09. November 2015 · Kommentare deaktiviert für On the road in Agadez: desperation and death along a Saharan smuggling route · Kategorien: Afrika, Libyen, Marokko · Tags: ,

Quelle: The Guardian

As political leaders prepare to meet in Malta to discuss measures to stem the flow of migrants and refugees from Africa to Europe, Patrick Kingsley meets the smugglers and the smuggled on a route through the desert from Niger

You can’t see the road from Agadez in Niger to Libya. You simply drive to the edge of the local airstrip, turn left, fork right, head past the one building on the horizon – a lonely police checkpoint – and that’s it. Only a select few local drivers know which dunes lead across the Sahara and which ones lead to oblivion. And in three days of driving, there are plenty of wrong turnings to make.

Yet before they risk death in the Mediterranean Sea, before they cross the battlegrounds of the Libyan civil war, and well before a tiny few of them reach the new security fences at Calais, most migrants from west Africa must pass along this road. Many of them die on it.

Cisse Mahamadou explains why. A people-smuggler from Agadez, Mahamadou makes the journey once a week, along with 30 passengers in his pick-up truck. Each time the route looks different, thanks to regular sandstorms that change the shape of the desert. Mahamadou knows the Sahara “like it’s my bedroom”, but others don’t, so they get lost. And once lost, they run out of fuel – and then water. “And if there is no water,” says Mahamadou, 25, “you won’t survive for more than three days”.

Then there are the bandits: rival smugglers, jihadis, or simply opportunists looking to steal cars, leaving their previous drivers in the desert. “If you’re lucky you will be rescued,” says Mahamadou, a geologist by training. “If you’re not, they’ll kill you and your passengers as well.”

No one can know how many have died in this way. For every corpse discovered in the Sahara – more than 40 have been counted since January – there may be another five or even 50 that will never be found. “In my opinion,” reckons Joel Gomez, a failed footballer from Cameroon and one of Mahamadou’s passengers, “the Sahara is more dangerous than the Mediterranean”. Yet record numbers are still risking it.

European and African leaders will meet in Malta on Wednesday to discuss possible measures to curb this flow. They would be better off going to Agadez to see the desperation of the people they want to stop – and the difficulties of attempting to do so.

It is late on a summer’s night, and Mahamadou and Gomez mill around one of Agadez’s main bus stations. Here on the southern cusp of the Sahara desert, hundreds of migrants arrive legally each night. By the end of the year, local officials say, their numbers will have topped 100,000. This is the northernmost edge of the Ecowas zone, a Schengen-like visa-free swath of west Africa. Within the zone, anyone with means can take a bus from the coast of Nigeria to the edge of the Sahara desert in Niger. In Agadez the bus drivers stop and the people-smuggling begins.

The bus travellers totter out, often nauseous after a 20-hour ride along bumpy roads. Most have specific people to call – smugglers recommended by friends who’ve successfully made the trip in the past. Others approach the smugglers on arrival. And then they’re all driven to the compounds.

Agadez is a squat town, a warren of low clay buildings circling a single tall structure, a 27m-high minaret that looms above its surroundings. The houses it overlooks are mostly single-storey courtyards, each enclosed by a windowless wall. These are the compounds, and perhaps 50 of them are used by smugglers – though no one knows the exact total. They’re the perfect places to hide 100 migrants until they head north to Libya.

Once inside, the haggling starts. The going rate between Agadez and Libya is thought to be about 150,000 West African francs (CFA), or £166. But one traveller said he paid as much as €500 (£363), while Mahamadou claims he charges each of his 30 passengers as little as 50,000 CFA (£55).

Even this amount is more than many in west Africa earn in one month, and perhaps counter-intuitively, that is why people are paying it. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), most of those who pass through Agadez are not fleeing wars or political repression (unlike the vast majority of those reaching Europe from other routes, who are mostly refugees). Instead, they are largely trying to find a way out of grinding poverty. The international community does not deem this a legitimate reason to seek a new life in Europe. But the people passing through Agadez do, otherwise they wouldn’t risk death in trying it.

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