Migrant voices from Niger: “It makes me cry thinking back”

Marie is a Cameroonian woman who dreamed of a fresh start in Switzerland.

Marie attended secondary school in Cameroon and started working in trade shortly after graduating. She had always dreamed of exciting job prospects abroad having heard from friends of the better standard of living in Europe. As life became increasingly challenging due to encroaching poverty, economic instability and the presence of Islamist militants Boko Haram in the north of the country, she decided to leave her home in 2016.

This was not an easy decision for Marie being in her late twenties at the time, as she knew it would be difficult to communicate with her friends and family at home once she embarked on this journey. Marie felt apprehensive being the first in her family to leave Cameroon as she received no advice or guidance prior to her 14-month journey, and as a single woman was consequently alone in this daunting endeavour.

The journey from Cameroon was long and arduous involving numerous drivers across Niger, Nigeria and Libya and on multiple occasions Marie was forced to pay bribes in order to continue along this route. Nonetheless, throughout her journey Marie continued to dream of starting a new life in Europe but was not able to even attempt the Mediterranean crossing as when she arrived in Sabha, Libya, she was detained by an armed group. Marie was incarcerated for six months where she, again, experienced extortion and was repeatedly robbed by armed bandits.

Even when Marie was released Libya proved to be ahostile place for her to live in, as although she was able to find some work in a garden, her financial instability meant she often went without food and sometimes even water. Eventually she resorted to prostitution to support herself making her time in Libya a particularly challenging part of her migration journey which she still finds challenging to speak about.

“it makes me cry thinking back”

After her traumatic experiences in Sabha and inability to afford to travel elsewhere Marie decided to return to Niger hoping it would be a safer destination to live thanks to the presence of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) there.

However, her return journey was by no means free of its own complications as one day when travelling across the Sahara, between Algeria and Niger, she was again robbed and physically and sexually abused by a group of armed men with covered faces.

Such experiences of sexual assault are not uncommon for migrant women and girls and, for Marie, the frequency of this abuse is extremely distressing as she knows her experience is shared by many other vulnerable migrants attempting similarly dangerous journeys across Northern Africa.

 “armed groups raped me and others, and there are also those who raped the boys”

Nonetheless, for Marie her migration experience across North Africa was somewhat typical as she suggests such horrific incidents become normal for vulnerable migrants who are desperately searching for a better life at whatever cost.  

Today Marie is unemployed living in a ghetto in Niger and has been unable to speak with her family since she left Cameroon over three years ago. Yet, her search for a more prosperous future has not ceased as she is still hopeful of finding new job opportunities in the near future.

Disclaimer: All names of persons in the Migrant Voices of Niger have been replaced with pseudonyms to preserve the migrants’ anonymity. Marie was one of the migrants interviewed by Xchange in late 2018. Her testimony is part of the Niger Report 2019.

Like what you read? Consider donating to help us continue our work.