Photo credit: IOM/Monica Chiriac
“My brother came back to Guinea after spending one year in Italy, and bought himself a branded car. I wanted the life he had. I got a passport and applied for a visa, but things didn't work out as planned so I had to find another way to get to Europe. When I left home, I had no idea what the route ahead of me would be like. Once in Bamako, I had to ask the smugglers what the way to Europe was, and they explained all the tips and tricks of irregular migration to me. Between Mali and Algeria, I was kidnapped and asked for money. The smugglers searched my bag, found my university diploma and my passport, and tore them apart in front of my eyes.
They locked me and my fellow travellers up for two weeks with no food. If your parents refused to send money, they would beat you up. After they released us, we continued our journey. We walked for three days straight without food or water, with no houses or villages in sight. Five people died, including a friend of mine. He couldn’t walk anymore so I put him on my shoulder and walked some more. At some point, I stopped, I cried and left him there.
I told the group I was with that we needed to follow the antennas and find the main road. Cars would stop from time to time and give us some water or pieces of bread. One man told us to get in his car, and that he would drop us off in the nearest village. On the way, we realized he was actually taking us to Tamanrasset to sell us. Once there, different smugglers asked for 10,000 francs each in exchange for our freedom. Half of the group managed to pay and was released; the other half stayed behind.
I told the people I was with it that I was determined to make it to Italy, that it was a matter of life or death. They decided to follow me. We managed to get to Libya by bus and spent two weeks in Tripoli waiting to get on the boat to Italy. It was 4am on the day the smugglers loaded 300 people onto the boat. One of the passengers was designated as captain and taught how to navigate in a matter of minutes. There were so many clouds when we left, the wind was blowing and people were shaking. Many fell into the water as we were boarding - the smugglers called it a sacrifice.
Our boat capsized after 200 km and only half of the people survived. We were taken back to Tripoli and put in prison, and from there they moved us to a prison in Algeria. One day when the guards were serving food, I managed to escape. I started running, but I didn’t know where I was going. I was asking people for directions left and right, but no one spoke French. I finally found a young Arab girl who spoke French and frantically asked her the way back to Niger. She told me she would show me where to find my African brothers and hopped into a taxi with me. On the way there, I told her about everything I had been through as she listened carefully, and when I finished she started crying.
When we got to the ghetto, a big group was getting ready to leave for Tripoli. I started laughing when a 14-year-old Guinean boy told me he was going there. He said: “It’s a matter of life or death” and that 40 of their friends had succeeded in arriving in Italy the previous day. He asked me why I was laughing. I told him he would find out in a couple of months. I then told them everything I knew about the route and all the suffering I had been through. Some listened and changed their minds about leaving, others went ahead with their plan.
The girl was still there waiting for me when I finished. Once my father sent me some money, I wanted to pay her back, but she refused. She took me to a place where I could spend the night and came back to see me later that afternoon with juice and snacks. We talked about the future and irregular migration, about family and my reasons for leaving. She was surprised to hear I had a good university degree, but I had still decided to attempt this journey. People get encouraged by others on social media, but Facebook doesn’t show you the whole truth.”