Young people in West and Central Africa know what the journey to Europe entails. Despite this, every week thousands leave their homes - but for many the journey ends in Niger when money and motivation run out.
Mamane Kanta has no time to spare. The director of the radio station "Alternative FM" in the city of Agadez is putting the final touches to the next program which is about to go on air. As so often, it is about migration. The city, which lies on one of the famous caravan routes through the Sahara, is an important stage on the journey to Europe, or at least through North Africa. Many migrants do not want to cross the Mediterranean, they just want to stay where there is work for them.
A dangerous journey to Libya awaits those who do want to go farther and Kanta warns against undertaking it. It leads to a likely sea crossing in overcrowded boats with little prospect of acquiring a residence permit for those who survive. In Agadez, Kanta hears the same story over and over again from the young migrants. More than a thousand arrive every week. "They say the situation is bad for them where they come from. They say they cannot live as normal citizens. Some want to study or dream of a career in sports. That is not possible at home," Kanta says.
Forced prostitution booms
For many, Agadez is first and foremost an enforced break in their journey. Hardly anyone has enough money to take them all the way to Europe. Migrants stay here waiting for their families to send money, some earn a little themselves as day laborers. 23-year-old Victoria, who comes from southeastern Nigeria, has been in Agadez for more than a year. She shared the fate of many women trying to make the journey to Europe. Victoria was taken to Agadez by a human trafficker who won her trust in Nigeria. He promised her she would get an education in Italy and could look forward to a better future there. But in Agadez, her dream became a nightmare. "I was sold and had to earn money to buy back my freedom," she said.
The reality behind those words is that Victoria was forced into prostitution, with the prospect that this would continue in Europe. She does not want to talk about her experiences during the past year. She now lives with a man in Agadez who introduces her as his wife. The two live together in a single room. Since Niger passed a law against human trafficking in May – partly due to pressure from the European Union - migrants hide as best as they can and try not to draw attention to themselves. Victoria spends most days sitting on a dirty mattress, watching DVDs of services held by her favorite preacher in Nigeria.
For now, she seems to have no future. "It's hard for foreigners here," Victoria says, playing with her cellphone as she talks. She does not want to go back home but to continue her journey. "When I have enough money," she says. She thinks Germany or Canada would be good destinations, but exactly why she cannot say. What she does know is that she wants to work. "I have talent and I can sing. And I completed my schooling," she says proudly.
Khalid, a young man from Senegal, would advise her to go home. Last year he also set off on the long journey to Italy. For the trip to Libya alone, he paid 800,000 CFA francs (1,200 euros, $1,400). The money was for bus tickets, transport by truck, bribes, accommodation and payment for traffickers. The price of a plane ticket from Dakar to Paris starts at around 300 euros.
While in Libya, Khalid changed his mind. "I was there for about four-and-a-half months because I didn't have enough money to pay for the whole trip," he said but things didn't work out as he had hoped. He was picked up by traffickers, locked up, and told he would have to work to pay for the journey across the Mediterranean. After being mistreated he decided to return home to Senegal. Today he is in a camp run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the outskirts of Agadez. Returnees can stay there for a few days. The IOM provides accommodation, food, showers and fresh clothing, and helps with travel arrangements. Khalid is happy to be there. "I'm tired and I want to go home," he says softly.
Journalist Mamane Kanta is sad that young people have to undergo such experiences. He wants to see politicians become more active. One of the most important priorities is to combat youth unemployment in the migrants' countries of origin, he says. Politicians should not only make a lot of noise when they are campaigning to be elected - they should be taking action now, otherwise there will be no end to the flood of migrants, Kanta warns.