by Iddrisu Wari
Founder of CEHDA
Potential migrants in Sub-Saharan countries often do not know much about the situation in Europe. For them, they cannot imagine that things will be difficult here. That is how I thought before I left, and it is still the way the people I meet are thinking. I arrived in Barcelona in 2001 after travelling from my village in Ghana by road, passing through Niger, Algeria, Libya and Morocco.
As soon as I could, I set up my organization, CEHDA. To begin with, we worked to support Africans living in Barcelona. Then, I started travelling back to Ghana and talking to people about what things are like in Spain. Then, I extended my work to include migrants in North Africa. If you ask me whether the problems in Europe and in North Africa affect the people’s decisions to move, I will tell you ‘no, not really’. When they are making decisions, people are not thinking that there may be problems in Spain, and they do not know about the problems in North Africa. They are thinking about their own situation and how to make it better. And they have an idea of Europe.
They are making very dangerous journeys to get here. Sometimes I meet people from Ghana in North Africa, even those who have already made unsuccessful boat crossings, preparing to cross again. They can’t even think to go back. Some of them decide to stay in North Africa. The problems we encounter along the way and also in Europe change our perception about Europe and affect us physically and mentally.
In this chapter, I want to emphasize the situation for the people that do not arrive in Europe due to difficulties or are deported, and to examine the support given to them by organisations. I also want to show how African people, after many years in Europe, are unemployed and without resources, and may be looking for new possibilities to survive or looking to return to our countries.
In March 1998 I took the money that I had to pay for the school fees. I took my bag and left my home. I went to Bolgatanga and then to Burkina Faso. From Burkina Faso I went to Niger, and it was in Niger that I became stranded. And I called my friend, I was calling and calling but no one was answering.
But still, nothing could stop me, because I had it in my head that I would be able to make four hundred dollars an hour. I didn’t mind what happened, because I knew that I had to get to this destination. When this gets into your brain, you can never change it. Even if someone is dying on the way, you see it, but you say, “Yeah, that is his destination. My destiny doesn’t match with his destiny.” The decision is how to get to where you want to be. I was crying when I was there. I was thinking about my friend who hadn’t come to help me out. I only realized it was a lie he gave me when I got to Libya. Before, I thought maybe he was working, maybe he was busy.
From there I had to make my way by car and by foot. This included many dangerous situations. When I finally met with the friend who had gone before me, he said he’d never have believed I would have made it to Libya. I reminded him of the cassette he’d given me, the photos. I told him they’d influenced me and made me stop my studies. He denied that he had sent anything. From then, he was trying to be so good. He collected me and took me to Tripoli. From there, I started to work.
And I told him that I had found an address from Ghana. You find along the way that people write their own stories on a stone. It’s like, you open that pen and take a stick and write a story and put a telephone number. He’d put a message to call that number and say that he was dead and he had been here and he was dead because of this issue. So if you could please send a letter to my family or call this number and tell my family I am no more. He had done that before he passed away. I think they must have buried him and put this stone on his grave. You find a lot of that along the way. When I saw that I was moved. I started to think of my family, how I was with my father. My father was sick. I was thinking about my brothers and sister. I was thinking how a lot of things happen. But I lost that number.
Then one Friday (Friday was a holiday, so no one works on a Friday) he went out and he told me he’d seen a boat that was leaving. He said we should try and get on it. We paid one thousand or one thousand and five for the boat. I wrote to my sister and I said, ‘This date I take the boat. If you don’t hear from me in three months then something happened.’
Life was a struggle against the law. They just like documents. They ask for papers, papers, until we asked somebody, “What is a paper?” You find a job and they just say you need a paper to work. We don’t really understand what paper means. So we asked one of the people, “What is a paper? – because we go to a restaurant to ask for job and they say ‘paper.’” They laughed: “Paper is the documents.” He showed his ID card and he said, “This is the paper.”
Then I started to organize people coming to the church to have the [Spanish language] classes. One day we are just meeting, planning, deciding what to do. And they said that this place you are living, nobody knows your situation. The only thing to call attention to the situation is to demonstrate and one of the best ways to demonstrate is to make a hunger strike.
Reworked for a blog post by the co-editors of Understanding Migrant Decisions, Belachew Gebrewold and Tendayi Bloom.
Read other blog posts by the co-editor of this series, Tendayi Bloom