A group of 140 migrants voluntarily returned to Gambia this week, the first of many who want to return home now that democracy has been restored in the West African nation.

They returned on Thursday from Libya after requesting repatriation instead of continuing the often deadly journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, Interior Minister Mai Fatty said on Saturday.

"Many of them want to come home," Fatty said. "They are victims of crime and they have no money, no food and no proper shelter and their living condition is abominable."

Despite a population of less than 2 million people, Gambians have been among the highest number of Africans leaving the continent in search of a better life in Europe.

A total of 460 Gambians are registered in Libya, living in harsh conditions and unable to continue their journey, Fatty said.

Those who have already returned were processed at the Gambian airport and given 2,600 dalasis each (about 60 dollars) to complete their journey home.

The returnees began approaching the International Organization for Migration (IOM) when former president Yahya Jammeh was forced to cede power in January after ruling for more than two decades.

The Gambian government is working with the organization to ensure the safe return of migrants. Assistance for returning Gambians has been funded by Britain, the Netherlands and the European Union, according to the IOM.

Recently elected President Adama Barrow said he plans to prioritize the welfare of Gambians living abroad. The EU has also pledged 225 million euros in aid to the new Gambian government to strengthen democracy and boost the economy.

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