For several years, women, children and young men from certain West African countries and coastal countries have been subjected to desert, sea, extortion and violence to reach what they believe is El Dorado, that is, Europe or even further through Niger. This dangerous migration of Africans through the desert of northeastern Niger passes through the Agadez region, and especially the Kawar area (Dirkou, Bilma, Fachi and Chirfa or Djado), where these migrants are waiting to continue their journey. And to find hope or death. In fact, thousands of people take a perilous journey every day to seek refuge and protection in a country other than their own. Driven, rightly or wrongly, by hunger, forced to flee violence or persecution, or simply in search of more comfortable living conditions, they leave everything behind and take illegal and dangerous routes in search of safety. They sometimes die there. Since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 7,500 people have died in the central Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Italy, making this route to Europe one of the deadliest in the world. Much less is known, however, about those who died before they even reached the sea and crossed the endless Tnr desert in the heart of the Sahara. On the other hand, hundreds more are rescued every year except for the West Coast Guards. In Niger, Agadez, the legendary gateway to the desert, has become a transit city for many migrants trying to reach Libya to cross the Mediterranean to Italy. Estimates vary, but it is estimated that between 80,000 and 150,000 people in 2015 crossed this hostile and arid desert zone in northeastern Niger to reach Europe. Most of them are young men, sometimes very young, from Cameroon, Senegal, Gambia or Guinea. They mostly pass through Agadez, the last major city to the north, but also localities in Kawarian, before starting their journey through the desert to reach the Libyan coast. Abandoned by tourists, what was once called the Pearl of the Desert, Agadez now houses hundreds of migrants crammed into small houses on the outskirts of the city or ghettos. There they wait for days or even weeks before they can board the next pick-up on their way to the Libyan border at dusk and continue their journey. Or go home when they run out of money.
Illegal migrants give poignant testimony,
Bernard Katam, a 28-year-old Cameroonian, has been stuck in Dirkou (400 km from Agadez) for 2 months. He is now waiting for his family to send him money to negotiate a seat in a truck and travel the 1,000 kilometers to the Libyan border. Fall Mbaye, a 24-year-old Senegalese from Casamance, has been stranded for 1 year and 6 months in Chirfa (850 km from Agadez); he lives in a makeshift hangar near a gold panning site where he works and hopes to earn money to continue his journey to European eldorado. My family has lost its agricultural land and with it all means of subsistence due to the armed conflict between the rebels, who demand independence, and the army. I hope to go to Italy and find a job that will allow me to meet my family’s needs, he testifies, looking far away. Agbani Juliette, a young Nigerian migrant, met in a ghetto. Dirkou is bitter: I left Jos (Nigria), 8 months ago; I took all my savings, I borrowed money from my relatives to make this journey which I hope will lead to a better life. At the moment I am overwhelmed by hunger, cold and anticipation. We live here hidden in ghettos, locked inside without the bathroom, she adds. According to her, the leader of the ghetto brings them a bag of rice every other day and some water to drink. If we want to wash, we have to pay extra. Six people share the plate to eat. There is only one toilet. Many of us sleep outside because we can not stay in the rooms due to the heat and lack of air, Juliette explains on the verge of tears. She continues: I left my country because at home there is no work. I know it’s risky I’ve seen the news on television about the deaths in the Mediterranean, the instability and the lack of work and the violence in Libya. But many people, women and even children, managed to overcome these obstacles and it gave me hope. My dream is to go to Germany. I learned that we are finally leaving tonight at 21.00. I will succeed and I will go all the way, Juliette exclaims, deciding against all odds. As for Isidore Konan, he says his family managed to raise 400,000 francs by selling cattle and working as day laborers in the countryside. I spent a year preparing for this trip. At the moment I do not have much on me, but I plan to work with truck use to get money and continue my journey to Europe, Konan hopes. The 30-year-old Sudanese Fatiya Goudous stares at the wall and shrugs and sighs, saying: I am a member of my large family and it is my responsibility to provide for my family. I am the third migrant in my family, the first two have been successful in Europe and regularly send things to the family; so now my family has attached a great deal of hope to me, a familiar refrain among the young people they share the ghetto with, where a young man sleeps in one of the ghetto’s bedrooms. There is no bed, only a few mats, and many have to sleep even on the floor. Many interviews also condemn violence and bribery in transit countries, especially in Burkina Faso and even in Niger. Here, as elsewhere, the police stop the buses, identify the migrants and make them get off. They take your phone and everything of value; moreover, they make you pay between 1,000 3,000, even 5,000 FCFA, and if you can not pay, they threaten to block you from letting the bus run, complains Ghanaian Fatahu Kwana. Every Monday night, the trucks drive to Libya. They leave the city, in the middle of the night, with all the lights off and sink into the desert at full speed. The smugglers provide neither food nor water to the migrants, who must be careful not to fall asleep or fall off the overloaded trucks and die; their only support is the sticks that the illegal immigrants travel in the vehicles as seat belts. Ready to depart, another migrant testifies: I bought a 5-liter can of water with what I had left (1,000 CFA) to cross the desert. The trip lasts two days in the back of the truck and they never stop for any reason. Staying here costs me 500 CFA a day. I am now waiting for my family to send me money to continue to Libya. Over there I will have to work to earn the money I need to take a boat to Spain.
By Mahamadou Diallo