Abdou Sissoko: “We were lost at see and with no engine, I’d never been as scared in my life”

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  • Abdou Sissoko managed to cross the Mediterranean and reached Malaga.
    Abdou Sissoko managed to cross the Mediterranean and reached Malaga. Source: Palau Socks.

We talks with Abdou, a malian who managed to cross the Mediterranean and reached Malaga.

Abdou is 21 and comes from Mali. The first time he tried reaching Europe he took a plane from Bamako to Algiers, but there he was arrested and deported to the border. Finally, he managed to cross the Mediterranean and reached Malaga, where he was assisted by several social organizations and NGOs. We have spoken to him to learn about his story.

What was it like crossing from Morocco to Spain on a small boat? What memories do you have of those days?

I arrived in Spain from Morocco on a small boat on 28th November 2018. However, my journey started well before, it was long and full of dangers. Without knowing the dangers I would face, I set off. First, I took a bus from Bamako to Sévaré, in Mali, and there it is possible to pay mafias to cross the desert by car.

What happened next?

In Oujda, the mafia drive migrants to the city centre to cross the military checks and then, again by car, I arrived in a small village close to Nador. There were many people travelling in the car, squashed liked sardines and travelling for many hours without being able to move, in sweltering heat.

Many were scared and some started to cry and scream, begging to get out of the car because they feared dying from the heat. The driver carried on driving at high speed and without stopping until we reached our destination.

How long were you in Nador?

I was in Nador for seven months, and during that time I boarded a boat around twenty times, until I finally managed to make the crossing. I lived in the woods with other migrants who, like myself, were waiting to cross. The months in Nador were terrible; we lived constantly on the move from one part of the woods to another, without time to relax so the police wouldn’t find us.

How was the moment you jumped into the sea?

The people from the mafia explained to a migrant how to start the engine, and pointed a finger in the direction of Spain, then they pushed us out to sea. Seventy people set off from Nador with no idea about navigation nor where we were headed, and with no way of communicating with anyone if things went wrong.

Thirteen hours later we were lost at see and with no engine, bailing the water that was leaking into the rib. Many were crying and others tried getting a mobile signal in the middle of the sea; the situation was terrifying. Finally we saw a rescue helicopter that stayed in the area until the rescue vessel arrived.

Were you scared?

I’d never been as scared in my life. We were completely lost, the vessel that rescued us took almost four hours to reach the port. We disembarked in Malaga and, after being assisted by the Red Cross, the police transferred us to Algeciras and we were taken to a temporary facility for migrants. There we went through a medical check-up and waited to be transferred to other points in Spain.

What pushed you to look for new opportunities in Europe?

I decided to come to Europe while I was studying my baccalaureate in economics in Bamako. I would save a part of my student grant to prepare for my journey. On TV I’d see European cities, rich and free, and that’s how I imagined Europe, a land of freedom and possibilities.

What future did Mali have to offer you?

Mali is becoming growingly unsafe, with more terrorist attacks and the Islamic State gaining power, imposing their rules and restricting the rights of its citizens. Women have virtually been stripped of all their rights, they can’t choose who they marry, their fathers decide when they’re still girls.

I saw the suffering my sisters went through and I saw my mother dying of malaria aged 42.

It can’t be easy to feel so far from your family’s values.

Expressing my rejection towards this culture and confronting my father brought big problems for me, to the extent of risking my life. This is what pushed me to escape. I believed that if I could come to Europe I would be able to help improve the situation for women in my country, by training and acquiring the necessary tools to set up associations to help women in Mali.

What was it like adapting to a new reality here in Catalonia?

My adaptation was very good. I simply observed and learnt everything that makes up the Spanish culture, and especially the Catalan culture. Living with families has helped me a lot in this adaptation process. It’s a slow process but very enriching. This has also allowed me to meet and interact with more people, getting to know the customs and culture of this land where I feel so well.

How did social organizations help you since you arrived?

Since I arrived in Spain I have always been helped by several NGOs such as the Red Cross, ACCEM, Migra Stadium, Caritas, CEAR and especially Barcelona Actúa and Palau Socks. They’ve helped me to integrate into the Spanish society; they’ve allowed me to train, to learn the language, to do volunteering work and also have leisure time.

What would be your recommendation for young Africans wanting to come to Europe?

I can’t advise African youths not to come to Europe, because they’ll think I’m an egotist and that I want to keep all the good things for myself. But what I can tell them is not to believe everything they see on TV. This is not paradise, the cities they see on their televisions are a construct, they’re not real and people here also have problems, there’s unemployment, poverty and people sleeping out in the streets. Once they know this reality, then it’s up to them to decide.

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