5th May, 2014
By Femi G. Oguntoyinbo
The headline for this article was a statement made by an African migrant to explain his ordeal as an illegal migrant and how he was sent back to Morocco from Melilla (Spanish Coastal border) three times, before he was able to finally make it to Europe.
I was disturbed by the latest article I read in the newspaper about attempts by illegal migrants from sub-Saharan and Central Africa at getting to Europe, in view of a better condition of living. The article which reveals how they scale the barbed-wire fence at Melilla and Ceuta and end up in the waiting hands of border police, only to be sent back to Morocco, really dealt a devastating blow to my emotion.
As a victim of such an illusory adventure, I had compiled my experience in book form (memoir), to educate fellow African men and other illegal migrants across the globe, in order to dissuade them from embarking on a dangerous voyage across the Sahara and the Mediterranean Sea. The book is currently in its script stage.
Adventures come to man in different shades and forms. Some stumble on them accidentally, some are pushed to them by exigencies. Others deliberately go for dreaded missions, for both tangible and intangible reasons.
The adventures of the so-called illegal migrants are deliberate and premeditated quest for survival. It is both an exhilarating and excruciatingly painful experience which brings them face to face with the harsh realities of life. Those who are lucky to make it beyond Niger (a rendezvous of sort for migrants and stakeholders in the people smuggling business) and the mighty Sahara are somehow welcomed into a new phase of destitution in various North African countries, like Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
The problems and nightmares of many immigrants/travellers going to Europe by transiting through the Sahara desert from different parts of West African countries begin in Niger, once they succeed at crossing different national and international borders.
Unknown to many first-timers on the route, especially those not well-informed about the intricacies of the journey, there are a plethora of woes and unforeseen contingencies awaiting them in Niger. The Police and Immigration Officers at various check points are there to give you their own piece of headache. The so-called connection men (people smugglers), Burgers (veterans in illegal migration) as well as other local collaborators in the people smuggling business are also available to exploit and take undue advantage of illegal migrants.
Many female migrants are forced to become sex workers, and some of them willingly succumb to the pressure of quest for survival by becoming sex workers. Through this illusory attempt (seeking greener pasture in Europe), many a victim has been turned to pauper, many have lost their means of livelihood, many could not be reconnected with their families and many have died as well. What happens to the illegal migrants is better witnessed than recounted.
Amidst all these losses and woes, a fair-minded, empathic person would not hesitate to ask: “How feasible or how realistic are the attempts by these helpless, desperate, Europe-bound migrants?
Many of these migrants have wasted valuable time shuttling between Tangier Island in Morocco and the Southern tip of Spain. Their attempt at crossing the last barrier (barbed-wire fence at Melilla and Ceuta) between them and their destinies are always rebuffed by border patrol team. Many who choose alternative routes, like Tunisia or Libya to Lampedusa (an Italian coastal town) suffer from deteriorating health on arrival, apart from the great number of them who lose their lives in the Mediterranean ‘Cemetery’.
And those who are lucky enough to escape the major odds, how do they live in Europe? From the encounter I had in Libya with migrants who were deported from Spain, they remarked that there is no place like home. Many of them ended up working on farms with meagre wages. They could hardly show their faces in the public for fear of being caught, and subsequently, being deported.
One peculiar and common experience of the migrants, whether at home or in diaspora, is that, they suffer series of inconsistencies, fluctuations, depressions and lack of contentment.
My position on these migrants is that:
Like victims of drug abuse, they need to be rehabilitated, reintegrated and re-absorbed into the society. Their experience is so traumatic that they definitely need counselling and psychological assistance.
Like terrorism, their case is a global phenomenon. There is need for global cooperation in this regard because, it is an issue that is central to African-European relations and demographics, with its attendant ever-changing immigration policies.
•Oguntoyinbo, Author of A Log of Wood: An X-ray of Security Network in Nigeria, wrote from Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State. E-mail: [email protected]