Crossing the Algerian desert: “We were 15 at the start and only two at the finish”
At 15, Aboubacar, now a refugee in France, fled Guinea. When he crosses the Algerian desert to reach Libya, he is one of only two survivors. Aboubacar told InfoMigrants about this traumatic journey.
Aboubaca, 20, is a Guinean refugee living in Marseille, France. He is currently preparing a professional electrician training certificate. This young man fled Guinea and the Koranic school that his father imposed on him to escape the fate of the men in his family: to become an imam. Little interested in religion, Aboubacar wanted above all to be free to make his own choices, he says. One day, her mother told her about a driver who could take her to Mali. His journey began then, when he was only 15 years old. He traveled through Algeria, Libya, then crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Lampedusa.
After a series of trials, and two years in Germany as a minor, all he wanted to do was to integrate fully in France and create his own business. In his spare time, he is vice-president of an association to help asylum seekers. He leads a simple, outward-looking life, the antithesis of what he’s been through for the past five years.
Aboubacar told InfoMigrants about one of the most difficult stages of his journey, the crossing of the Algerian desert to reach Libya.
âI had heard so many stories of people being ripped off and abandoned by smugglers trying to cross the desert to Libya that I didn’t trust anyone. I said to a smuggler: ‘if you take me to Libya, I will pay you afterwards, I will not pay you before because I know that a lot of people don’t make it. He accepted. So I left Algeria in Libya through the desert in October 2015.
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“Instead of one day, we spent two weeks in this desert”
There were about 90 of us leaving together, divided into five or six vehicles. The smugglers told us that âto get to the border with Libya, it’s a one-day crossing. We will arrive this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest. We were just told to take plenty of water. We also had cookies. But instead of one day, we spent two weeks in the desert. The smugglers were not telling the truth. Either way, there is no truth when you are on this road.
During the day we drove. And, at nightfall, they [the smugglers] would hide us and leave. They came back to pick us up the next day at 6 a.m. It went on like this for two weeks. Of the 90 people, about 60 of us had not prepaid. That’s why they came back for us. If they had already had their money, they would have abandoned us.
We don’t know how many kilometers we have driven, thousands for sure. I think the smugglers don’t know either, they don’t know the distances.
Read also : Migrants rescued in remote Sahara desert
‘At night, when we were too cold, we would burn each other’s clothes’
One morning, when we had already been traveling for two weeks, they did not come to pick us up. Just before that, we paid them half the price of the crossing, which was 6,000 dinars. [a little less than 40 euros, editor’s note]. With no one to give us direction, we all split up because some of us wanted to continue, others wanted to go back. I wanted to continue on foot. We were told, “You should never walk with more than 15 people, so as not to be spotted”, so 15 of us left together.
We walked for five days: we walked in the morning until 11 am, then we rested. We crossed a small village where we were able to take water and we continued. I only had a small bag in which I could carry two bottles of water. We had nothing to eat. In the desert, it is very hot during the day and very cold at night. When we were too cold, we burned our clothes to keep us warm. I burnt a jacket and pants of mine.
‘In the desert, when you fall, they leave you’
Then people started to fall. I cannot say for what reason: famine, fatigue, fever … In the desert, when you fall, they leave you. Sometimes in the morning, some told us that they could not get up any more, they told us to continue the journey without them. And there is nothing you can do to help them. I knew if that happened to me too, they would leave me. It’s sad to see someone fall like this, without any help. I have nightmares about it.
I don’t know who they were, those who died. They were older than me, around 18/19 years old, others were 20 years old. They were Guineans, Ivorians, from all over the world, but I don’t know anything about them because we didn’t talk much. In the desert, you can’t waste energy, you can’t talk too much. There is no humanity in the desert.
On the last day, there were only two survivors of the original 15. I didn’t discuss it with the other man, we were too exhausted and worried. We were looking for a town where we could stop to at least eat something. The smugglers eventually arrested us in Libya, they beat us up and sent us to jail, but at least we had some bread and water.
I don’t know why I survived when 13 others died. Those who die are the unlucky ones, the survivors are the lucky ones, that’s all. “