Africa is still reeling over the drowning of over 200 migrants in the chilly choppy waters off the Libyan coast.
That these people were out hoping to make a quick buck in any of the countries in the west could have at best been imagined. That they were simply following the blazed trail of some relations of theirs cannot be ruled out.
No doubt they might have been led or rather misled by what others had written home about. The good life in Soho or the Red District in Paris, giving others back home that they’ve never had it so good.
But it is a sordid development. And unless things get better rather quickly, more repeats of the tragic incident cannot be struck off the scoreboard.
Sad though the recent episode was, there are dozens of underlining reasons why people would risk their lives in dug-out, rickety canoes to cross rough seas in the notion that they could slip into Europe to join the thousands of undocumented migrants sleeping in underground stations, bus terminals and live the lives of hermits.
Others taken in by their fellow nationals are often subjected to slave-like conditions, often threatened with being reported to immigration if they broke the ground rules and sometimes working in sweet shops on near-starvation wages.
It’s a dog’s life, one undocumented migrant tells me the other day, while reliving his sordid experience six years ago when he left Sierra Leone to make his way to Europe thinking he was headed for a better life.
As he recounted, he hopped on a commercial flight to Dakar, Senegal where it took him about two weeks to make contact with a skinny looking Senegalese called Le Figaro, after the French daily newspaper.
He was so called because he knew everyone or seemingly they say – and he could get anyone anywhere in Europe with a forged passport and visa if you are ready to pay the right price, which ranged from between 5 thousand dollars to 20 thousand dollars depending on the country you may wish to go.
Although nearly everyone cling to him as ants are to honey, yet few would be able to say what success rate, Le Figaro has achieved to make way for a good life for poor and excited undocumented migrants.
No one for instance had ever questioned why, if “Le Figaro” was so powerful he had never made any single trip abroad in his 38 years living in the suburb, rate and unsheathed infested area three hours drive south of Dakar.
Nobody cared that “Le Figaro” had gone in and out of jail many times on charges of duping unsuspected foreigners, selling off their genuine passports and other deals to the extent that a judge once called him “a national embezzler”. All people know about him is that he could get them to the good life in Western Europe.
In an episode that has a roll-off trapping of an adventurous movie; “Le Figaro” would fix you a place in one of the weekly sea shuttles that would slip out from a secluded creek under the cover of darkness into the raging sea.
It was like a ritual. Hired crowds of on lookers, some counting beads will chant Arabic songs intermingled with pauses of “Allah Akbar” as the overcrowded boat edged off, creaking under the strain.
“Good luck. I hope we don’t see each other again,” he would tell the anxious passengers in true sense of the word.
My Sierra Leonean pal who made the perilous trip some four times before he was successful said he saw death in many of the occasions starring him on the face – a sort of eyeball to eyeball situation he confessed.
Corpses of those who could not make it tossed into the seas, passengers knifed in unprovoked fights among fellow travellers who had gone temporarily mad because they can’t take the stress much longer.
Pressed on to say what routes were followed, my pal retorted, “I wouldn’t want others to undertake such rights. If I had my way one more time, I would live my life another way.”
Slipping into Europe is just the beginning of the ordeal, he confessed. Dodging Police and in the case of Britain, the UK border patrol is the next step.
They would swoop in on factories and businesses on tip offs to check on the documents of foreign workers most times around midnight or the early hours of the morning.
Even travelling to your place of work is not a sure ball trip. You can be picked up on board trains, buses or even as you stroll along.
If you are caught up in a brawl, you are the number one suspect in any night club bash.
Those who died in the recent disaster must have, understandably dismissed these perils saying “it happens once in a blue moon”. But when such incidents do happens, it triggers the alarm bells as to whether others would take caution and give up.
But this is hardly the case for in today’s world; the hope for a good life often over shadows that of a possible disappointment.
Many of these undocumented migrants come from depressed communities whose family members would push them on to the cliff all in a bid that regular monthly support would be remitted.
But it does no longer holds true.
For the first time in more than a decade, Africa will probably see a falling back in remittance growth in 2009 because the world financial downturn is taking its toll on the earnings of those working resident in the United States, Europe or the Middle East.
So those sprinting themselves abroad, particularly the undocumented migrants need to think about the job market shrink in addition to punitive laws of hefty fines on factories and other work outlets that hire workers whose immigration papers are shaky.