Papa Demba Sow left Senegal two years ago hoping to make a better life in the oil-rich central African country of Gabon but in July he was arrested by police, thrown in jail for a month and deported along with hundreds of other Africans.
The plight of African migrants struggling to reach Europe, alongside thousands fleeing violence in the Middle East, has stirred international alarm this year, with hundreds dying at sea on the perilous Mediterranean crossing.
But the majority of Africans who emigrate remain within Africa.
Yet, amid rising concerns over the spread of Islamist militant groups on the continent and several economies hit by a slump in commodities prices, some African nations are clamping down on those migration flows.
Gabon, whose oil reserves have given its 1.5 million people amongst the highest per-capita income in Africa, has long been a magnet for migrants from countries like Senegal, an arid West African state with a tradition of emigration dating back decades.
Sow, a 33-year-old welder, went to Gabon to join family members already living there but said it had become extremely hard to obtain residency. Police officers harassed African immigrants on the streets of the coastal capital Libreville until they were paid off, he said.
In detention, more than 300 migrants were packed into a few rooms, with many forced to sleep on the floor. Breakfast was a slice of bread, with a plate of rice and fish for dinner.
“They treated us really bad, like dogs or sheep,” said Sow.
It is becoming a familiar story as many African countries seek to close their doors to mass migration, removing a pressure gauge for poverty and unemployment within the region.
With European Union and African heads of state due to meet in Malta in November to discuss the Mediterranean migration crisis, experts say any solution needs to address the lack of economic possibilities in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The situation is changing. Some African countries are becoming less flexible in accepting migrants,” said Michele Bombassei, the International Migration Organization’s (IOM) Migrant Assistance Specialist for West Africa.
“What’s happening right now in the Mediterranean is just the last step of a long, long process that, in many cases started here, in West Africa.”
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