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Lampedusa: I would never have embarked on this adventure 0

Lampedusa (Italy) – His name is Ibrahim Sow, a.k.a. Mandy Kaporo-rails. From the beaches of Conakry where he used to make rap video-clips to the hot-spot center in Lampedusa, he spent 14 months traveling towards his final goal: Europe. In-between a dream and reality, someone put the Libyan hell. The result was a conviction: “If only I had known in Guinea that the trip would take place under these conditions, I would never have embarked on this adventure.”

“My name is Ibrahim Sow and my artistic name is ‘Mandy Kaporo-rails’. I am a versatile artist who sings reggae and rap in French and Pulaar, my native language, and dances. I was living in Conakry, in the Kaporo Rails neighborhood in the municipality of Ratoma. Unfortunately, I was forced to leave my city because of the ethnic tensions between the Peuls, the ethnic group to which I belong that has never ruled Guinea, and the Malinke, which is the group of the president. The Peul families in my neighborhood are routinely victims of vandalism. My father and I were imprisoned for no reason. I was released with the help of a friend who is a policeman, but I could not stay in Guinea.”

Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries that suffers from widespread extreme poverty and also lethal epidemics such as Ebola, which left the country on its knees in 2014-2015. Kaporo-rails decided to leave his country, tired of the political conflicts and ethnic tensions that changed his life.

When did you escape?

August 2015.

What do you remember about that moment?

The pain of leaving my family, friends, and land and the beginning of a very complicated adventure.

To leave one’s family and friends is painful, but I had no choice.

Where did that take you ?

To Mali and then to Burkina Faso. From there I went to Benin, Togo and then I returned to Benin, where I stayed for a year to earn some money as motorcycle-taxi driver and be able to continue my trip to Niger, one of the most popular transit countries.

From Africa we almost all go west to Algeria and from there to Libya.

What was the most difficult moment of your journey?

Libya, without a doubt: it was a living hell. Traffickers locked us up in a kind of courtyard in the middle of nowhere with no houses –nothing. We slept outside, had very little food and the water tasted like sea water. Every time the Libyans came to check on us, they beat us.

There were hundreds of us. They took everything: all the money we had in our pockets and our cell phones. All. Then there was the forced labor. They used to pick us up in the morning and force us to work all day long. We would come back to the courtyard in the evening, exhausted. We were never paid for this work.

What kind of jobs did you do?

Many things: collecting bricks for building homes, helping out at construction sites, and things like that.

But the police never intervened?

Has anyone ever seen the Libyan police intervene? Not me.

How long did you stay in Libya?

About four weeks. In Zabratha.

Were there many migrants?

Yes. It was full, mainly of Africans. In Libya, no one is spared from the abuse and suffering.

Who organized the voyage at sea?

A Libyan named Saga. That’s what they used to call him.

Did you ever meet him in person?

No: everything was ran by his intermediaries.

How much did it cost?

500 Euros.

The total cost to get from Conakry to Lampedusa?

From Conakry to Arlit, in Niger, I spent roughly € 100 for transport. I do not remember exactly how much I spent to enter Algeria: the Tuareg ask you for money all the time and travel conditions are harsh. I walked through the desert for part of the journey. I don’t remember how many detours we were forced to take. It was really hard.

Did you see migrants die during your trip?

No, but I witnessed the indescribable suffering.

Did you ever think to stop and go back? 

Of course! But after Agadez, you stop thinking about it.

Why?

Because there is no one willing to accompany you on the way back. How can you do it alone? It’s impossible. You have to go ahead: there are no alternatives.

How was the sea crossing?

We left at night. They put me in a car trunk: they do it on purpose to prevent you from seeing the streets they take to the sea. Once on the beach, the traffickers prepared a zodiac boat. They beat us and shot their guns in the air because some of us, who were terrified, did not want to leave.

When did you pay for the journey?

On arrival in Libya. They take everything you have, including your phone. If you do not have enough money, you have contact your entourage to ask for the sum needed to leave for Europe. Some people remain there for up to five months. Some are sold during their stay in Libya by different gangs of bandits, the so-called “Asma Boys”. Some end up in jail and some are even killed. I saw Libyans killing African migrants in the yard where they locked us up. Unfortunately, the police do nothing. I never saw the police intervene to protect us. Never!

How many migrants were on the zodiac?

Between 100 and 150. There were men, women and children.

What helped you resist all the way?

God and solid nerves: you have to keep your wits about you. You also need luck, especially in Libya where your life is worth nothing. At any time, even a kid can beat you and you cannot react. If you do, they’ll kill you.

Would you be willing to redo the journey you’ve undertaken?

If I had known in Guinea that the trip would have taken place under these conditions, I would never have embarked upon this adventure.

Doesn’t anyone in Guinea speak of these dangers? 

Some do, but the reality exceeds the imagination. One can’t imagine that it will be so hard. The alternative would be to stop in another African country, but the welcome is different than in Europe. There is no work and you do not feel safe. In Europe, if you get sick, they treat you. In Africa, they don’t. Immigrants’ rights are not respected. You are a second-class citizen.

By Joshua Massarenti

Source: Vita.it (Afronline’s publisher)

An interview realised with the support of Institut Panos Afrique de l’Ouest (IPAO), media partner of Afronline.org

Article translated and published by “Aware Migrants” project.

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