Migrant Voices of the Mediterranean: “I called my father thinking I was going to die”

Neil is a Gambian teenager who dreams of becoming a professional football player. He began his solo journey to Europe in 2016. 

In Gambia, life was hard for Neil and his family, who constantly struggled to make ends meet. As the eldest child, it was Neil’s duty to provide for his younger brothers, sisters, and mother, so he worked with his father to earn money to support them all. However, poverty was inescapable.  

In 2016, Neil made the difficult decision to leave his family, seeking better opportunities in Europe. His parents’ had mixed emotions about his plan, giving him their blessings yet fearful of the potential dangers Neil could face during his journey across West and North Africa. His father called him throughout his journey, reassuring his son that he could return home at any time if he changed his mind. Neil credits the endless support of his parents for helping him endure the racism, poverty, and abuse faced in the 15 months it took to reach European shores.  

After leaving The Gambia, Neil travelled through Mali and Senegal to reach Algeria. During this journey, he and the other migrants travelling with him encountered Malian rebels who captured and beat them for days and stole everything they owned. He considered himself lucky to not face worse from the rebels when he compared stories with others travelling with him.  

Once Neil made it to Algiers, Algeria’s capital, he spent a year working as a house painter. He was glad to have put his experience with the rebels behind him. Life was good there; he had a steady job which enabled him to send money home to his family finally and he felt safe. 

In Algeria, your mind is at rest because their country is secure; they won’t kill you like a chicken like they would in Libya.

Neil was not, however, immune to the overwhelming racial abuse and discrimination that he and other black migrants faced working in the country: 

 There were so many racist people in Algeria. They would not rent to uswe slept in abandoned buildings.

So, after finally saving enough money, Neil made his way to Sabratha, Libya, the last stage of the journey on the continent for him and many other migrants before crossing the Mediterranean. He found, like many, Libya distressing and hostile; a place he had to hide himself constantly to stay safe:  

In Libya they didn’t like us blacks. If the police catch you, they put you in prison and you must pay. If you don’t pay, they shoot you. I have a lot of bad experiences in Libya; I have seen a lot. Once, I had to run for my life when they came with guns. I called my father and thought I was going to die before even crossing the sea.

Neil spent three weeks waiting in an encampment at the coast before Libyan smugglers hurried him and various other migrants one night, on to a rubber dinghy and away into the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Migrant Voices of the Mediterranean series records stories from those Xchange encountered during their research onboard the MOAS Phoenix vessel during 2017, as part of the Central Mediterranean Survey: Mapping Migration Routes & Incidents. Read the full report here.

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Disclaimer: All names of persons in the Migrant Voices of the Mediterranean series have been replaced with pseudonyms to preserve the migrants’ anonymity.