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“I would rather be alive in Africa than to die at the Mediterranean Sea” -reintegrated migrant tells his story

November 30, 2021

By Alhaji Haruna Sani

“I would rather be in Africa than to die and end up in a body bag at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea,” Bilal Kamara learnt his lesson after irregular migration.

After running out of money to keep studying at the LICCSAL Business College in Freetown, depressed and frustrated Bilal Kamara who could not manage his heartbreak decided to run away from shame.

Irregular migration (Temple run) was the only option available to him, thus he met a friend who was almost equally frustrated and was looking for opportunity to leave the country. Hence, they two left Sierra Leone in December 2014 with the aim of travelling to Italy via Temple run.

Kamara, who travelled with a keen mind of seeking reliable source of income, further his education, live a better life and help his family back home, returned and raised the standards of his life in Sierra Leone, after going through hell in other African nations.

Seven months after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication at the Fourah Bay College, Bilal Kamara finally shares his Temple Run experience with Concord Times, and explains how he was able to reintegrate into society. B

CT:Briefly tell us about yourself?

My name is Bilal Kamara. I was born and raised in West end of Freetown. I am the first born to my parents and I have four siblings. I am a bachelor that turned 29 this year.

CT: Would you mind sharing with us an account of your travelling experiences?

Well! my experience started in Guinea, where I spent two weeks after separating with my friend, and by the time I decided to proceed to Mali, I had ran out of money. I took some odd jobs in Guinea so as to generate money for my transportation, yet the jobs could earned me the regular transport charges to Mali, so I agreed to be loaded together with some goods in the booth of the sluggish yellow Peugeot car that took drove on the bumpy and long distance journey to Mali. I landed in Mali completely broke, so I accepted all sort of odd jobs in return for food or money. After spending a dreadful month in Mali where I slept in ghettos and car parks, I was able to generate the exact money that took me to the Malian border town of Gao.In Gao, I was taken to a camp headed by a ghetto master where migrants from different West African nations were placed. I faced huge problem of language barrier in the cam, until I met some Nigerians and Liberians who automatically became my friends because we shared similar parlance.  I spent two months in the camp where a lot fellow migrants left me because I have no money to pay my way to Algeria. Later a friend took me to a nearby village where we settled for the less and accepted odd jobs to raise money to travel to Algeria. After raising the required sum for our transportation, the Ghetto Master who was also the transport coordinator negotiated with a pick-up truck driver who loaded about 100 of us to cross the Sahara Desert to Algeria.

Along the way, some among us were kidnapped whiles others were abducted by the Tureg rebels, until we arrived in a town called Azaward were the rest of us were finally kidnapped by the Tuaregs. Those who paid their ransom were allowed to go whiles the rest of us were held hostage. All my friends had earlier paid their ransom and forged ahead, save Coachi, my Liberian friend whom we came together from Gao. 

In Awazard we spent two days in the camp without eating any food. consequently, Coachi fell ill and started experiencing diarrhea. But because of the 2014- 15 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Tuareg and fellow migrants shunned Coachi because he was from Liberia. I tried all possible ways to resuscitate Coachi, but to no avail hence, Coachi died in my hands.

After Coachi’s  tragic death, the Tuareg felt sorry for me and loaded me in a truck to Algeria and left me somewhere in the desert. We trekked  for about three days before reaching an Algerian suburb called Burg. From Burg, I forged ahead to another town called Tamanrasset where I resorted to street begging. Few weeks after, I travelled to the Libyan crossing point to the Mediterranean Sea to Italy where I also made new friends.

Finally, at the time of crossing the Mediterranean Sea I was asked out of the boat because of insufficient transportation fees. A day after the boat left, I received a devastating news that the boat had capsized leaving no one alive. Hence I said to myself that I would rather be in Africa, than to die and end up in a body bag at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

CT:Which was/were your worst moment (s) during your travelling?

I actually had a lot of revolting moments among which was the time I received the news about the capsize of the boat in which my friends were. That dreadful incident made me finally decided to return home.

But my worst moment was the time I lost a friend and a brother Coachi, ouch! I really hate talking about this. With the short time I spent with Coachi I realized he was very kind and friendly. Coachi died in my hands just like a baby, o my God!. That was my worst and saddest moment not only in the journey but throughout my life so far. Shit! I wish I could never talk about this again.

Nonetheless, time I was forced to do inhumane labour was nothing good to write home about. Too many things happened  to me which was very difficult to explain.

CT:What about your best day (s) during your travelling?

Well! I don’t think I have any best or even better days during my awful journey. Perhaps the only time I could regard as good days were the time I used to discuss with my friends about the opportunities that await us abroad.

CT:How did you come back, and how were you able to reintegrate into society?

So, like after the tragic death of Coachi, I started my journey back home with the little money that was meant for my crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. I returned to Bamako by trekking, backed up with lift I got along the way. In Bamako, I met with some German Journalists who conducted an interview with me. After the interview, they expressed sympathy with me and gave me some money to return home.

I returned home amidst fear of provocation and intimidation, which I faced in full. Upon my return in March 2015, my family back home thought I was a ghost when they saw me. They had already performed some rites for me, after receiving messages of the boat capsizing in the sea.

It was hard to cope, but I tried my best. I was able to generate some money to continue my course, and I got some help from a German family. I was finally able to  buy a university form in 2016 and started my course at the Mass Communications Department, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Now I have graduated with a Bachelors’ degree in Mass Communications since April 2021. 

CT:So how is life after University?

Life after university can be very challenging, but I am coping anyways. When I was in the university, I was receiving lunch and other aids from the German Family which seized immediately after my graduation. I am presently employed though with low salary, but still making ends meet. I am also seeking opportunity to go for a master’s degree but funding is my problem. Getting my masters’ degree is my greatest ambition right now.

CT: Finally, what is your advice to young Sierra Leoneans who are desperate to leave the country by all means?

Honestly, I will not advise any Sierra Leonean or non-Sierra Leonean to take chance in irregular migration, because he who feels it knows it. I strongly believe that people should chase their dreams, and if ones dream is to travel abroad let them chase it, but through regular and not irregular migration. Temple run is deadly and let no one dare it.

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