Baffour Amisare Dwomoh
Baffour Amisare Dwomoh

The desert journey to Europe

In Ghana and most parts of Africa, traveling abroad comes with so much prestige. People who return from abroad receive special respect in their families and in their communities. This is partly due to the fact that many of the people who are able to travel abroad come back home to live decent and comfortable lives—they build plush houses and buy cars.

It was based on this imagination that Baffour Amisare Dwomoh alias Romeo, at a tender age had in mind that he will one-day also travel abroad in order to live such a dream. And with many people from his village embarking on such journeys, his motivation continue to soar high.

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And with Romeo losing his parents at a tender age, the desire to travel abroad for greener pastures became more and more convincing. This is because the death of his parents made life very unbearable for him. He had to engage in many menial works to be able to fend for himself and his younger siblings. At a point, he became a tour guide at one of Ghana’s tourist destinations in the Bono East region— Tanoboase Sacred Grove, one of the highly visited tourist destinations in that region.

When growing up, Romeo dreamt of becoming either an engineer or a journalist. But as fate would have it, he could not acquire the needed education to enable him live his dream. He managed to complete basic school.

Romeo, now 28 years old, also never saw his father and had to be raised together with three other siblings by his mother single-handedly at Tanoboase in the Bono East region. Before he could start Junior High School however, his mother died, and with his engineering and journalism dreams.

So when Romeo turned 25, traveling abroad as other young men in his village had done was not only an option, it was his last resort to make life. He did not also have the means to travel abroad through the regular way. He therefore decided to use the Sahel desert to Libya. For him, once he gets to Libya, getting to Europe will be easier as many people from his village in Ghana had done and were successful.

So, Romeo left Ghana for Libya in 2017 by boarding an articulated truck from Kintampo through Bawku and to Niger, for which he paid GH¢80 as transport fare.
According to him, those who are unfamiliar with the journey and board busses instead of the haulage trucks pay more, noting that those who board the “S&T buses” from Ghana to Niger pay as much as GH¢150 at the time.

The trucks, Romeo said, are the long ones that bring onions from Niger to Ghana and so when they are leaving empty, the daring migrants board at Kintampo.
When the migrants reach Niger from Ghana and other neighbouring West African countries, such as Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali, they use the Sahara desert to get to Libya.

Each person, according to Romeo, pays between 1,000 CFA and 1,200 CFA as the fare from Niger to Libya, depending on whether the person has a travelling passport or not.

Baffour Amisare Dwomoh (2nd right) with his friends posing for the camera

The journey, he said, takes three to four days on the desert depending on the speed of the vehicle. The migrants have to either join a pick-up or rickety buses from Niger to Libya.

Romeo said the Hilux Toyota pick-up he took from Niger to Libya had on board more than 50 passengers, with some sitting on top of the roof of the vehicle.

“We bought sticks in Niger and fixed them in the pick-up so that we can sit on it, especially when you are sitting at the edge of the vehicle,” he said, adding “sometimes, people fall and die when the vehicle is speeding on the desert.”

Romeo told me that he embarked on the journey with an amount of GH¢6,500, which is currently equivalent to US$1,069.64. He kept his money in his prepared chilly, popularly called “Shito” in Ghana.

On reaching Agadez in Libya, Romeo had to stay for almost a year before he was able to make his first attempt at exiting to Italy. He was unsuccessful. Their boat developed a fault just after about 200 metres offshore.

On May 6, 2017, Romeo together with some other migrants left Libya to Italy. That was his sixth attempt and he succeeded. In all the previous five attempts, their boat failed them and so they had to return to Libya to start all over again.

He said on his last and successful attempt, the boat was in a good shape and so they travelled very fast on the seas. However, when they were getting close to Italy, the engine stopped suddenly. They remained on the seas for four days amidst heavy, stormy rains.

“We picked our phones which we had wrapped in polythene to prevent water from entering, and called Italy for assistance. The call went through but the one who picked it told us that it was holiday in Italy so there was nobody around to assist us and we should return to Libya,” Romeo explained.

He added: “We made the women in the boat together with their babies to cry so that the Italian authorities would see how urgent our situation was. The rain beat us severely so we were all soaked and we lost hope of either getting to Italy or returning to Libya.”

“We could not move as we were tossed about by the winds. We didn’t know where we were going,” Romeo said, adding that “Because the boat (dinghy) is an inflated tube, it can burst or deflate anytime on the seas and we were more than 150 people on it, including women with children and pregnant women,” Romeo explained.

He said everyone in the boat paid between 500 to 600 Euros and that depending on the speed of the boat, it takes between six to eight hours from Libya to Italy.

“When your boat fails on the seas and you are not rescued, you will die. And you can only be rescued when you are in the international seas,” Romeo said, leaving me unsure whether he meant it as a warning or he just wanted me to know his story.

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He explained that having spent four days on the sea after the engine failure, they emptied all the gallons of reserved fuel, flattened the gallons and used them as paddles to row the boat with the help of the strong winds.

“We had no choice so we had to do everything within our power to save our lives,” he said, adding that a man from Ghana who was nursing a serious spinal injury he had sustained in a fracas in Libya, gave up the ghost while they were trying to row to safety.

“He was hoping that when we get to Italy, he could seek medical care for his fractured spine but he couldn’t make it,” Romeo said, a tinge of emotion clearly audible in his now shaking voice. Two Nigerian ladies also died and were thrown in the sea.

He said they continued to call the Italian authorities while persisting with their makeshift paddles to advance their journey.

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“Finally, the Italian authorities gave us an assurance that a ship was coming our way. We were very excited when we saw a ship coming,” Romeo explained.

Romeo and his colleagues, including three pregnant women were rescued to Province of Parma in Italy on May 10, 2017, by the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ship. They could not be taken to Lampadusa and Sicily because there was no place for them (migrants).

He told me he regrets going to Italy, considering what he had gone through and the non-existence of the greener pastures he had hoped for in Europe.

Irregular Migration

Romeo has become a victim of irregular migration. Many young people like Romeo from Ghana have embarked on similar adventurous journeys, with many dying in their attempts.

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For instance, in the latter part of 2017, there were media reports of some Ghanaian nationals being sold as slaves in Libya. Many, according to media reports, were killed in their enslaved camps.

Anytime I hear about irregular migrants, particularly African migrants dying on the Mediterranean sea, my mind only goes back to the scenes in the Deadly Voyage movie, which was based on the true story of some irregular migrants from Ghana and other West African countries who stowed away to Europe.

IOM statistics

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has reported that a total of 22,790 missing migrants have been recorded in Mediterranean since 2014.

According to the IOM, at least 60,000 migrants have died since the year 2000.

The death rate at the Mediterranean region has increased from 1.2 per cent in the first half of 2016, to 2.1 per cent in the first half of 2017. The Mediterranean sea has become of the routes that sees numerous fatalities each year.

On Saturday, August 4, 2018, Premium Times quoted the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to have reported that no fewer than 1,500 refugees and migrants had lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the first seven months of 2018.

According to UNHCR, one in every 31 people attempting the crossing in June and July died or got missing, compared to one in 49 in 2017.

Many desiring African migrants, including Ghanaian nationals continue to die in their journey to travel abroad through irregular means. And the story of Romeo only give us a picture of what irregular migrants go through in their quest to find greener pastures.

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