‘’If you travel irregularly and die, you will no longer be able to fulfil your dream’’ – James Johnson, Liberian migrant
James Johnson, a Liberian migrant, left his country in 2014 because he had a dream of pursuing quality higher education in Europe. With a diploma in Economics and Accounting from the University of Monrovia, 30-year-old James thought that once in Europe he could even work to save money for his studies. He decided to try to reach Italy by sea. To do this, James Johnson crossed Guinea Conakry, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Algeria before entering Libya.
“While checking your papers, and when they see you have crossed two or three countries, the soldiers start by asking you questions. They know you’re migrating, so you have money on you. They start asking you for big amount of money to allow you to continue your journey,” he narrates, explaining the difficulties encountered on the way.
Once in Algeria, with a Malian passport bought along the way, James managed to enter Libya and he settled in a ghetto.
James Johnson is very wise, so he decided to spend his first 23 days there getting as much information as possible to assess the risks of his upcoming journey.
Thanks to his good relations with the head of the ghetto, James was able to come and go as he pleased. He learned more about other ghettos and the process of leaving off the Libyan coast and the causes of shipwrecks.
The day before leaving for Italy, James heard some news that destabilised him: “I learned that a boat that had left in the morning had been shipwrecked. There were several hundred of them and they were all dead, leaving room for sadness, desolation, tears, etc. I analysed all this and decided to postpone my crossing.”
“I finally understood that heads of ghetto, smugglers and ghetto producers are accomplices with the police and there are too many parameters that migrants do not apprehend. That’s when I decided to temporarily abandon my trip,” he continued.
After spending more than two years in Tripoli, James returned to work in Algeria and stayed there for a year before deciding to return to Niamey by himself.
Now 35, he says he has given up the option of irregular migration, but does not plan to return to Liberia. “I got into debt to take my trip and the creditor is waiting for his money. In addition, I left my country to pursue quality higher education. So in Niamey, I’m trying to earn money to get a visa and travel legally this time,” he said.
James Johnson says that over the years, he has realised that it is true that conditions on the continent are difficult, but “it is not worth risking your life trying to cross the sea. If you travel irregularly and die, you will no longer be able to fulfil your dream,“ he says.
In addition to advising other young people who travel through the Niger desert, “I advise young people not to give in to prejudices and preconceived ideas, but to stay on the continent and find a way to pressure our authorities to improve our living conditions.”
Photo credit: Joe Therasakdhi/Shutterstock
Photo caption: Homeless person, Poverty issue