‘We are True Heroes’ – One Migrant’s Story

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His name is Ibrahim Adnan Kondeh. He is one of thousands of young African’s who have crossed the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea in search of opportunity. Thousands more have died trying. We usually hear the tragedy and the controversy about migration, as cohost Edie Lush notes. So in this episode, Global GoalsCast wants you to meet one migrant and to hear his story, from him. Ibrahim is a remarkable young man. Courageous, resourceful and, it turns out, poetic. 

“In plastic boats, we are choked up as much as they can

   just like fishes in a sardine can. 

Irrespective of our religions, we pray for God’s mercy. 

 For it was only by his grace that we made it through that great sea. 

A true hero is what we are…”

Ibrahim retraces his journey from his village in Sierra Leone to the Libyan seashore. A trip that took him a harrowing nine months. He started as a teenager running away from tribal initiation. But by the time he was done he had joined an extraordinary stream of humanity flowing north. 

A report by the United Nations Development Program shows that Ibrahim is representative of a large group of young migrants from West Africa. They are by no means the poorest or the least educated from their countries, explains Mohamed Yahya, lead author of the report. Indeed, they are prompted to risk the dangerous journey as their rising aspirations outstrip their sense of opportunity at home. Yahya urges both African and European officials to address this opportunity gap. 

This episode also features Ann Cairns, from our sponsor Mastercard. She discusses Mastercard’s Digital Food initiative in partnership with the World Food Programme to provide money to refugees to buy food themselves, along with other basic necessities. 

Featured guests

Ibrahim Adnan Kondeh

Ibrahim Adnan Kondeh, is a young man, 20 years of age, from Sierra Leone. He lived in a village with his family, helping with the farm and local shops. As a result of his family’s huge sacrifice, he used to go to school there, so he wasn’t among the poorest. Sadly, he was forced to escape when approached by a secret society that “grooms boys to become men”, facing tortures and threats. He then went on a journey eventually making his way into Italy. He arrived in Italy as an unaccompanied minor 3 years ago at the age of 17. The way there was not easy. He was kept as a slave in various locations on this journey. His boat was rescued crossing the Mediterranean Sea. His arrival at a reception center for refugees in Calabria was not very welcoming, the center was very crowded and would not offer services, such as education, for minors. After overcoming these roadblocks, and even learning Italian, Ibrahim was recognized as a bright writer, winning renowned competitions, such as the Moleskine Foundation and the U-Report Contests. Once his voice was heard, he became a U-Ambassador and active member on the platform and U-Blogger on the move. Thanks to his active participation, he applied to Refugees Welcome for a chance to be hosted by an Italian family, He was accepted and is now living there. He was also granted the Never Alone bid for a 2-year scholarship at the renowned United World College of the Adriatic.

Mohamed Yahya

Mr. Mohamed Yahya resumed duties as Resident Representative of UNDP Nigeria on 20 June 2019. Prior to his appointment to Nigeria, Mr. Yahya was the Africa Regional Programme Coordinator for  UNDP between October 2014 and June 2019. Based in Addis Ababa, he was responsible for regional development initiatives in support of the African Union and Africa’s Regional Economic Communities. He has also served as UNDP’s post-conflict recovery specialist supporting UNDP interventions in
Afghanistan and Liberia. Before joining the UN, Mr. Yahya worked as a senior peacebuilding advisor for the non-governmental organisation, International Alert, with a focus on West Africa. Mr. Yahya holds a master’s degree in Conflict and Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and a bachelor’s degree in Politics and History from SOAS, University of London.

Ann Cairns

Ann Cairns, Vice Chairman of Mastercard. In her role as Vice Chairman Ann represents Mastercard around the world, focusing on inclusion, diversity and innovation.  She plays the important role of senior ambassador and executive leader and sits as part of the company’s global management committee. Ann is passionate about the role Mastercard can play in delivering inclusion through innovation and has continued to build new global partnerships with governments, businesses, organizations and NGOs including the World Food Programme. Ann sits on the group board of the Fortune 500 Company Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) and is chair of ICE Clear Europe. Ann has a Pure Mathematics degree from Sheffield University and a M.Sc. with research into medical statistics and honorary doctorate from Newcastle University. 

This episode was made possible thanks to the support of

Transcript

Mohamed Yahya: 00:00 This is a story of pioneers, a story of adventurers, a story of those who say, my circumstances of my birth shall not limit my dreams.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 00:13 Some of the words that he said to me, I could still remember those like, “I really want to be a lawyer and when I become a lawyer, I’ll have fights against our corrupt leaders that are causing some of us to run away from poverty and stuff”… I had to fend for myself. I had nowhere to go. Throughout the journey, I can’t recall a day that I slept in a house, like a house where there’s a roof on top.

Claudia Edelman: 00:51 Welcome to the Global GoalsCast!

Edie Lush: 00:53 A podcast that explores how to change the world.

Claudia Edelman: 00:56 In this episode, we will introduce you to an extraordinary young man. He’s a migrant from Sierra Leone and so much more.

Edie Lush: 01:05 Claudia, you and I talk to our kids about how to have grit and resilience. I think Ibrahim defines those words. He’s not only brave, he’s studious and he’s a poet. He wrote this about the track he made across the Sahara and the Mediterranean.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 01:22 A true hero is what we are. We may not be recognized but that just what we, yeah.

Claudia Edelman: 01:29 A true hero… when you hear his story you will understand why we say that, and you will experience migration from the migrant’s point of view. Right after this…

Presenter: 01:39 This episode of Global GoalsCast is brought to you by Mastercard. Mastercard is dedicated to building an inclusive world, in which the digital economy works for everyone, everywhere.

Ann Cairns: 01:55 The World Food Programme had a vision that they called it: Digital Food. In other words, actually giving refugees the money and the wherewithal to buy food for themselves instead of parachuting in bags of rice.

Claudia Edelman: 02:09 Later in this episode, you will hear about how Mastercard’s technology helped the World Food Programme feed refugee. And also we want to thank CBS News Digital and Harman, the official sound of the Global GoalsCast.

Claudia Edelman: 02:28 Welcome back, I’m Claudia Romo Edelman.

Edie Lush: 02:29 And I’m Edie Lush. We have spoken here, Claudia, on the Global GoalsCast, about migration and the central role it plays in the global economy and in achieving the Global Goals.

Claudia Edelman: 02:41 There are 260 million migrants in the world!

Edie Lush: 02:44 And you and me are two of them!

Claudia Edelman: 02:47 260,000,002! And there are likely to be many, many more migrants in the years ahead. So we need to understand who the migrants are and why do they make their journeys. We need to understand the four steps of migration and the four milestones: from the moment of departure, the journey, the arrival and the return.

Edie Lush: 03:09 And sadly we don’t hear the migrant stories very often. What we hear about migration is controversy and tragedy.

Mohamed Yahya: 03:18 We’ve had 30,000 Africans drowned in the 4-5 years in the Mediterranean.

Edie Lush: 03:23 This is Mohammad Yahya from the United Nations Development Program. I asked him about the horrifying death of those 39 Vietnamese people in a refrigerated truck in the United Kingdom last week.

Mohamed Yahya: 03:35 The death of the 39 truck is a huge tragedy and a sickening one and I suppose confirms our data in terms of risk and I think more people will unfortunately take this risk. This is why a different system needs to be thought through, because these are people who are chasing a different dream… coming all the way from Asia and this current system unfortunately just empowers human traffickers in many ways.

Edie Lush: 04:01 Later in this episode, Mohammad Yahya, we’ll be back to tell us about the United Nations Development Programme report on what they call irregular migration from Africa to Europe and how important it is for all of us to understand what drives the migrants to take such risks.

Pause: 04:17 [background music]

Edie Lush: 04:19 Claudia, here we go with the Global GoalsCast lexicon. Are you ready?

Claudia Edelman: 04:24 Damelo mami! [Translation: Give it to me, sweetheart!]

Edie Lush: 04:24 Irregular migration. It’s kind of fuzzy. It means without documents or legal permission to enter the countries they’re trying to reach. Irregular in this story led to exploitation, modern slavery and extraordinary risks. All to pursue an aspiration.

Claudia Edelman: 04:43 We are all part of this story. We can look away if we choose and allowed choices to be made on fear and misinformation. Or the alternative that we want you to take is to learn about the facts, to learn about migration and understand migrants, whether they cross the Mediterranean, or the Rio Grande, or if they follow some new silk road from Asia. These people are people, people! Human beings with families and aspirations just like us.

Edie Lush: 05:12 Just like us. I was surprised reading the UN report about who these migrants are and why they leave home.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 05:24 [Ibrahim reciting his poem] We once had a home / to call our own / with friends and loved ones / now a thousand miles away. // We sobbed and cried / as we tell goodbye / for those precious moments / can hardly come by. // Living a beautiful life was a hope / so we dreamt of moving to Europe / with the possibility as thin as a rope. // [reciting continues in the background]

Claudia Edelman: 05:46 We want you to get to know one of these migrants the way we have gotten to know him here. His name: Ibrahim Kondeh.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 05:55 [reciting fades back in] We wanted to keep alive // we are like sheep without a manger / knowing that every second of our lives was in danger. // Forced to work without pay / and if you dare / they pull the trigger. [reciting continues in the background]

Edie Lush: 06:05 He’s from Sierra Leone and he is just the kind of irregular migrant that the UNDP wants us to understand.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 06:12 [reciting fades back in] In a war zone we came unstuck / we made up our minds and said no turning back. // In plastic boats / we will get choked up as much as they can / just like fishes in a sardine can. // Irrespective of our religions / we pray for God’s mercy / which is only by his grace / that we made it through that great sea. // A true hero is what we are / We may not be recognized / but that is just what we are. //

Claudia Edelman: 06:40 The Global GoalsCast team spent hours talking with Ibrahim here.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 06:44 [Edie starts interviewing Ibrahim in the background] This is my first year.

Claudia Edelman: 06:46 Edie was first introduced to him by our partners at UNICEF. She called him to talk about his use of an innovative text message service that helps migrants, but then when she heard his whole story, we wanted more! So our executive editor, Mike Oreskes, called him back and spoke for another two hours.

Mike Oreskes: 07:06 Okay, great. I’m so glad we were able to set this up… [Mike’s voices fades out in the background]

Edie Lush: 07:08 We took a lot of his time, probably when he should have been studying.

Claudia Edelman: 07:13 And even if the quality of the audio is not perfect, we think it’s compelling enough for you to hear it.

Edie Lush: 07:20 We have put this story together so that you can experience Ibrahim’s voyage as we did, from the beginning at home in Sierra Leone.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 07:30 I was living like far away from my parents because, at a very young age, my mom and dad sent me to the nation’s capital Freetown to go to school, because in the village where they we living in the provinces, there was no possibility for me to go to school there, because there was no structure truly. So I was living with my aunt in Freetown. I had the opportunity to see them only during holidays. I was happy going to school like, school was actually something that I was supposed to do, even if I don’t want to because it was like a priority. It’s something that was made known to me even at a tender age, because my parents never had the opportunity to go to school, so when I was younger they tried all their best to send me to school. So I could go to school, get good grades, and then eventually be able to redeem them from poverty.

Edie Lush: 08:34 In 2013, Ibrahim’s father died, leaving his mother with Ibrahim and two younger brothers. But his mother persevered. She kept working and she kept him in school.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 08:46 and so everything was okay. Everything was going normal.

Edie Lush: 08:50 Normal, that is until a trip home from school to visit his mom in their village in 2016.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 08:56 In March, I went on Easter holiday.

Edie Lush: 09:00 Which is when Ibrahim’s aspiration fueled by urban life and Freetown collided with tribal custom from his village.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 09:08 We do have certain things in Sierra Leone that happens during March, the dry season, which is mostly about cultural stuff… secret societies and because I didn’t grew up and my village, so I knew nothing about how things are done there. I didn’t know the rules. It was a time for initiation. Where, they have to catch boys and take them to, for initiation, because they do believe that initiating boys at a very young age is how they could prepare them to be, like good leaders. Anyone who is not a member of them is actually seen as a coward, so a lot of boys, it’s their dream for the day that they will be initiated.

Claudia Edelman: 09:52 What Ibrahim is describing are the tribal secret societies that play an important role in West Africa and those are initiating boys and girls into adulthood.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 10:03 I was not into that. The culture of the bachelor communities where I was born and, if my dad was alive, he would have forced me. But my mom who was there with me, she never wanted me to be part of it. And most importantly, I don’t like the fact that after the initiation, I have to be living with scars all over my body, because I’ve seen so many boys who have been part of the society. The have scars like everlasting scar is I will be with them until they die.

Edie Lush: 10:34 I’ve heard a great deal about the female version of these initiations because for girls, this traditionally involves removing the clitoris. I hadn’t heard as much about the male version, which does not include genital mutilation, but rather knife slashes that resemble claws or teeth across the back. Ibrahim wanted no part of this.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 10:55 So on that day, I was out with my mom, like at veranda of our house, and my mom has a little table where she sells foodstuff like biscuits, sweets. And so I was helping her pack in those materials into a box and then a group of men came around the town. So a lot of people run into their houses and I was out, I didn’t know that I was supposed to run because I’m not one of them. Because actually if you are not a member of a particular group that comes out on a specific day, you are not supposed to see them or neither be out whilst they are in a parade.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 11:39 And so, I was taken with them together with seven other boys from the village who got caught as well. We walked about two to three hours getting to the initiation place and I was told that I was caught not only because I was outside and I, I saw them when they came, but because I had to like represent my father to take the place of my father, because he was once a member, and it is obligatory that every first child of a family must take up the responsibility of the dad when he’s late. I wasn’t aware of that. I denied it at first but I have no power because they were huge guys. And so the initiation place was actually in a bush where it was divided into two places. Like the first side was for the new initiates and the second place was for the members of the society. Where I am during the day just stand outside. So under a big tree while they go on with some of their process, initiation process.

Pause: 12:43 [background music]

Ibrahim Kondeh: 12:43 I was there for about a week, together with different boys, and so every day they would go into town in search of new boys or food. So they might leave us with one or two people to guard us. That was when I ran away and I walked through the bush during the night, because it was night, until in the morning hours, like seven, I happened to like be on a highway. So I met with some guys who were loading some goods into a truck and I asked whether I could help, if they will take me to Guinea. The guy was like okay, no problem. So I helped and after we finished packing, we went to Guinea, until Conakry. I didn’t want to return home, because I was scared of being caught again. I didn’t know anyone that lives in Guinea. I had to like fend for myself. The very first night I slept on a stall, at the lorry park, and so in the morning, I’ll go outside like asks people if I could do little domestic work for them and get something, money or food, just to sustain myself. So that continued for several days until I had one lady who employed me actually because she sells mineral water. I saved up money for about three months and I’m moved to Mali mainly because of the currency rate. I was still thinking of like, how I can get something and send for my mom, so I wanted to get to a place that has a currency that is a bit higher.

Claudia Edelman: 14:44 After seven months in Guinea, he moved to Mali and there he spotted some familiar faces.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 14:51 One day I met with a group of boys who were actually from, from Sierra Leone who, whom I knew before.

Edie Lush: 14:57 Among these 10 boys was a friend from childhood named Daniel.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 15:02 I was happy because when I left home he was the only person that I came across who knows me, actually. When he told me about what is his journey was, I said, okay, you are my friend. I know you. So I trusted him that much. I said, well, we could start everything together. They told me that they’re moving. North Africa. Algeria in particular for work, because they were told that in Algeria there are a lot of job opportunities where people work in construction sites and it gets paid a lot of money.

Edie Lush: 15:40 Ibrahim and Daniel had made a pact to travel together. Ibrahim is no longer just a teenager running away from his village culture. He and Daniel and the other boys joined a great migration North.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 15:52 I agreed to move with him and so we left Mali. We had to pay with all the money that I earned from the work that I was doing. I paid from Mali to be taken to Algeria. So it was a full bus, very full bus. We sat in a group like people from Sierra Leone and we all just went to the backseat. We were there talking to each other.

Claudia Edelman: 16:19 Hour after hour. He and Daniel talked…

Ibrahim Kondeh: 16:22 Our discussions are mostly of home, like, how we left home… what our intentions when we might have money… what we will once we go back in our country. And he always has that dream-like he wanted it to be a lawyer. Some of the words that he said to me, I could still remember was like: “I really want to be a lawyer and when I become a lawyer, I will have fights against our corrupt leaders that are causing us… some of us to go away from poverty and stuff”. And so you can see like the passion in his eyes.

Edie Lush: 17:04 Rolling east across the Sahal neither Daniel nor Ibrahim could have possibly known all the trials that lay ahead, but they would soon learn that they had entered a very precarious world, vulnerable at every turn.

Claudia Edelman: 17:23 We will rejoin their journey in a moment with first a break, so that Ann Cairns from our sponsor, Mastercard, can tell us all about technology that helped the World Food Program feed refugees.

Pause: 17:38 [background music]

Ann Cairns: 17:38 We actually began in 2012 working with them on helping refugees as they moved from Syria into Jordan, and then Lebanon and further afield. Get access to food and the World Food Programme had a vision that they called it: Digital Food. In other words, actually giving refugees the money and the wherewithal to buy food for themselves instead of parachuting in bags of rice, basically, because the lands that they were moving into were very fertile and the first thing that we did was roll out cards so that these refugees could actually shop in local shops. And not only were they able to buy fresh food for themselves and their families, but also the self-esteem of basically choosing the food that you wanted to buy was huge. And of course it had a positive impact on the local farmers. Now, one of the things that we found out was particularly for example, in the refugee camps, we could track exactly what was bought and sometimes it was medicine by the way. And we could tell if the medicine was running out and actually get people to order more. But also we found that the highest amount of food that was bought was actually powdered milk, because with so many babies in those camps. And when we looked at that data and shared it with the World Food Programme, they actually could go and negotiate a discount from the providers of powdered milk, because they’re buying for millions of people rather than just each individual. So this is a great example of how you can use data for good and how you can use technology to actually be able to predict, what food you need or what medication you need.

Edie Lush: 19:25 Thank you to Ann Cairns from Mastercard.

Claudia Edelman: 19:34 Ibrahim and Daniel had joined the stream of migrants. The migrants were flowing toward North Africa, but in the eye of the corrupt and the criminal, that human’s dream looks like a revenue stream. Those migrants are easy to exploit. Their status makes it hard for them to turn to the police or other authority for protection. In Niger, Ibrahim and Daniel were told they were changing busses. The next bus would be right along, but it wasn’t, they were left standing in a parking lot with many others.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 20:09 We were dumped in Niger, as a huge number of us. Those that can afford it at that particular time had to pay again to move.

Claudia Edelman: 20:18 For two weeks, Ibrahim and Daniel helped load and unload trucks in that parking lot. But finally, they got a ride as part of their payment.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 20:29 So there are many cars because it’s like a bus stop. Cars coming from different parts of Niger and around some other countries. So we started to work with one of these big trucks. They used to move with goods from the capital city of Niger to the border in Algeria, so we sometimes pack loads for them. So we did it for two weeks or three weeks. And so the man actually said, okay, the next trip that we took to the border, he just left us there as part of our payment.

Pause: 20:59 [background music]

Edie Lush: 21:04 They’ve made it to Algeria. Ibrahim and Daniel scratched out a routine, squatting with other migrants in a partially finished building without a roof. Three to four months, spending his days with Daniel, sometimes locked in, other days allowed out to work.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 21:25 So in Algeria, we went to a camp like where many migrants… where many people from different parts in Western Africa were. So they just stayed there. In the morning, we’d go out in search of jobs. Where there is like construction sites, then worked throughout the day, and in the evening, there was a little store where they’d sell foodstuff. So every evening back from work, we’d grab some foodstuff, like rice, vegetables, and then come back to the unfinished building and try to cook. But actually waiting to cook, it’s always like in line because there are a couple of other people that wanted to cook as well. So we might end up cooking around 11-10 at night. And then after food, we draw our cardboards to sleep because there is nothing like a bed. It’s like it’s like an open space.

Claudia Edelman: 22:22 Ibrahim and Daniel met some traffickers in the camp and after a few months they decided to go with them East to Libya. But again, things didn’t go according to the plan.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 22:37 We paid the traffickers about 300 or 400 US dollars to take us to Tripoli, which is the Capital, where the port is. Where people used to move. But it didn’t, like, go as we planned. They told us it would take us two days to reach in Tripoli. But we actually spent one week in the desert before we were able to see normal land or buildings. It takes so long because one the distance and two, we had a breakdown. And uh, one thing about, about the desert, there’s no specific route to go. So people use different routes and some of them just follow the traces of other cars that have passed by. And most times that their security personnel, little soldiers or other gangs, that do chase people in the desert and always, they are always armed. And so, we reached to a certain point that we had to wait, where they knew that it might be a potential place where they could get in contracts with these different gangs. Another thing that is on, we bought it actually, people only knew about the amounts of people that die in the sea, but actually there’s a huge number of people that die in the desert… Going through the desert, you could see like fossils like remains of people that have just been dumped, left to dry out in the sand. People that died out of dehydration. People that just died out in the cars and there was no way to wait. It was just taken among children out and sometimes you just think about that maybe the next minute, it’s me. You have no hope of seeing the next day you just said, okay, I’m alive for this minute. Maybe the next minute. I’ll be dead.

Edie Lush: 24:39 Before reaching their promised destination of Tripoli. The journey comes to an unexpected halt. They’ve arrived in Sabha, a notorious hive of human trafficking. It’s hard from our modern vantage point to believe a place this lawless still exists on Earth. Ibrahim and Daniel asked the trafficker why they weren’t going on to Tripoli.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 25:00 He just told us that that is where his journey has ended, that we need to pay again in order to continue. And so we were then given mobile phones to call our parents back home to request for money before we could be free. And so people who have the chance to call their parents for money would then be transferred to Tripoli or to wherever there is the sea. And so I couldn’t call my mom by then because she knew that I went to Mali. But when I left Mali. She didn’t know. So I didn’t call her because she couldn’t afford to give me that money at that time. And that stress I didn’t call. So people who can’t pay will stay there. And then there are different building construction sites or works that happens on the farm. So if Libyans that live in that area, if they want like assistance or they want a laborer, they will come to this site and then ask the leader of the camp and then the leader would give out people to go and work in that particular place. I couldn’t exit the gate without their permission. And I would only go out in a car, in their car. That is when we are going out for work. And when we get paid, the money will never be in our hands. It will be paid directly to the leader of the camp. We would never have that money.

Claudia Edelman: 26:38 They had gone from being migrants to being captives, modern slaves.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 26:44 So it’s like, you have to work in order to pay for… like a ransom actually, so I was there for a couple of months, like working daily.

Edie Lush: 26:56 The business model of the traffickers is to move people long after they’ve worked for awhile…

Ibrahim Kondeh: 27:02 Every Friday 26 people are suppose to leave. And so one evening while he was counting, there were only 25 and so he just saw me because I was one of the youngest little boys among a group and so they just were come go with them. So that was when I had to leave that place. That was the only opportunity. I had to leave on that faithful evening to get out with other people. And then we went to Sabratha, which is like the seaside,

Claudia Edelman: 27:37 nine months after running away from his village on that day in March, Ibrahim and his friend Daniel reached the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.

Ibrahim Kondeh: 27:51 Throughout the journey, I can’t recall a day that I slept in a house where there’s a roof on top, I can’t recall. And so at the seaside, it was very cold and very cold. It was in December, very cold and we had to be outside and we get food, a loaf of bread, once a day. And so I was there for like two weeks because we had to wait for the construction of the, the dingies and also the weather condition. And so when the time came one evening around 12 to 12:30 AM, on the 12th of December, I still remember, they called us, we were about 130 to 140 of us loaded and that on that boat that… in that morning.

Edie Lush: 28:51 And in the gloom of that cold night, Ibrahim in the prow of the overcrowded boat and Daniel crammed in further back, set off across the Mediterranean Sea. Both tragedy and success. Lay ahead.

Claudia Edelman: 29:10 And we will tell you the rest of Ibrahim’s story in the next episode of the Global GoalsCast, but now we want to pause to look more deeply into how Ibrahim’s voyage illustrates so many similar journeys.

Mohamed Yahya: 29:28 This is a story of pioneers, a story of adventurers, a story of those who say that my circumstances of my birth shall not limit my dreams that I have for myself and if I don’t meet it at home, I’m happy to cross any barrier to achieve it. So it was really important for us to tell those stories and voices in a balanced but in a way that most people can access. We wanted that because we wanted to inform policy-makers that these unknown faces that we hear drown in the seas or exploited or enslaved in some parts in some North African countries. We wanted to put faces and we wanted their voices to be at the center of … of future debates.

Edie Lush: 30:18 That’s MohamedYahya of the UN Development Programme, explaining why his report included a series of video interviews with individual migrants. They’re actually incredible films. I encourage you to go look at them on the internet, as well as the findings from nearly 2,000 interviews with African migrants who had reached Europe. And one very important finding was that many of those migrants had a job at home or like Ibrahim were in school.

Mohamed Yahya: 30:47 That does not mean that African young people are not looking for jobs or neither doesn’t mean that employment is not an important factor. What it means is that the quality of employment matters and that people’s aspirations and the power of their dreams are much bigger than only economic factors. And then related to the risk itself, what was very interesting is if you go to many African capitals, you see a lot of the discourse around whether if they only knew about the risk, maybe they will not have taken this journey, this dangerous journey. But what we found was that although 93% of those who migrated, experienced extreme distress and found the journey itself to be extremely dangerous, but only 2% say knowing what we know now will not have done it. So the majority of them will still have come. This paints a different picture of what we hear normally. One thing we know is that the status quo does not work for young Africans or Africa in general. Africa is losing those, it has invested in, but also it doesn’t work for many Europeans who find irregular migration itself something that concerns them and a sense of losing control over their borders. So how do we move the discourse of migration to a new level with the evidence we’ve provided? And that is essentially, uh, what, what that report aims to do.

Edie Lush: 32:15 For me, the most amazing point there was that only 2% wouldn’t have done that same journey. Knowing how dangerous it was. That to me is extraordinary. By 2030, Africa will have 1 billion young people and Africa is not equipped to receive that amount of youth. They don’t have enough schools, they don’t have enough jobs. First cities, second cities, third cites are growing at the pace that is like incredible. And while economies are growing in Africa, so is inequality, and so you will expect more people to take the risk that 2%, you know like only 2% would not do it, to do more because their dreams are not confined, their infrastructures are. So as a society we have to really embrace the migration debate and try to see how those frameworks are really gonna be not only good to have, but essential to continue understanding what will be a natural trajectory of the population.

Edie Lush: 33:21 One of the recommendations of the report was to work more on these legal pathways, in fact to encourage when possible circular migration so that you can come if you want to go to Europe to work. And then if you want to, you can come back home.

Mohamed Yahya: 33:39 What resonates in the report is that this sense that young people do not feel that their countries offer them ladders of opportunity. A sense that there’s a ceiling or a fence, essentially there cultural fences, political fences and an economic fences. And on the cultural side is this deep sense that being young is seen as a huge disadvantage in many of African cultures. So if you’re young, you are ambitious, you are creative, in most parts of the world that would be an advantage. But in many parts of the African continent, there’s fences and barriers for young people. So that is what the story of the scaling fences is also in the sense that those who not only are they scaling legal fences in terms of coming to Europe and, and finding barriers to their dreams, but they actually come from or have already scaled several fences back home… and culture seems to be one of them as well.

Claudia Edelman: 34:43 I remember when we were, I think that it as like our second or third episode ever – sounds like an eternity back then – of season one when I was still working for the Office of the Secretary-General while working on the Global Compact for Migration. When we did this episode on migration saying: one migration is ancient, unstoppable and positive. And second that we need to get more on the understanding of the human story of what would be the circumstances for you to take such a desperate move as leaving everything that you know, knowing that is going to be horrible and nevertheless do it. So there’s a deja vu moment that I’m having here on listening to these and saying like we still have to do more to make people feel that they have the pros and the cons of migration so that they can make up their minds and understand a phenomena that is so important for our future as opposed to just dealing with the fear.

Pause: 35:43 [background music]

Claudia Edelman: 35:47 Ibrahim’s story fits the UN report in another way.

Mohamed Yahya: 35:52 You’re not getting the least educated, low-skilled people. What you are getting is aspirational, dynamic, people who want to improve their lives. And that more will be coming. The trend is not one that over the long run that reduces. So it’s time to start looking at legal pathways. By legal pathways, we referred to the issue of labor migration. What do we see in that report is there is a need in some parts of the European continent for the labor that these young people provide. How can we put in place something that is manageable because of the irregular nature of the migration itself? It creates anti-migration feelings in Europe because no ordinary person will want to sense that they have lost control of who comes into their country. So once you have a legal pathway, we are confident, the irregular nature and the anxiety that is related with the ungoverness of illegal migration may go down, but it will need courage. Courage on both sides and it will need a new debate around migration. And we hope this report provides for Europeans a sense of understanding who’s coming and maybe a debate around what kind of migration Europe needs.

Claudia Edelman: 37:16 Understanding data, facts, stories. This is what we want to provide to you so that you understand migration at heart.

Edie Lush: 37:24 And before I let Mohamed go, I asked him to provide this episode’s facts and actions.

Mohamed Yahya: 37:31 Fact one is that most of the African migrants, they are on average more educated than their peers back home. Secondary under some university-level education. Fact two is that those who are more likely to want to go back after been in Europe or those who are working. This is really important evidence that making life difficult for them, not allowing them to work in Europe is creating the opposite incentive, of staying rather than going back to their home country. Another fact that it will be interesting is the risk of the journey, I mean is overpowered by the power of dreams of re-imagine in your future. So the 2% saying that knowing what they know, they will not have done it, is a very, very small and shockingly small, considering the risk that is associated with the journey.

Edie Lush: 38:24 And tell me three actions that our listeners, if they care about these issues, could go out and take.

Mohamed Yahya: 38:31 One is supporting the transformation of Africa, not through aid only, but through trade and other aspects. So the relationship between Africa and Europe has to be one of a mutually beneficial system. Structurally transforming Africa is one of the things that will then allow young people to want to stay in their own countries. At least give them that option. Second is that legal pathways are a really, really important. There is no getting out of this politically. It may be very difficult now, but the entire discussion around creating legal pathways, this is what the Global Compact calls for the open migration, creating processes whereby people can come through labor migration. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but it has to be legal. And then the final part is changing the discourse of migration from what it has been to one that is much more sober that is informed by evidence.

Edie Lush: 39:32 Thank you to Mohamed Yahya of the UN Development Programme for those facts and actions and thank you to Ibrahim Kondeh for sharing his story. And we’ll be returning to it and our next episode.

Claudia Edelman: 39:42 And thank you all for listening! Please like and subscribe via iTunes or whatever you get your podcasts from and follow us on social media at Global GoalsCast. See you next time!

Edie Lush: 39:55 And give us five stars! Don’t forget the stars! We love those.

Claudia Edelman: 39:58 See you, Edie! Safe travels from the desert!

Edie Lush: 40:07 Adios!

Claudia Edelman: 40:07 Bye, bye!

Credits: 40:07 Global GoalsCast was hosted by Edie Lush and Claudia Romo Edelman. We are editorial gurued by Mike Oreskes, editing and sound production by Simon James. Our operations director is Michelle Cooprider, and welcome to our new intern Tina Pastore. Music in this episode was by Neil Hale, Angelica Garcia, Simon James, Kaity Crone, Aasheesh Paliwal and Andrew Phillips.

Claudia Edelman: 40:38 This episode is brought to you by Mastercard, creating scalable solutions for sustainable and inclusive economic growth. And thanks also to CBS News Digital, and to Harman, the official sound of the Global GoalsCast.

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