On hearing about the deaths off the Italian island of Lampedusa last month, I was struck by the prescience of these words. Yasin, who made the comment, was Eritrean, like many of those who died. He made the same journey and survived.
In Britain the term “illegal immigrant” is used to describe people who break immigration laws, but in popular culture and action it is a catchall phrase often denoting poor migrants, stateless people, and refugees.
A man seeks asylum in the UK. The UK Border Agency does not believe the potential refugee is from where he says he is. What does the UKBA do? Calls in government officials from said country to interview the person fleeing from them. Welcome to Britain 2013.
Flowing from Bulgaria to the Aegean Sea, the River Evros forms a natural border between Greece and Turkey. At night the shallow waters and islands provide a lifeline for the migrants and asylum seekers using the river as a passage into Europe. Many drown attempting to cross. Or they are deliberately pushed back by EU border patrol. A Syrian refugee tells his story.
Gladys, a young dental nurse from Zimbabwe, is just one typical victim out of thousands, whose liberty depends on the caprice of the UK border agency’s decision-making.
An Iraqi Kurd peeps out from under a pile of blankets on a wet pavement. “OK you journalist,” he says. “Tell me where are the human rights in Europe?”
Abdarrazaq’s family is bewildered. They cannot understand why he lives in a hostel or why he does not have a job. After all, he is in Europe. Back home in Somalia, he earned $500 a month as a teacher, a salary that supported his wife, three sisters and mother. For two years he saved to fund his migration to Europe.
At first glance Palermo appears dark and unwelcoming. By day the Sicilian city is full of Italians bustling about their business, past the migrants selling tat on street corners, a stark reminder of not just of the country’s clandestine migrant population. At night women traf¬ficked from sub-Saharan Africa live out their night¬mares, while the city looks the other way.
Europe is El Dorado for clandestine migrants arriving from Africa. Many survive journeys spanning thousands of miles across the harshest terrain, sustained by the vision of a golden continent of freedom and work. But for those who step off the ferry in Sicily, just 145km from the continent they have left behind, how long does Europe, the gilded continent, retain its’ shine?
Before the Arab Spring, before the Tunisian people rose up in anger, Lampedusa was silent. The stream of sub-Saharan African refugees and migrants who once used the sleepy island as a port of entry to Europe have disappeared. For the Italian island’s 6,000 inhabitants, visitors are once again moneyed tourists and not destitute explorers.
Mention CETI to a taxi driver anywhere in Ceuta and he will know what you mean. Everyone in Ceuta knows about the immigration removal centre perched upon a steep hill overlooking the sea. The conditions are humane, even inviting, compared to similar immigrant-holding centres elsewhere in Europe. This is why the migrants call it a ‘sweet prison’.
Rocky is the epitome of the torment that afflicts irregular migrants across Europe. The perils of returning home for asylum seekers are clear, whether it is persecution, death or torture, and it is a sensible assumption that for ordinary migrants no such danger exists. Yet, for many who begin as labour migrants, the thought of return is equally incomprehensible.
The blackened, skeletal bodies of dead men scattered across the Sahara desert is a haunting image. Their empty eye sockets and stiff, scorched limbs belong to a horror film. One of the dead men is frozen in a prayer-like position, on his knees, torso horizontal, arms splayed in front of him, forehead touching the sand. An asylum seeker who escaped this fate, captured the desperate scene on his mobile phone.
A better life? The European Union’s other problem France – part III Many asylum seekers and migrants intent on getting to Britain set up camps close to the ferry ports and lorry depots along the northern coast of France. The camp I visit is just off a busy motorway in Teteghem, a town outside Dunkirk. Motorists speed by the vast stretch of forest, unaware of the chaos and desperation festering nearby. The forest provides the barest shelter for a group of Afghan men, who share four flimsy tents made with bits of wood and thick plastic sheets. A makeshift living…
A better life? The European Union’s other problem France – part II The large decrepit factory stands tall but offers little by way of shelter. There are scraps of rusted metal and an assortment of garbage strewn over the concrete floor. The roof’s gaping holes, smashed windows, and missing doors mean the rain and wind will always get in. Everyone in Calais calls the building Africa House because it is where the town’s transient population of sub-Saharan African migrants and asylum seekers live. About 100 men reside in Africa House, most hail from Sudan and Eritrea. Other squats exist, dotted…
Everyone thinks Europe is like heaven,” says Sharaf. “Since I put my leg in Europe I suffer. Since I left my country two years and three months ago. I didn’t sleep on the bed. I don’t think that I am in Europe.”
Reading through my notes and transcribing the interviews from my trip earlier this year, I was struck again and again at the bleakness of life for many undocumented migrants in Europe. It pains me that in debates on immigration, the reality and sheer misery of life for the poorest migrants is never discussed. I am a journalist, not an activist. While I hold certain values dear, I write to inform, rather than persuade. But I would like people to read my work on migration to Europe, and for the facts I have uncovered to inform their thinking on immigration. This…
Jan/Feb 2011 In 2008 nearly 40,000 migrants entered Europe through Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean with a population of 6,000. During this period people migrating from all over Africa chose to enter Europe via Italian and Spanish islands in the Mediterranean, despite the deaths at sea of the thousands who had come before them. At this time Lampedusa had also gained a reputation for its overcrowded reception centres – in one centre 1,800 people shared a space meant for 850 – and chaotic immigration administration. Like several other European countries, Italy’s panicked reaction to irregular migration often…
Mohammed Sultan arrives in the Greek border town of Soufli early one cold January morning. His eyes are sad and downcast, his feet and trousers covered in mud and he can barely walk. Dragging his leg heavily he asks, “If I go to the police station, will they deport me?” The 38-year-old left his wife and children in Palestine and paid nearly $2,000 to get to Europe. He and his friend Ahmed crossed the River Evros the day before in an inflatable boat with eight other people. Then they walked all night through forests and fields till they came to…
The Frontex operation is slick; policemen in military observation towers monitor the area with thermal vision cameras. If they see any migrants, they radio officers on the ground. They are reluctant to talk on the record about their work, but one Frontex officer says that if any migrants are spotted, they are “prevented” from crossing. How?