Migration is a never-ending story. Since the beginning of time, people have moved to other lands in order to find what they haven’t got. Food, terrains, power, expansion, whatever they thought they needed. Asylum seeking has a shorter past, as it was internationally recognized only in the 1950s thanks to the Geneva Convention.
The story of the 20th century has been distinguished by hordes of refugees looking for safety and a new life. In the last 30 years the Mediterranean has been characterised by an intensive and constant flux of arrivals especially from the Middle East and North Africa.
About this part of the world many things have been said, but, on the contrary, journalists and Television have dedicated less coverage to Africa, which has been the scene of uncountable civil wars and ethnic conflicts. Arriving from sub Saharan Africa, crossing the desert, passing through Libia and anchoring in Europe is never easy, especially if your journey has not been done in a typical watercraft.
Being assaulted by fear, remorse and doubts is what happens once you deal with the obstacles and bureaucracy of overloaded Europe. But that’s what we already know. What we still do not know is what those people feel once they get there, what it means to be a refugee. That’s the question I had in mind during the interview.
That is what Mamadou Bah, a young refugee in Italy, has tried to explain for Baltic Review readers.
Mamadou comes from Gambia, the smallest country in mainland Africa. Gambia was colonised by the British and gained its independence on 18th February 1965. Its current president Yahya Jammeh , took power in 1994 through a military takeover dethroning Dawda Jawara who belonged to the Mandingo ethnic group. Since this moment, arrests, torture and political persecution have been going on. Most of this fear and terror is inflicted on Mandingo and Fula ethnic groups.
Violence has grown further since 2015 when Yahyaa proclaimed Gambia an Islamic Republic, persecuting homosexuality and launching systematic violation of human rights. The last elections also saw the candidature of four representatives, but it has to be said that the independent electoral Commission is not independent at all, as commissioners are elected by the President, who won, by the way.
“Yahya has survived more than ten military attempts to remove him from power. So most Gambians see him as a demi god now. Under him, Gambia has seen the most ethnic discrimination. People are afraid to discuss in groups and speak against the government. The education system is getting poorer and poorer because of the lack of motivation and many people are arrested without proper trial and representation in court,” explained Mamadou.
This young boy was born in 1993, not far from Banjul, the capital. He is a primary school teacher, well prepared and skilled in both English and geography.
That’s why I have been encouraged by many friends to join the Gambian armed forces. I have declined all those invitations because I was never willing to work for the government directly. I was a very happy man, especially because I used to be a nomad and, during the weekend, I would help my father with the cattle.
Well, after that, I also was a student at the University and I indirectly contributed to the protest held on 29th December 2014 organized by the Gambia Student Union with the purpose of overthrowing the president.
I left my country on 30th December 2014. I found that it was too dangerous for me to live there especially because armed forces were looking for all the protestants who took part in the protest.
Now, I am in Italy to seek refugee status. I arrived on 15th July, after 6 months of travel, passing through Senegal, using false documents and crossing the desert with my inseparable treasure: a jug of water and the hope of a new life. I had no choice: prison or exile. I opted for the second one, but, I pray that one day, my country will be free and I will be, too,” added the Gambian student.
Being a refugee was the last thing he had in mind. He is not a migration worker; he is not somebody who was looking for a place in the world, but in his own world.
It is something very embarrassing for me to accept the fact that I am a refugee. It’s impossible to imagine how you feel leaving the motherland and both your parents behind to embark on a journey with no guarantee of survival, going to a country where no one knows you or will sympathise with you. Sometimes I ask myself a rhetorical question: Was it not better to stay in Gambia and live my faith with God? But no, I have to live my life as it is too precious to be wasted. I will fight hard to be someone tomorrow. Maybe there is a reason for being a refugee today.
Mamadou had a dream when he was young: to go to university and work for the BBC. Since he was a child, he has loved listening to the BBC radio, especially programmes focused on Africa.
I would like to report about Gambia, West Africa and the rest of the world. I also want to improve my English to be like the BBC journalists. I do not give up on my dream as I am sure that there will always be people like you who will report my story to the world. Being a refugee has even given me more courage. I have learned a lot on this journey. Now, first of all, I want to go to an Italian university if possible and dedicate my life to humanitarian work. But I can’t go to university if am not granted refugee status by the Italian government. So today my number one dream is to get documents as soon as possible. My previous dream has not changed but it is reserved for the second part of this story.
When words are not enough, the look in his eyes helps you to understand what he really feels. And that’s what happened with Mamadou, who still believes in a bright future for his country, where he left his memories.
I will never forget how beautiful Gambia is, my people and my mother who has sacrificed her life to help me to achieve my dreams. And I will never forget the calves, birds and the sunsets. Even if I die in Italy, Gambia will always be a part of me.
And who can blame him? Good luck, young fighter.