This book describes the journey of Justice Amin from the village of Effiakuma in Ghana, West Africa to Italy, via the Sahara desert. At the end of his journey he leaves from Zuwarah, in the west of Libya, in a small boat with the intention of getting to Europe; he and his companions are finally rescued in the middle of the Mediterranean by the Italians and taken to the island of Lampedusa, from where he was allowed to travel to Italy. The author says that in 2008 Justice was living in Reggia Emilia in Italy and that he wants to eventually return to Ghana to marry.
Paul Kenyon uses the story of Justice’s journey to illustrate the exodus of Africans north to Europe, what is known as “doing lampa-lampa” in West Africa, seeking a promised land. Kenyon points out that up to 70,000 migrants pass through the town of Agadez, in Niger, each year. The International Organization for Migration says that in 2008 nearly 32,000 people crossed from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The numbers of young Africans seeking to migrate to Europe are immense, and many drown in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, or die of thirst in the wastes of the Sahara where their bodies lie like cordwood in the sands.
Apart from those leaving the Libyan port of Zuwarah in small boats, others gather in Nouadhibou in northern Mauritania, in 2005, 10,000 West African migrants waited there for boats, and in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, as well as in the city of Oujda on the Algerian border, where in 2005 an estimated 20,000 migrants from sub-Saharan African countries waited for an opportunity to cross over to Europe.
As Kenyon makes clear Europe is seen as a place where ordinary Africans can make good money, buy cars and have the lifestyle that they have seen on television. Many of the young men who set out are encouraged by their families, one of Justice’s early companions, Babs, says, “My parents, they collected money from everyone in the village so that I could travel. … Now they are waiting. Everyone is waiting. The money I send home will be shared by many.” All the way the travellers were exploited by people smugglers, and Justice was abandoned in northern Niger. Justice finally left Niger by walking into Algeria onto the plateau of the Tassili N’ Ajjer, on the third day Justice comes across the first body, as Kenyon says, “The copse was the first of many. Others they found resting in caves, or lying face down on sandy plains. Some were partially covered by sand, just their jackets or turbans flapping in the wind.” After seven days they reach the Libyan border, but shortly after entering Libya they were captured by the police and imprisoned and taken to Qatrun prison hundreds of miles inside the Libyan desert. He eventually escaped and reaches Tripoli where he worked butchering goats. Finally having saved hundreds of dollars he decided to buy a place in a boat heading for Europe and on the 22nd May 2007 he left Tripoli for Zuwarah. Justice paid some young Libyans $500 for his passage and was told that he would be taken out to a large ship in a small boat, which had no seats, no life-jackets and no provisions. The Libyans told the Africans, “Take everything from your pockets so we can see. If you take metal onboard it will affect equipment …. coins, rings, crucifixes, all were collected in a bag”, the Arab took the bag. Twenty seven Africans were squeezed onboard. Once they were underway the Libyan who had been steering jumped into the sea, leaving the Africans alone, heading north.
After days of fear and confusion, in a boat which lacked fuel to reach Europe, they were found ninety miles north of Libya hanging onto a tuna net pulled by a Maltese tug. They were rescued by an Italian Patrol Ship, the Orione, which took them to Lampedusa.
Kenyon ends by noting that the International Organization for Migration estimates that there are between 750,000 and a million African migrants waiting on the African coast for their chance to reach Europe.
I recommend this book, it covers an important issue that is rarely understood in Europe, which needs to act to counter the image of Europe as an attractive destination for migrant Africans.
Published in London by Preface Publishing, 2009 £16.99
Paul Kenyon is a BBC journalist