By Sheriffo Jarju
Humanity has been living with the migration epidemic since the late 17th centuries connecting the slave trade period. People move from one authority to another illegally during those days. The movement of people from Europe to The Gambia was started by Mongo Park, British explorer. Park who was a Scottish, explored West Africa during 1795. After the slave trade period, and the exploration of Mongo Park, illegal migration is still a cause for concern in the world especially on the receiving country. Illegal migration also has a negative impact on the parent country of these immigrants, because it leads to shortages of labor forces, leaving big void on different leadership roles to be filled. Nowadays, youths are into illegal migration because they are looking for a greener pasture which is scarce in their country.
Many of those who travel illegally do so because of the high level of poverty, lack of quality life, high unemployment rate, family pressure, and peer pressure. This research paper will focus solely on why Gambian youths are still embarking on this dangerous journey. It will add more voice to those researches already done to determine why youths of The Gambia are boarding on this hazardous journey to Europe illegally through the Sahara Desert to Libya via the Mediterranean Sea. This research will focus more on comparing already researched papers, journals, interviews, articles, and personal interviews done with illegal migrants who are in Libya and Europe respectively.
Keywords: The Gambia, Mediterranean Sea, illegal migration, youths, poverty, peer pressure, family pressure, high unemployment rate, journey
A Review of the Literature
The Gambia has never experience civil war, hunger, and draught, but her youthful population are venturing in a dangerous journey to find better living conditions in Europe. What entice these youths to make this dangerous journey? A question asked by many Gambians. Migration has been key discussion among politicians of many countries such as; The Gambia and African at large. In this regard, migration speaks about both the receiving and giving countries respectively- emigration and immigration legally and illegally. The youths took this journey because “The Gambian government’s inability to restore economic stability-including rectifying high unemployment rate especially among youth has resulted in the emigration among segments of the population in particular the youths” as mentioned in Kebbeh’s (2013) research. In our quest to find answers to why or what prompted youths to travel illegally using the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, different articles, journals, and interviews have been compared in finding the answer. Gambian youths leave the country purposely to search for better living and better economic standard.
Many people wonder why one would use this journey to Europe called the back way, if one can use the front way by applying a Visa. This question has put many in suspense because illegal migration among Gambian youths is at an alarming rate. One do say if you can’t enter through the front way, why not use the back way? The high bureaucracy on visa application and issuance, have presented limited chances to youths in acquiring a Visa to travel to Europe legally. Acquiring visa comes with one’s ability to provide all necessary documents such as; a healthy bank statement, invitation letter from an invitee, travel insurance, and the ability to convince the Visa officer that you will exit Europe before your Visa expiration date. “The youths blame their inability to secure Visas on other reasons such as lack of contacts, relatives unwilling to help, and even unfavorable divine circumstances” as discussed in Gaibazzi’s (2014) research. The study will further our understanding about why Gambian youths are still submitting in this route to Europe even knowing that it is fatal, and can cause dangerous accidents leading to death.
A mother is supposed to take care of her children. Why are her children fleeing the country? Mother Gambia is referred to as the smiling coast of Africa, because her people, environment, and the country herself smiles at you the very first moment you touch down at the only international airport: Yundum. If you are looking for a country whose name comes from a river that divides the country into two halves, the only country that can offer you the ultimate answer is The Gambia.
Mother Africa’s daughter, The Gambia is the smallest country on the mainland with a population of about 2 million people. She is bordered by Senegal on the northern, southern, and the eastern part, while her western part is open to the Atlantic Ocean where the River Gambia gets its source from. The country’s population is about 2 million people, of which 60% are youths (from age 18 to 35). The government faces many challenges in satisfying her youthful population. In her quest to create more and sustainable employment opportunities, the government has failed badly to attain that. The economic hardship has kick started the rampant engagement of youths on illegal migration across the deserts to Libya through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Illegal migration among Gambian youths is mainly caused by family pressure, peer pressure, poverty, lack of visas, and high rate of unemployment among youths. This is because many young people are without a job or don’t have their dream job, this makes them look elsewhere for better socioeconomic opportunities. One of the key motivating factors that make them venture into this journey using the Mediterranean Sea to Europe is economic hardship. As most of the families live under the poverty level, it also puts pressure on youths to engage themselves on this journey in order to help deliver their families from poverty.
Another key cause of illegal migration among Gambian youths is peer pressure. This is done by seeing friends who have made the journey successfully to Europe posting nice pictures on Facebook to tempt their friends to take on the journey. Even though illegal migration can be of great benefit to youths and their families if the migrant successfully manages to reach the shores of Europe safely. However, there are several migrants who did not make it due to death or did not have the extra money to board a wooden boat to sail through the Mediterranean Sea. Though the illegal migration from The Gambia to Europe is deadly, the youth still risk everything to escape poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantages they face at home.
The Journey is Deadly
Traveling within Africa by car can be the most dangerous journey due to the linguistic and cultural differences offered by the continent. Africa is 1 of 7 continents that lack proper and tight border security, that makes it easier for smugglers to track and smuggle potential illegal immigrants. Though traveling through different countries by a car has been the most affordable means of transportation within Africa, it puts potential illegal immigrants at risk of getting into the hands of businessmen- smugglers. Most of these travelers do pass through different smugglers at some point on their journey. Smugglers make great use of the instability of Libya to trade immigrants like commodities.
The trading of illegal immigrants in Libya is a lucrative business to these smugglers, while a big financial burden on families of these immigrants. Hunt (2016) reports that “Bakary, 35, a teacher, resident of Brikama-the second largest town from the city-Banjul, sold the family’s only asset- a small plot of land- after his brother called him from Mali to say he would be killed by smugglers unless a ransom was paid. The land was sold at loss due to the high pressure he was under because of the brother’s condition”.
This journey can take more than a year depending on an immigrant’s financial muscles. For example, one can spend 3 to 5 months while others spend 1 to 2 years traveling to Europe if death does not catch them. Daniel (2007) reports that “Europe spent three weeks at sea off of West Africa’s coast and threw nearly 50 dead bodies overboard after their vessel lost power and supplies dwindled”. More than 100 immigrants are loaded and packed like sardines in a small floating boat where they can barely move or have space to freely stretch their legs for more than a week causing leg cramps. People died of hunger and thirst due to lack of food, and water during the journey. The nature in which they are packed can hinder the chances of knowing whether the person sitting next to you is dead for days.
The corpses are thrown overboard without having proper burial.
The chances of surviving the waves of the Mediterranean Sea is slim, but the slim chances of surviving the journey tend to encourage potential illegal immigrants than to discourage them because of the socioeconomic problems they face in The Gambia. The hopes are high whenever an illegal immigrant thinks about better quality life that Europe can offer. But this comes with a huge price leading to loss of numerous lives. According to the International Organisation of Migration (I.O.M), “There are fewer than two million Gambians, and by percentage of population, more Gambians have headed to Europe than any other nation” (Hamza, 2017). The death toll has been sky-rocketing monthly.
There have been numerous reports on the number of death tolls among illegal immigrants who try to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the Libyan coast to Italy. Hamza (2017) reports that, “Janjanbureh an island town, some 300km north of the capital, Banjul, has had some of the highest rates of youth migration in the country. It used to be home to as many as fifty thousand (50,000) people. Now the government estimates that only 3,600 are left”. The deadliness of the journey has swept the length and breadth of many neighborhood in The Gambia turning villages into hamlets. Almost every household has a story to tell about loss of a true son because of illegal migration. Hamid (2015) reports revealed that, “In the year 2015, more than two thousand (2, 000) people died trying to cross the Sea illegally”. The number of death due to illegal migration has put tears in the eyes of families and love ones for years. Those dead bodies are either ate by fish or washout off the Sea by waves.
The author attends Kainan University in Taiwan. This paper was prepared for English Composition 112, taught by Professor Koch
Burnett, V. (2007, August 11). To Curb Illegal Migration, Spain Offers a Legal Route. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/11/world/europe/11spain.html
Daley, S. (2011, May 25). Chasing Riches from Africa to Europe and Finding Only Squalor. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/world/europe/26migrants.html
Danie, W. (2007, November 7). Nearly 50 Die Trying to Reach Spain. The Sun.
The Associated Press. http://www.nysun.com/foreign/nearly-50-die-trying-to-reach-spain/66021/
Frouws, B. Phillips, M. Hassan, A. Twigt, M. Getting to Europe the ‘WhatsApp’ way. http://www.regionalmms.org/images/briefing/Social_Media_in_Mixed_Migration.pdf
Gaibazzi, P. (2014) Visa problem: certification, kinship, and the production of ‘ineligibility’ in the Gambia. VL –20, IS -1, SN -1467-9655, DO -10.1111/1467-9655.12078, SP -38, EP -55. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Haas, H.D. (2008, February 25). The Myth of Invasion: The Inconvenient Realities of African Migration to Europe, Third World Quarterly, 29:7, 1305-1332, DOI: 10.10800/01436590802386435
Hamid, H. (2015, June 06). African Migrants: What really drives them to Europe? Aljazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/inthefield/2015/06/african-migrants-drives-europe-150604124356795.html
Hunt, L. (2016, May 6). Gambian Migrants Who Risk Death Find life less than Sweet in Italy. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/06/gambian-migrants-who-risk-death-find-life-less-than-sweet-in-italy
Jagne, F.S. (2014, June 08). The Back way to Europe: A case study about why young men in The Gambia are prepared to risk their lives to get to Europe (p.28-29). (Student paper). Linneuniversitetet.
Kebbeh, C.O. (2013, August 15). The Gambia: Migration in Africa’s “Smiling Coast”. Migration Policy Institute. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/gambia-migration-africas-smiling-coast
Mohamed, H. (2017, March 30). The Gambia’s Missing Sons and Daughters. Aljazeera. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/gambia-missing-sons-daughters-170313110921242.html