Migrant voices from Niger: “I will never forget the violence”

Ismael was in his early twenties struggling to sustain a living in Ivory Coast when he made the decision to attempt the dangerous migration route across Northern Africa in search of work.

Ismael grew up in poverty in Ivory Coast where he received no formal education. As a result of the lack of opportunities in his rural village Ismael became a farmer at a young age, but despite having a job, he was still unable to afford a good standard of living in the poor conditions of his village. Ismael had heard stories of others who left the country to find work elsewhere and was drawn to the prospect of building a more prosperous living hoping one day to make it all the way to Libya, over 3000 km from his home.  

In February 2017, Ismael finally embarked on his long and ambitious journey alone, having received no financial assistance beforehand. Feeling excited yet nervous about what was to come he travelled to the town of Samatiglia, in the north-west of Ivory Coast, where he began his migration journey.

From Samatiglia, Ismael travelled northwards through Burkina Faso but upon reaching the border with Niger was forced to pay a bribe to the police in order to continue his journey without further complications. Fortunately, Ismael was able to settle the bribe with his savings from work back in Ivory Coast and so he continued his journey on-wards through the Sahara with a group of other migrants also searching for better livelihoods elsewhere.

Crossing the desert was challenging and on one occasion Ismael was robbed and badly beaten up by an armed group, who knew they could take advantage of vulnerable migrants in the middle of the desert without consequences.

“The robbers hit me and many other boys”

Ismael was left with no food or money feeling scared, alone and exhausted from all the travelling and experiences of exploitation against him and other migrants on their journey. Having been robbed, Ismael now needed to find money to finance the rest of his journey and subsequently managed to gain a job as a farmer on a ranch where he worked for seven months until he had earned enough to cover the rest of his expenses.

Nevertheless, when travelling through Algeria in August 2018, having reembarked on his migration journey northwards, Ismael was, like many other migrants, forced to return to Niger by the Algerian army and was detained in Debdeb, a town in Algeria that borders Libya, for over a month. Whilst in detention Ismael often went without food and was again confronted with corruption and forced to pay bribes to the head of the detention centre. He was also robbed again by another armed group, losing most of his savings from his manual labour, and was even physically abused by the Algerian police. In the chaos and disruption of life in Debdeb, before being taken to Niger, Ismael also lost his identification paperwork which left him in an even more challenging position as an undocumented migrant with no savings.  

“I will never forget the violence”

It has now been almost two years since Ismael left the Ivory Coast and he has been unable to get in contact with the friends and family he left behind. Ismael is now staying in an IOM transit centre in Niger where he feels safer than when he was travelling alone and a victim of extortion and exploitation. The ordeals of his journey will not be forgotten, yet Ismael still plans to attempt to travel to Libya once more to live a life – he hopes will finally be – free from poverty.

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

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