“As community mobilizers, we work in teams of two and each team goes to a couple of ghettos every week. Sometimes there are twenty people in the ghetto, sometimes one hundred. We tell people who we are and what we do, and then inform them about the dangers of irregular migration. They often say: “Ok, you’ve come to our ghetto to inform us about the dangers of this route, but have you ever tried it yourself?” So I tell them my story.
I left Niger for Libya in 1991 without any papers and traveled part of the way in a gas tanker. I spent the next 18 years in Tripoli, where I learned Arabic and worked as a mechanic. Everybody is looking for work there. If you don’t have any money in Libya, you’re either a dead man or you become a criminal. I had a girlfriend in Libya, but we could never get married. If people even saw us together, they would have killed me. They say we are Muslim brothers, but that’s just the mouth talking, not the heart.
Back in my day, you could travel somewhat regularly. Nowadays, the drivers exchange passengers as if they were prisoners. Before, they would pick up 10 to 15 people and be satisfied with the load, but now they are greedy and they take 100 people instead -- imagine how these people travel, all squeezed in the back of a small pick-up truck. When I left, we reached Libya in 7 days. We would stop at night to have dinner, go to sleep, wake up in the morning and continue the trip. But now they sometimes drive all the way with no stops; you don’t see any villages or get any water for days at a time.
I’ve made Libyan friends and they often call and tell me to come back, but when I left, I told myself I would never go back. Even if Libya was next door to Agadez, I wouldn’t want to go back. Too many people die there. When I got back to Agadez, I started working in the uranium mine, got married and had a family. When they closed down the mine three years ago, I started working with IOM.
You go to the ghettos and you realize people don’t even know how long it takes to reach Italy by boat. They think they’ll reach the other side in a couple of hours. Every time I leave a ghetto and a migrant decides to go back home, I feel content. We leave them our contact details and they often come by themselves to the orientation office or transit centre in Agadez. It’s a dangerous job at times, but most of the community mobilizers grew up here. We have known the ghetto leaders since we were little, so people trust us. They know we just want to inform others.”
Photo credit: IOM/Monica Chiriac