Blamed Hopes: Sub-Saharan African migrants fleeing to Europe intercepted in North Africa

By Ayesha from Sierra Leone, a refugee staying in southern Tunisia, a survivor of SGBV and trafficking in transit of the Mediterranean migratory pathways

In this post, I share the hopes and expectations of migrants en route to Europe. First, I note that waking up every day is a huge success in the life of many migrants who found themselves in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya. In my experience and that of many other forced migrants, Libya is the worst of all because migrants lose control over their lives, passing it over to the smugglers or men of ‘connections’ who take control over our lives. Indeed, some Africans sell out their own brothers and sisters for money. In hopelessness, the Muslims often say ‘alhamdulillah’. Christians say ‘praise be to God’.

I think the world looks at us as desperate, mad people and Europeans are unlikely to understand why we chose to risk our lives in migrant journeys. I would say that around 1 in 10 people living in Africa prefer to die trying to flee their homes than passively stay in their country. From what I heard in the news and social media, people mostly think that Africans run away from poverty. Indeed, around half of the youth may be going to Europe because of poverty. But what about the other half? In my observation, they flee because of issues related to their culture.

While European countries advance their economy and technology, alongside shifts in their cultural beliefs, in Africa – that I know of – our cultural beliefs rarely change. I doubt they will ever change.

First, some tribes, such as my tribe, make female genital mutilations (FGM) compulsory for every female. I have never seen a 15-year-old girl that had not been circumcised.

Second, it is a big abomination for a woman to have an intimate relationship with her fellow woman or a man with a man. If found guilty of bisexual relationships, he or she will be an outcast.

Third, political problems put the lives of those supporting a losing party in the elections at risk. Especially campaign managers are at a greater risk. Only close friends or relatives in the ruling party can help protect such persons from persecution based on political opinions.

As I recall, there are so many reasons to flee more than poverty. I was a successful business lady; I sold gold which I bought from the gold mining in my living area. I sold also used clothes. Sometimes I exchanged clothes, salts, sugar, groundnut oil for their local products like groundnut, coffee, cocoa, millet, rice, palm oil, kola nuts etc. In my community, I was considered a rich lady. Within my chiefdom, more than 50 villages, no single decision was taken by the elders (paramount chief and our members of parliament) without my engagement. I was also the student president, representing all the students in all the political parties.

If I did not fear losing my life, I would not leave my beloved family. My entire chiefdom used to see me as a hero, but when I refused to become the next ‘sowe’ (the leader of the FGM administration) to follow up my grandma’s tradition, my all community turned against me.

Once I was in Libya, amid horrifying exploitation and torture, I had no choice but to take a boat to Europe or become a slave. I estimate that only 1-in-5 migrants who pass through Libya are safe. Thus we see Europe as our land of freedom and hope that our communities will not reach us in a foreign land. Many other Africans stay in other countries in the Middle East, making a living, but as their work contracts terminate, they return home.

We are the people taking the route to Libya, having no plans of returning soon to their countries of origin. I shared some of the reasons why migrants leave their homes.