After enduring trauma, sexual violence and slavery in Libya, migrants returning to Cameroon struggle to get their lives back on track

By Inna Lazareva

YAOUNDE/DOUALA, Sept 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In early January, with Christmas lights still twinkling in the streets of Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, Christelle Timdi received the phone call she had almost given up hope of getting.

Returning home to Cameroon from Libya two months before, gaunt, weak and clutching her baby girl born just days after she had bought her freedom from a Tripoli detention centre, she burst into tears at the memory of what she had been through.

On top of beatings, the trauma of witnessing rapes and her friends sold off as slaves, her most haunting recollection was seeing her boyfriend Douglas falling into the dark waters of the Mediterranean during an attempted crossing to Europe.

But that night in January, it was his voice on the line.

“He’s not dead!” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by text message after Douglas called to say he had survived. “He was kidnapped, sold, and thank God, soon he’ll be in Cameroon.”

Timdi, 33, and Douglas are among thousands of African migrants who, after failing to reach Europe in search of a better life, have been flown home from North Africa by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with funding from the European Union.

In the past two years, the IOM and the EU have ramped up support for Africans to return to their countries, driven by the deaths of thousands on sea crossings to Europe and some governments there seeking tighter rules to stem the influx.

But seven to 10 months after going home to Cameroon, returning migrants interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation are struggling to get their lives back on track.