From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Sep 11 2011 - 17:48:39 EDT
African migrants take deadly gamble in Libya
Sun Sep 11, 2011 3:56pm GMT
By Abdoulaye Massalatchi
AGADEZ, Niger (Reuters) - A steady stream of Africans seeking a better life
in Europe is weaving by truck and pack animal through Niger's mountain
passes toward Libya -- hoping the chaos there will ease their flight to the
boats awaiting them on the Mediterranean.
These desperate migrants have heard the stories of Africans tortured and
executed in Libya on suspicion of fighting as mercenaries alongside Muammar
But for them, the risks from gunmen are an acceptable alternative to being
turned back by a border patrol.
"They say blacks are being killed as suspected Gaddafi fighters, but I say
we all have a destiny," said Sule, a 25-year-old Nigerian migrant who did
not want to give his last name.
"I see this war as an opportunity that I cannot let pass if I want to make
it to Europe."
Lured by the seductive mirage of a better life in the West, tens of
thousands of Africans trek every year across deserts or risk perilous sea
crossings in try to slip illegally into Europe via Spain or Italy.
But for Sule and his companions -- and the dozens of others arriving in
northern Niger each day -- that gamble means passing through what may be the
most dangerous place in the world right now for an African.
Refugee camps within Libya and sprouting along its land borders contain
thousands of fleeing Africans telling tales of horror at the hands of rebel
fighters suspicious they are pro-Gaddafi mercenaries.
Identity cards of nationals from Chad, Niger, Mali, Sudan and other African
states have been found on the bodies of gunmen who anti-Gaddafi fighters say
were paid to confront them.
"We are risking our lives but we have been assured by our guide that we'll
be alright between here and the Libyan border. The rest is our affair," Sule
"If things become dangerous, we can always head to a refugee camp," said
Obasi, one of Sule's companions.
PACKED LIKE SARDINES
Sule's group travelled 700 km from their homes in Kano, Nigeria, to Agadez,
a city in Niger's northern desert just below the Air mountain range.
In this bustling town, once a popular destination for European tourists
seeking a taste of the Sahara before a Tuareg uprising in 2007 and a string
of Al Qaeda-linked kidnappings made it a no-go zone, Sule's group waits for
the signal to complete the 3,000 km journey north.
"The smuggler said he'll bring us to Libya via the mountain trails through
Agadez. There are others coming and even if we become impatient, the timing
is his responsibility. There are preparations to complete and it is
important that we have enough water," said Serin, one of Sule's companions.
Agadez burst onto world headlines this month after convoys containing top
officials from Gaddafi's former regime passed through it on the way to the
capital Niamey. But the traffic going the other way has gotten less
"These people will stop at nothing," said a police official outside Agadez
who routinely checks paperwork of the West African migrants. He said dozens
of mostly Nigerian and Ghanaian migrants have been arriving daily.
Sule's group paid 300,000 CFA francs each to be smuggled to the Libyan
border, about double what they would have paid before the war, they said.
They said they had been encouraged to try the route when Gaddafi threatened
Europe with a deluge of illegal immigration early on in the uprising against
Italy's government said last month it has proof Gaddafi planned to turn its
tiny island of Lampedusa, off the southern coast of Siciliy, into an
"inferno" by sending thousands of desperate African migrants there.
A deal between Gaddafi and Italy to send migrants back before they entered
Italian waters had curbed the flow of migrants until the Libyan uprising
brought strict border controls.
Abdul Rachid is a driver in Agadez, paid to run the smuggling routes to
Libya's border with a cargo of humans.
He said migrants were given choices between riding in the back of a powerful
4X4 pickup truck -- the "fast and comfortable option" but more expensive --
or being packed into a larger, slower truck.
"If you take a truck you will be 50 people or 60 people, packed in like
sardines. It takes at least 10 days if all goes well," he said.
Sule's group said pack animals were another option.
"They will not travel along the marked roadways, but over the Air
Mountains," said another driver, who did not give his name. "There are many
trails and they will make it to Libya in a few days. As for Gaddafi
supporters, only God knows how many have made it into our country."
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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