Europe is not an absolute heaven and not all that glitters there is gold. People would say it is a great place but the reality does not measure up to what we have heard and saw.
“We knew the journey was risky but still we embarked on it. But there are things in our country which make us take this journey. We don’t care what will happen. I am happy today because I am one of the lucky ones who survived. We spent seven days in the Mediterranean Sea. Many people have died, some people fainted, we ran out of water and we ran out of food. Also we ran out of petrol. We ran out of everything, we were hopeless in the sea, the wind was just taking us from one point to the other,” this is a horrific quotation of unfortunate immigrant whom I had an encounter with during my little research on this theme. Even though he requested anonymity, he allowed me to indicate that he was deported back to The Gambia and he is currently doing a self-initiated business.
His story is dreadful. Devastated by unemployment in his motherland, he decided to start the risky journey to the ‘promised land’, aware of the dangers which would await him along the way, and separating him from his wife and two children without knowing if he would ever return. A man’s difficult situation they say, confines him in a struggling mood to find a better breeze of live.
For the past years, the perilous journey made headlines in Gambian newspapers as boats carrying immigrants capsize every now and then, killing hundreds of Gambians and other nationals.
Deaths are often due to dehydration, lack of food, inexperienced boat captains and adverse weather conditions and boat overloading. Even passengers that survive the crossing are still at risk. Hoping to avoid detection, smugglers often throw their passengers overboard as they reach shore. Unable to swim, many passengers drown in sight of land.
Italy has long been a gateway into Europe. Merely a transit point, many people use it to pass through to Northern European countries.
In 2014, The Mediterranean crossing from African to Europe was described as ‘the most lethal route in the world’ by the UN agency for refugees.
For many African asylum-seekers and refugees, crossing the Mediterranean Sea can be viewed as the biggest challenge they must undertake to reach the ‘promised land’. Though the journey is cut short for some, a new beginning emerges for others.
Not just being risky, the journey is also expensive. Migrants pay their smugglers hundreds thousands of dalasis for the journey. Sadly enough, the money is acquired by selling family life sustaining acquisitions such as land, houses, goats, cows and even bank overdrafts sometimes.
The decision to migrate may be fuelled by a multitude of motivations. Although The Gambia is making momentous economic gains, it is broadly struggling to translate these gains into sustainable livelihoods for all of its youth. Disturbed by social and economic disparities, many youths seek out new opportunities across the Mediterranean.
To understand all of this, we must begin by finding out what pushes an individual to leave their home and family, to spend their savings, risk their lives in the desert and at sea, to face the unforeseen, to suffer isolation, exploitation, to undergo humiliation, to move across hostile countries, in a journey that has no sure duration for a dream that often turns to tragedy.
Another immigrant I spoke to, is 25- year old boy. He recalled a ‘terrific’ moment they encountered while arriving in Libya. “When we landed in Libya things only got worse. I made it across the border with fourteen boys and two girls, all of us jaded from days without good food and the terrifying trip we had just experienced. We were told to get to this small desert town but on the way five armed men captured us. We thought they were border guards. It wasn’t until the torture began that we realized they were outlaws.
He added that they demanded for ‘ransom’ if they are to continue with their journey, leading them to phone back home for the money the armed men they demanded for their release.
“I paid them almost D75,000 for my release but we had to go through some harsh moments which am still recovering from.”
Many smugglers make unrealistic promises to migrants about the kind of lives that they may be able to have abroad. For migrants who do decide to hire the services of a smuggler, the road to Italy is a perilous one, and migrants are especially vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse throughout many points along their journey. If caught and arrested, they may be detained for months, and unless they can afford a ticket home, have little hope of release.
The cost of a trip to Italy averages several hundreds of thousands of dalasis, depending on the distance and difficulty of the route, the level of institutional control over the route and on the transit and destination countries’ response to the migrants’ arrival. It may take years to complete, as many remain in transit hubs along their route to work to afford the next leg of their trip. As a result, many migrants are ‘stuck’ in towns along the way to the coast. In addition to exorbitant prices, migrants endure perilous conditions.
Furthermore, even if they do reach the Italian shores, migrants have to endure long, strenuous processing procedures and face deportation if they are not found to be genuine refugees.
The search for better live has made this youths to lose their sense of reasoning, the only thing on their mind is that they will succeed and change their stories to success.
Sadly, parents who have a role to play in guiding and giving direction to their children are not leaving up to these expectations rather they contribute to the predicaments of this generation. They want their children to be like that of other families at all cost. It is often argued that societal or peer group pressure help to motivate an individual but this is not always the case. The truth is that, it makes them to work beyond their limit and when the pressure is not managed properly, the result is frustration.
Unfortunately, many souls have been lost and family lineages have been wiped out as result of death of their heir through this journey.
The thousands of Gambian youths are not exception to this law of nature, as the economic situation in their country has forced most of them to embark on a perilous journey to Europe in search of greener pastures.
Economically, massive migration from our country to Europe indicates loss of potentials since communities and developmental sectors in the country fail to benefit from what young people can contribute.
Our youths are continuously risking their lives and small fortunes to find economic relief in Europe so the country’s authorities should give them a reason (s) to stay if they want to cut down the rate of this unfortunate migration.
Finally, youth migration in The Gambia is as old as the Kunta Kinteh and no sector in the country should claim innocence of this act. And to the potentials immigrants thinking of embarking on the perilous journey, I hope this article will convince you to stay despite all odds as the dignity of human life should not be compromise for any struggle on earth.
Written by Saikou Suwareh Jabai,
Journalist and Executive Director of The Legacy.