Rescued African migrants still dream of Europe

2015-04-16 21:47
Migrants crowd the holding centre of the Island of Lampedusa, Southern Italy. (Mauro Buccarello, AP)

Migrants crowd the holding centre of the Island of Lampedusa, Southern Italy. (Mauro Buccarello, AP)

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Zarzis - Their rickety boats may have broken down as they tried to sneak into Italy, but for African migrants now stuck in Tunisia their dream of reaching Europe is far from over.

Known in North Africa as "harraga", these illegal migrants biding their time in Red Crescent centres in Zarzis, southeastern Tunisia, realise they are lucky compared to those who died making the crossing.

All of them have given their last penny to greedy people traffickers, endured rough crossings or were left stranded on the highs seas by unscrupulous boat captains.

But many say they will try again because they have nothing to lose, especially now that the weather has improved since March and sailing the Mediterranean is easier than during the winter months.

Some have even have found odd jobs and begun to save the money they will need for another crossing, as perilous as it may be.

Abdoulay is one of them and swears he will never ever go back to his native Gambia.

"I am unemployed... and my goal will always be the same: to live in Europe. So it will be next time," he says.

The young man was rescued off the Tunisian shores after having spent his life savings on failed a trip to Europe.

Mohamed Trabelsi, an official from the Red Crescent, said "building constructors come by every morning at dawn," to offer work for those who are willing.

He said the migrants are keen and willing to do what it takes to reach Italy, their gateway to Europe. "They will do everything and nothing: work on construction sites, gardening, painting or fishing".

Italy, where more than 15 000 migrants have arrived this year, has pleaded for help to rescue those risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean after 400 drowned on the weekend.

A trip from hell

Many of those stuck in Tunisia come from Gambia, Senegal or Mali, and are hoping to flee conflict and poverty at home to begin a new life in Europe.

Most began their journey in Libya, where the precarious situation has sparked a rise in tattered and overcrowded boats taking off from unpoliced ports.

Often the engines fail miles away from shore or the boat takes on water and capsizes, with hundreds dying.

The lucky ones are rescued by coastguards in one of the countries like Tunisia along the way.

One such survivor is Suleiman, 38, from Mali who was among hundreds of migrants plucked out of the sea in March off the coast of Zarzis.

"They told me it was easy to reach Europe from Libya," said Suleiman who travelled two gruelling months to reach the Libyan port of Zuwarah, about 60km from Tunisia.

"I spent everything I had: about $3 000," said Suleiman, speaking from one of the Red Crescent centres in Zarzis.

Two hours after the boat left port, it began taking on water.

"There were too many people on board the zodiac," he said, adding that he was never told what kind of boat would make the crossing or how many people would travel with him.

Cisse also travelled to Libya from his native Ivory Coast intent on finding a smuggler's boat to Europe.

He did but, he said, it was "a trip from hell" on a small boat packed with 84 passengers who were pushing and shoving as water started to flood the vessel.

Two drowned while Cisse was among 76 people rescued by Tunisian coastguards five months ago.

But the remaining six passengers refused to give up and stayed on board, he said, added that their captain revved the boat and took them to their dream destination - the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Read more on:    italy  |  migrants

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