By Aminu Mohammed
This article was inspired by a post that I read on the Facebook page of Dr Muhsin Ibrahim, where he cautioned our youth against embarking on a perilous journey that may lead to their untimely death. However, while going through the comments, I was actually shocked by a statement made by someone who insisted on travelling to Europe through the Sahara Desert, despite warnings by the writer.
Of course, I know that life is tough in Nigeria, and many youths are jobless and hopeless. The high level of insecurity is worrisome in the North, as people are being hacked down to death daily without any concrete intervention from the security agencies. The deprivation is glaring on the streets all over the North, and people are looking for a way out. However, I will always advise people to travel legally anywhere or otherwise stay at home if they do not have the financial capacity to do so.
During my stint as a journalist in Sokoto a few years ago, I have written many articles about human trafficking and illegal migration. Unfortunately, this is a big business for many people in villages around the Illela local government area of Sokoto. Illela is a border town between Sokoto and Qoni in the Niger Republic. People are trafficked through these villages with the connivance of some youth in the villages. These nefarious people in the villages assist these illegal migrants by transporting them with motorcycles to the Niger Republic in order to evade immigration officers at the Illela border, who may likely prevent them from entering the Niger Republic en route to Libya and finally to Italy and other European countries.
Let me make it clear that life is not a bed of roses here, and the streets of Europe are not paved with gold. People don’t pick money on the streets. You have to work very hard to earn money. Although the government makes efforts to ensure a good life for the citizens, there are homeless people and beggars in Germany, the wealthiest European country. It is not a paradise as many of you may think or imagine in your dreams.
Life in Europe is akin to slavery for people without legal documents. First, life is tough here without legal documents. You cannot get accommodation, open a bank account, work, or visit the hospital without a resident permit. My first time at a clinic to see the doctor in my city, I was asked to present my residence permit and health insurance card; otherwise, I won’t be able to receive treatment. Thus, I presented my documents, which they quickly confirmed before treating me.
Many young men are being lured by the success stories of those who travelled illegally to Europe through the Sahara Desert in the past and believed they too could achieve success if they endure tribulation and go through pains. Although not all those who follow the pathway of illegal migration end up in agony, most live as enslaved people here.
Of course, I know and have met some of them who came to Europe through the Sahara Desert and Libya and are doing well here. For example, I know a Hausa guy from Kano State who lives in my city with his family and owns a clothing shop. He told me gory tales about his movement from Sokoto to Agadez in the Niger Republic and the perilous journey through the Sahara Desert to Libya, which lasted eight days. He spent about one year in Libya doing menial jobs before he summoned the courage to cross the Mediterranean with a boat carrying many people to the island of Lampedusa, Italy, 11 years ago.
According to this Kano guy, they took the boat early in the morning from Libya and were rescued at noon by coast guards who later ferried them in their boats to Lampedusa. He subsequently left Italy for Germany eight years ago and is now a legal resident here. He speaks fluent German and carries out his business diligently.
A few of them in my city came through that perilous route and are now established in Germany, doing meaningful jobs while contributing to the country’s economy. But their trajectory may not be the same as yours as everybody has his own destiny and luck. So many people have died in the Sahara Desert even before reaching Libya, while some have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, yet our youth are still not deterred despite such deaths.
The fact of the matter is that many people who came through the illegal route are wallowing in misery and deprivation. Most of them are trapped in refugee camps scattered in most cities across Germany. I have been to the refugee camp in my city twice and witnessed how these people live. It is a kind of glorified prison, though they can still go out and even work illegally without the knowledge of the authorities. They do “black jobs”, which are very low-paid jobs that do not require documents and are usually paid directly after their labour but not through the banks.
I met a Ghanaian last year whose name is Idrissa. He left the refugee camp in Munich, the southern part of Germany and is now hiding in my city doing menial jobs. According to him, he feels terrified whenever he sees the police and usually gets scared of commuting by public bus or train for fear of being arrested. Unfortunately, this is the type of life those with illegal documents live here. In fact, at the peak of the Corona pandemic last year, this Ghanaian could not get vaccinated because no hospital would vaccinate him due to a lack of legal documents.
Some of these illegal immigrants, desperate to get legal documents for them to be able to work, get entangled with old German women that are old enough to be their grandparents under the guise of marriage and are treated as slaves. Of course, the German women are aware that they want them only because of their residence permit and make sure they go through excruciating pains.
I decided to write this article in order to alert our youths on the dangers of travelling to Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. If your dream is to travel to Europe, then try to go through the legal way. You can go either through the study route, a scholarship or a job based on your skills. I know that many people get jobs with the skills they acquired in Nigeria, such as doctors, nurses, engineers, and those in data science and information technology, among others. Travelling legally is the only way to move freely without humiliation abroad due to a lack of legal documents. May Allah make things easy for all of us, amin.