Posted on July 26, 2019

Would-Be Refugee Warns Against Dangerous Trek: ‘I’m Like You, and I Found a Way’

Eric J. Lyman, Washington Times, July 25, 2019


As troubled Central American countries have provided the bulk of migrants seeking to cross the U.S. border in recent years, Mali and other African countries are supplying the pipeline of people trekking north in search of jobs and security in Europe. The outflow has sparked a sharp counterreaction inside the European Union.

Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries with two-thirds of its 18 million people younger than 25, has emerged in recent years as one of the leading countries of origin for migrants and asylum seekers landing in Europe.

The dangers refugees face on their journey north were on vivid display Thursday with reports that some 150 Europe-bound migrants, including women and children, drowned when their boats capsized shortly after setting sail from the Libyan coast. A top U.N. official described the shipwreck as “the worst Mediterranean tragedy” so far this year.

Three years ago, Mr. Keita was preparing to make the long overland desert trek to the Mediterranean coast of Libya, where he would try to find space on a boat to make the treacherous — often deadly — crossing to Italy or Spain.

Everything changed, Mr. Keita said, when he heard about a pilot development program that would give him training and some financial backing — all told an estimated $255, some it in the form of a loan he is repaying — to help get him start the farm he runs now.


On a hot July afternoon, Mr. Keita took time off from his labors to sit for a bit in the shade of a tree and speak about his experiences and his fears for fellow Malians determined to leave.

“I tell them, ‘Look at me. I’m like you, and I found a way. You can find a way, too,’” he said. “But a lot of them go anyway. They think they will have good luck, but you never hear about people having good luck.”


The average Malian earns about $850 per year, according to the World Bank — 75 times less than the average American. In rural areas, income levels can be half of that.

A changing climate and limited water supplies have produced desertification, land degradation and drought. Life is even worse in the violence-ravaged northern two-thirds of the country, which the national government in Bamako has all but abandoned. Many northern regions lack police and schools and are considered too dangerous for aid organizations to operate.


“The problem is not migration per se,” Mr. Houngbo said. “With the right kind of migration, everybody wins. The problem comes when people feel they have no choice but to migrate because of fear of violence or persecution or poverty.”

It’s a vicious circle in the world’s poorest countries, including Mali. Poverty drives many of the most capable citizens to flee or, worse, pushes them into the hands of extremist groups.


“The first step has to be to create economic opportunity,” said Jean Claude Sidibe, a legal scholar who studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and was installed as Mali’s labor minister in May. “If there are jobs, then it makes it easier for the other problems to take care of themselves. But creating economic opportunity in a country like ours, that is not a small obstacle.”

Nothing proves that point better than the sheer number of aid projects working to lift Mali from poverty. The number of active development projects is not publicly available, but some estimates put the number in the thousands.


Yet the country is poorer in inflation-adjusted terms than it was a decade ago, according to the World Bank. Over the six-year period ending last year, Mali jumped from seventh place to third on the ranking of African countries of origin for migrants arriving in the European Union, according to figures from Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.