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The Road to Europe

Vincent left Ghana at the age of 16. His journey was long and arduous, and
his eventual success in reaching Europe was down to a combination of luck
and his extraordinary determination. When I met him five years later he was
living in Amsterdam. He wandered around aimlessly, lonely and illegal,
thinking of his family, his town and homeland, and about the dreams he had
when he left home as a boy.

I decided to trace the route taken by Vincent and so many others through the
west and north of Africa. In Ghana, I met Atta, who showed me a picture he
had sent home to his family after he left the country. In the photograph,
Atta was standing next to a Volkswagen car. The picture was supposed to give
his family the impression that he was rich, that he would make it. But the
car was not his, and like so many others Atta never did get to Europe. In a way he was lucky, in that he returned home to tell the tale. An unknown
number of would-be migrants have died on this journey.

Deep in the desert, on the border between Mali and Algeria, I stopped in a
bleak settlement named Khalil. Many migrants spend months stuck in places
like this because they have run out of cash. Often they will have handed
over their family's entire savings to traffickers on what turn out to be
false promises. Their only hope is to work as casual labourers for the local
Touareg people, in order to earn enough to eventually finance the next stage
of their journey.

In a so-called safe house for illegal migrants in Rabat, the Moroccan
capital, I met a group of men waiting for the opportunity to cross the
Mediterranean. Many before them had stayed in this house, leaving traces of
themselves in drawings and scratches on the wall. The word 'RESPECT',
written in English, would stick in my mind.

I took the bus from Rabat to Nador, a town on the Mediterranean coast near
the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Crouching in the bushes on the edge of a
rubbish dump were George, Tupah and Issa. From here, with an inflatable boat
and an outboard engine, one can reach Europe in a few hours. If everything
and everybody went according to plan, including the weather, the skills of
the captain, the mafia and smugglers, the corrupt police and coastguard,
these men might make it. But as Vincent had found before them, the reality
of Europe might not match the dream.
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