Guest Blog: Transit as a Political Place
Guest blog by Ángela Iranzo Dosdad. Ángela is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Deusto and a visiting scholar at SOAS University of London.
‘Europe was not my destination; neither was it mine…’
Europeans construct their own myths; conservatives and even progressives feed the idea of Europe as the desired destination of clandestine Sub-Saharan migrants. However, the apparent common wisdom lacks much empirical support.
This widespread assumption is, in fact, an Aristotelian entelechy that revives the argument of the so-called ‘pull effect’. This is the conclusion I draw from thirty interviews with Sub-Saharan migrants who arrived in Spain between 2016 and 2018 on the project ‘Mobility as a political place: Expanding protection categories to violence on the route’.
Listening to them calls into question this narrative on ‘Destination: Europe’. Their experiences show that the journeys are long, the majority between 1 and 2 years, but there were those who travelled the road in 6 months and those who did so in 10 years. Displacement is, therefore, a dwelling on the move in which migrants decide, not once, but many times on their next destination.
More than half of the Sub-Saharan men I interviewed stated that when they left their country they did not intend to go to Europe. Their purpose was in fact to spend some time in neighbouring West African countries in order to work or to wait for the political situation in their home country to ease. Nevertheless, the lack of work and rumours about job opportunities in Algeria and Libya led them to the gates of the desert: Kidal (Mali) and Agadez (Niger). Crossing ‘[the desert] is like hell (…) and you can’t say anything or they kill you’ said a Cameroonian man. ‘The desert ends up being more expensive than the plane,’ affirmed someone from Guinea.
When you manage to cross the desert, there is no turning back. This is the first ‘padlock’ on the road, explained several of my informants. If you have money left, you are not willing to pay the traffickers back to return, and the high stress experienced during the crossing does not let you think about this option. Traffickers are not interested in people coming back and telling their communities about their unimaginable experience.
‘I ate sand and drank gasoline across the desert…’ (Cameroonian man)
‘There is no way back. It’s like you’re standing in the middle of the ocean.’ (Cameroonian man)
Many migrants experience a kind of forced displacement that pushes them North, into the Maghreb. When they arrive in Algeria, many of them even believe the country is the destination they were looking for. There are jobs ‘for blacks’ in various Algerian cities, but racial discrimination pushes them to seek better options elsewhere.
‘They call you black, animal, they cover their noses because they say you smell bad or you can’t occupy a seat on the bus…’ (Man from Guinea)
Some migrants begin to consider the possibility of travelling to Europe when they get to Algeria. For most, this only happens once they arrive in Morocco and grievances over racial discrimination increase: insults, physical violence from youth gangs, difficulties finding a flat to rent or getting a job, and revolting behaviours such as being spat at or getting wet from a bucket of water thrown from a balcony. There are fears of being arrested by the Moroccan police, and those who go to the forest camps in Nador live in inhuman conditions. ‘No, I can’t live like this there (…) there are people who die in those camps and nobody knows or talks about anything,’ said a Guinean man.
Metaphorically, Morocco is for Sub-Saharan migrants a ‘prison’, before becoming a ‘waiting room’ prior to cross the Mediterranean. Many of them live confined for years, making an effort to improve a situation that has no exit door. The journey denigrates and impoverishes these migrants; they were not poor when they left their country. ‘The hardest thing about the trip is that I was not treated like a human being,’ said a Cameroonian man.
Hence ‘transit’ is more than an intermediate status between origin and destination. It is a political place; that is, a process of interlinked mobilities and immobilities conditioned by direct and structural violence. In Morocco, many migrants feel they must either resign themselves to living as pariahs, or cross the Mediterranean.
‘I’ve given it a lot of thought. I can’t go back to my country, I can’t stay in Morocco to work… maybe there I can be happy because I know IT, I’m an intelligent person and I like to be well informed (…) I have no other way out.’ (Man from Ivory Coast)
Paradoxically, Morocco retains irregular migrants to prevent them from reaching Europe, but also pushes many others towards European territory. In short, Morocco is both the EU’s preferred partner to control migration at the Mediterranean’s Southern border, and the place where many migrants make the decision to head towards Europe.