The Back Way: The Story of An Unaccompanied Minor in Africa

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A few months ago I began writing a book on immigration policy in the United States, particularly as it pertains to our border. The book is set to be released in the next few days. I have conducted exhaustive research on the subject, paying close attention to how it affects our country. The book is written as a letter to the president entitled “You’re Wrong About Immigration: An open letter to Donald Trump”.

While the focus is on our country, there is a surprising comparison between our situation on the southern border and the “refugee crisis” in Europe. It seems the undeveloped world is desperate to gain access to more developed nations, and there no exceptions found on the desperate continent of Africa. One friend and associate of mine has asked to share his story, in which as young a person he attempted to emigrate to Europe, as is the dream of most of his peers in the struggling nation of Gambia. I have provided some editing and input, however, the story is his own and was written by him originally. The following is the story of my friend Paul, once an unaccompanied minor attempting to make his way to Europe:

I grew up in a small village in Gambia. In my community young man like me struggle to provide for entire families. As young as 18 I engaged in hard and hazardous labor, taking work wherever I could find it. Most young men like me have no opportunities in Gambia. We are recovering from a civil war, the government is corrupt, and everyone exploits each other. You can work hard for months for an employer here, and they will never pay you except excuses and false promises until one by their workers quit, and one-by-one they are replaced by more Gambians desperate for work and ready to be taken advantage of.

Everywhere you go in Gambia there corruption and exploitation, but there no opportunities for young men like me, ready and able to work, desperate to feed our families. Unless you have a relative or close friends, connections in high places you will not even know the meaning of the word “opportunity”. Even our loved ones will use us for hard labor, working overtime and still unable to pay the bills on time as our pay is delayed days and even weeks beyond when it is promised. Where is the love they promise, where is the honest in friendship? Even as old as 29 the vast majority here are under their parents care and living in the home, and often as desperate providers themselves. There is no future for the youth of Gambia.

The government and the politicians here do nothing, more interested in lining their own pockets and connecting their own families with vast sums of wealth from the benefit of their “public service”. There is nothing left for the everyday Gambian. We know better than to trust our government, to depend on them is a lost cause. Their children don’t work and many are illiterate yet still driving cars and wearing designers clothing. It is an amazing job to be the child of a politician, a child of privilege, while the rest of us suffer. If you want an education you’ll have to fly all over and across the world and back to get it/ The average Gambian is a blessed if they can even send their child to grammar school.

Our politicians promised us a good education, better roads, healthcare for the people, and even electricity to light our homes. There is a common saying in Gambia “Always sleep on one ear”, meaning don’t oversleep for if you do you may burn your house down by a candle. These same politicians enjoy the privilege of clean, running water while the rest may walk miles to the nearest well to bring water to our homes. From the businesses to the everyday citizens, corruption is rampant in this country, but nowhere does it stink of it more than from the homes and workplaces of our politicians. Nothing comes from them, but fake promises and lies!

The young people here see it after some time they see through the lies of our so-called leaders, and they see that there is no hope for them in this country. Because of that, the dreams of every young person in Gambia is to move to Europe. In Europe, we have the promise of a better life, with a stable government and a stronger economy. From Europe we can send money home to our families and give them a better life, even if we are far away, working to provide for them. Every day we work in sweat and toil, and in tears, we try with everything we have just to put a smile on the faces of our struggling parents as we try to grow in the wisdom and the experience they pass on to us, but all for naught in such a hopeless situation. Europe is our only hope, but the journey there is no easy. There are many evils that meet us along the way, many heartless people waiting to victimize us. Young people, teenagers, are kidnapped, robbed, and even killed or held for ransom to desperate families barely getting by as it is. Many of them become criminals themselves in desperation, for there are only two types: the victims and criminals who make them so. Nothing ever ends well for us, not in Gambia, and in lands beyond our own borders.

One day after a long time of gathering what little money I could scrape together for the journey I left to take the trip on what many of us call “Back Way” the route we use to escape our country and cross the Mediterranean into Europe. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, or where I was going, not even my own family. It was me and two of my friends We took a bus to the next stop on our journey, Mali. On our way we stopped at a police checkpoint, by some miracle we made it, but not without running into more problems. We had to beg and scrape for money to continue our journey, and on we went.

Eventually, the word spread as families put the word out about us that we were missing. We wanted to continue to the long journey to Europe, but eventually, we were sent back to Gambia, after being held for days in a cell. If not for the kindness of one of the officers there we would have not been given food or water our whole time there. Sadly, we went back empty-handed, but not every young Gambian is so fortunate.

Many are never seen or heard from by their families again. But young teenagers like us are so desperate for a better life that we will risk it all just to find our way to Europe. We need help, but there is no help to be found, not for the Gambian trying to live their lives in peace, and not for the young trying to escape through “The Back Way”

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