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African migrants in Europe face disillusionment 2

GERMANY – They set off on dangerous roads, abandoning their homeland and crossing first the Sahara and then the Mediterranean on board handmade rafts. Once they reach Europe, African migrants end up behind the walls of centres for asylum seekers. Condemned to living in uncertain, overcrowded conditions, always in fear of being deported. They survive day by day. With little success and few hopes. Charles Nforgang’s report.

Their days are marked by the comings and goings taking place in the asylum seekers centre they live in the suburbs not far from the business centre of a German city. Many of them are moneyless and the few euros they have left are spent in the cybercafè from which they send news of their whereabouts to friends and relatives or search for online encounters that could change their lives. Once the sun goes down they leave the magical internet world to go to the city’s hotspots in the vain hope of finding a kindred spirit or a good Samaritan.

They are Gambian, Togolese, Somali, Guinean, Cameroonian, all escaped from Africa to conquer fortress Europe. They have left their countries without a visa and with no kind of legal residency papers. There are those who, like Alain, it took two years to travel from Cameroon to Europe.

Welcome to hell

Musa, who is Nigerian, crossed six countries before crossing the German border. At 35 he already has grey hair. “Its because of the adventure and stress that I have lived with every day since I left my country”. For some time he has suffered from a strange illness that forces him to stay away from any kind of electronic apparatus. “Every time I get close to one I get an electric shock, it’s like being electrocuted”.

After leaving Nigeria in 2008 he stopped off in Niger. In just a few months working in Niamey and Agadez he was able to save enough money to cross the desert and reach Tripoli. He then tried to reach Europe through Morocco, passing through Ceuta and Melilla, but couldn’t cross the border. He returned to Libya where after four months he boards a raft headed for Lampedusa. The crossing was successful but he had to wait for a year in Sicily before being able to travel up through Italy and into Germany. “Today I am so ill that I am more worried about my health than about making a life for myself in Europe. If the Germans could cure me and send me back to Nigeria I would be for ever grateful”.

“Somalia isn’t Senegal”

Hamza aims for a different future. He is Somali and is convinced he has reached his final destination. “Arriving in Germany was hell, I will live my life here”. Hamza decided to leave Somalia the day his father was killed in the centre of Mogadishu, the capital city. “It was in 2009, I took a flight for Damascus and made my way into Turkey after a strenuous 12 hour hike through the forest”. Once in Turkey he was arrested and put in prison for 30 days. As soon as the Turkish police let him go he headed for northern Greece aboard a raft.

As soon as he landed in Europe he was sent to prison, where he remained for two weeks. “The arrests were always for the same reason: illegal immigration”. But Greece wasn’t his final destination, just a country of transit on his way through Macedonia, Serbia, Austria and finally, Germany. “I walked into Macedonia but in Skopje the Macedonian police arrested me and sent me back to Greece”.  There he spent a year as a petty thief. “In the end I made it to France and then Germany. They arrested and put me in prison and here I am today, in this centre”. He is convinced that the German government will not deny him refugee status. “They know where I am from, Somalia isn’t Senegal”.

Like Hamza, the illegal immigrants arriving in Germany have to face the police who, after a routine identity check arrest them and send them to the refugee centres for asylum seekers. In the centre I spent time in disguised as a refugee the migrants are cramped – six or eight per room – and sleep in iron beds. No radio, no television, they fill their time with conversation and sleep. Twice a week they receive food vouchers to eat at the canteen, where the food is  barely edible. “Here we eat to survive, not for pleasure” says Uche, a Nigerian. “80 per cent of what they offer us is foreign and isn’t part of our normal diets but we have no choice”.

Living in these conditions, asylum seekers in Germany have become very charitable towards each other. Unlike  other European countries, here the sans papiers swap and share everything., from cooking utensils to cigarette stubs, medicines, clothes and money is even collected to pay whoever tidies up the room. This kind of solidarity is even more common among migrants originating from the same country or region or who speak the same language. It is not uncommon to find preachers either.

God, wedding and friends

The asylum seekers here visit four different Evangelical churches, not because they love God but because they hope they might find a woman willing to marry them, which would mean a guaranteed visa. “All is allowed when searching for the Grail” says Stanley, a Nigerian. “An illegal immigrant can’t afford the luxury of missing out on opportunities, even those that might present themselves in an Evangelical church”.

Stanley’s story offers another glimpse of the odyssey lived by illegal immigrants in Europe. Nigerian of origin, he arrived in Germany for the first time with a fake name, pretending to be a citizen of Sierra Leone. “At the time it was far easier to be granted refugee status if you were from Sierra Leone. But a lung infection forced me to return to Nigeria because the Germans didn’t want to look after me”. He waited for another six years before trying again. “I chose Norway because I knew that there were very lung doctors there”. While he waited to receive refugee status, Stanley managed to get by in Oslo with short term, under the table jobs.

Stanley and the EURODAC system

“But one day the Norwegian police arrested me. They had been following me for a while”. In prison he discovered that his fingerprints had been found on the EURODAC system, the European database based in Luxembourg that collects the fingerprints of all people seeking political asylum and who entered into Europe illegally. “Because Germany was my first point of entry, Germany was the country that had to deal with my request”.

Like all the other candidate-refugees, Stanley receives 41 euros to call his relatives or buy soap, toothpaste or clothes. But most people spend the money they receive on alcohol and cigarettes. “Drinking and smoking help me to deal with the stress and to forget about the horrible conditions I live in”, says Hamza. After all it took some of the refugees six years to get into Germany, without any kind of guarantee that they would eventually be allowed to stay legally. Many of them sold everything they owned, others are in a lot of debt. “I had to sell my business and borrow 3 thousand euros to get to Europe” says Hamza. Today I receive 50 euros a month and I am forced to stand in line for my food. What kind of a life is it?”.

Another thing illegal migrants have to think about is what story to make up to be granted refugee status. Often people are sent back to Africa because most asylum seekers are actually economic migrants who have no political reasons whatsoever for leaving but are simply looking to improve their quality of life.  As they await authorization to stay in Europe, some illegal immigrants end up selling drugs or becoming prostitutes. “After all the risks we have been through to get here, it is the lesser evil” says Abou, a huge Gambian. “There are very few alternatives”.

By Charles Ngah Nforgang –

Charles Nforgang is a Cameroonian journalist. In 2010 he won the 3rd prize in the “Africa” section of Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize.

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  1. cabdiqani says:

    hello my name abdiqani iam from somalia then icame iran then iam tarvilling by,car broard bteween tukrey and iran iwas walking two days then police arrest me in one month so please help me

  2. hary999 says:

    join this african diaspora and stay tuned with africa on this

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