My ‘back way’ story: “I saw dead bodies and would-be migrants with broken legs and arms”

Written by Anonymous

The back way

In October 1999, I started my journey from the provinces. I had only D2000 in my pocket, from selling two of my cows, which my father did not approve. He wanted me to stay in The Gambia and try my luck.

I went to Senegal with a boat, and I was with one man from Guinea Conakry. We stayed three nights and later took the train to Mali. We were in Bamako for a week.

We then travelled to Burkina Faso with a van, and stayed there two days - sleeping in the street.  We continued our journey to Niamey, Niger and there we had two options – either to travel to Algeria or Libya. We decided to go to Libya.

It was the most dangerous journey I had ever embarked on.  A Nigerian hooker was the only reason we had something to eat. She was selling her body, and helping us with food while we were sleeping in the streets. If not for her, we would have died there. This was in Durko, where we stayed one week. From there, we were able to get to Tripoli with a truck.

The trip took nine days. The Guinean man I was with collapsed many times during this trip. The truck was congested with would-be migrants; there was no room for all to sit down, and there was no sufficient water and food.

Our first day in Tripoli, the Libyans made it clear that we were not welcome. It was allowed for them to slap or beat us in the street. No one cared.

I witness an incident were a Senegalese man got beaten to death. They said he was staring at a woman. 

I met Gambians, who were forced to join the anti-Gaddafi rebels and militias. I worked as a cleaner in Tripoli and was once thrown in jail.

I stayed in Libya close to two years, before moving to Algeria.  It was also a very difficult journey. I was with ten other people in the car, and we had to sit on each other.  I left my Guinean friend behind.

We stayed in the bush for a week to prepare our Spain entry. I can remember, one Nigerian lady gave birth there.

We walked six days before reaching the Morocco-Spain border.  I was at the border for four months and made several attempts to enter. I got arrested and deported to Algeria.

In Algeria, I met a Gambian boy, and we decided to swim over to Spain. We collected empty 5-liter bottles to strap to our bodies. The first time we tried, they caught us in the water, and took us back to the border. We were very lucky that they didn’t kill us or send us to jail.

We made a second try, and after six hours of swimming we entered Spain.  Unfortunately, we were spotted by the Spanish Police. They maltreated us before handing us to their Moroccan colleagues.

They later released us and we had to live in the forest, like animals, for months.  I saw dead bodies and would-be migrants with broken legs and arms.

I decided to move to Rabat to look for a boat heading to Spain and there I met a Gambian who offered me tips and advices.

I lived in the streets of Rabat for two weeks, waiting on a boat-trip. The day I was going, we were fifteen in a small jeep and it took us two weeks to reach the harbor.  It wasn’t a smooth journey, because we were constantly avoiding the police.

The boat we took was like the small boats use for fishing in The Gambia, and we were close to 50 people in it.  After a very risky 12 hours, we were in Spain. We slept in the bush for a night before going to the refugee camp.

I applied for asylum, and was in the camp for 40 days.  Job opportunities were limited and with my refugee status it wasn’t easy.  It was after five years, I was issued a Spanish residence permit.

I want to share my story to let young Gambians understand that it is not easy to enter Europe through the ‘back way’. For me, it was like jahanama on earth.

The writer, who begged for anonymity, is now based in the Scandinava