the International Organization for Migration.
More than 100 Cameroonians cheered and sang the central African country's national anthem upon arrival at the Yaounde-Nsimalen international airport from Libya this week as they were met by family members, curious onlookers and government authorities.
Children were among the returnees, said social worker Prisca Ndemaya.
"I have a case of two children, aged between six months and two years old. Their mothers were shot in Libya, and so these children were lucky to come back home safely. After all the preliminary health examinations done on the children, we are going to secure the children at the center for distress children," she said.
Olive Mboze, a 32-year-old breastfeeding mother, also arrived in Yaounde. She says her husband stayed behind in Algeria, where they had flown from Cameroon with the hope of finding a way to Italy. She discovered she was one month pregnant when she got to the Libyan city of Bayda, so she worked as a housekeeper and reported herself to the police when the pregnancy reached seven months. She says she was charged with illegal immigration and taken to a prison in Bayda, where she delivered her child.
Some women who delivered had neither sanitary papers for themselves nor napkins for their babies, Mboze said, and had to cut their dresses into pieces to clean themselves and their newborn babies.
The migrants looked exhausted. They told stories of torture and murder, and said some people went missing and others were trapped in the desert or at sea.
The International Organization for Migration gives $150 to each of the migrants who return to buy food and gifts for their families.
A year ago, brothers Henri and Pierre Bekolge returned from Libya and opened a poultry farm in Ahala, on the outskirts of Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, benefiting from $4,000 given to them by the Cameroon government to socially integrate returning migrants.
Pierre says his brother, Henri, sold the first chickens and a portion of land they inherited from their parents and left again for Europe through north Africa. Pierre says he is also determined to go to Europe, and is working hard to raise funds to leave Cameroon.
He says he was unlucky when he arrived in Libya a year ago, and fell in the hands of people who duped him and took his money. Some of his friends, however, say they have found success in Europe and tell him their living conditions have improved. He says he has seen so many people who braved the difficulties, traveled to Europe are now investing back at home, unlike his friends who graduated from university, remained in Cameroon and now share rooms, food and clothing with their family members because they do not have jobs.
Pierre refused to say when he would leave, but said it was imminent. He said he cannot remain in the poultry business because he is a law graduate from the University of Yaounde.
Cameroon says families are in search of scores of relatives who have again left the country. Officials say they have been warning citizens about the dangers of irregular travel to Europe and are encouraging Cameroonians to obtain official travel documents and visas.
Cameroon estimates 120,000 of its citizens are illegal migrants, with most trapped by trafficking rings, or held in Libyan prisons or Italian refugee camps.