Migrants arriving in Libya via the Sahara Desert in 2016 | Photo: Reuters
Migrants arriving in Libya via the Sahara Desert in 2016 | Photo: Reuters

At the age of 15, Aboubacar, now a refugee in France, fled Guinea. When he crossed the Algerian desert to reach Libya, he was one of only two survivors. Aboubacar told InfoMigrants about this traumatic journey.

20-year-old Aboubaca is a Guinean refugee living in Marseille, France. He is currently studying for a vocational training certificate as an electrician. This young man fled Guinea and the Koranic schooling his father imposed on him in order to escape the fate of the men in his family: to become an imam. Uninterested in religion, Aboubacar wanted above all to be free to make his own choices, he says. One day, his mother told him about a driver who could take him to Mali. His journey started then, when he was only 15 years old. He traveled across Algeria, Libya, and then crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Lampedusa.

After a succession of hardships, and two years in Germany as a minor, the only thing he wants now is to become fully integrated in France and to start his own company. In his spare time, he is vice-president of an association that helps asylum seekers. He is living a simple life and is focused on others, the antithesis of what he has experienced in the last five years.

Aboubacar told InfoMigrants about one of the most difficult stages of his journey, crossing the Algerian desert to reach Libya.

"I had heard so many stories of people being scammed and abandoned by smugglers trying to cross the desert to Libya that I didn't trust anyone. I told a smuggler, 'if you take me to Libya, I'll pay you after, I won't pay you before because I know that many people don't get there. He agreed. So I set off from Algeria to Libya through the desert in October 2015.

Also read: The Sahara route: a journey more deadly than the crossing from the coast

'Instead of one day, we spent two weeks in that desert'

There were about 90 of us who left together, spread out in five or six vehicles. The smugglers had told us that 'to get to the border with Libya, it's a one-day crossing. We will arrive tonight or tomorrow morning at the latest. We were simply told to take a lot of water. We had biscuits too. But instead of one day, we spent two weeks in the desert. The smugglers were not telling the truth. Anyway, there is no truth when you're on this road.

During the day, we drove. And, when night fell, they [the smugglers] would hide us and leave. They would come back for us the next day at 6 a.m. It went on like that for two weeks. Out of the 90 people, about 60 of us had not paid up in advance. That's why they came back for us. If they had already got their money, they would have abandoned us.

We don't know how many kilometers we traveled, thousands for sure. I think the smugglers don't know either, they don't know the distances.

Also read: Migrants rescued in remote Sahara Desert

'At night, when we were too cold, we burned each other's clothes'

One morning, after we had already been traveling for two weeks, they didn't come to collect us. Just before that, we had paid them half of the fee for the crossing, which was 6,000 dinars [a little less than 40 euros, editor's note]. Without anyone to give us directions, we all split up because some of us wanted to continue, others wanted to go back. I wanted to keep going on foot. We were told: 'You should never walk with more than 15 people, so as not to be spotted', so 15 of us left together.

We walked for five days: we walked in the morning until 11 a.m., then we rested. We crossed a small village where we could take water and we continued. I had only a small bag in which I could carry two bottles of water. We had nothing to eat. In the desert, it is very hot during the day and very cold at night. When we were too cold, we burned each other's clothes to keep warm. I burned a jacket and a pair of pants of mine.

'In the desert, when you fall down, they leave you'

Then people started falling. I can't say for what reason: starvation, fatigue, fever... In the desert, when you fall down, they leave you. Sometimes, in the morning, some people would tell us that they couldn't get up anymore, they would tell us to continue the journey without them. And you can't do anything to help them. I knew that if it happened to me too, they would leave me. It's sad to see someone fall like that, without any help. I have nightmares about it.

I don't know who they were, the ones who died. They were older than me, about 18/19 years old, others were 20 years old. They were Guineans, Ivorians, from all over the world, but I don't know anything about them because we didn't talk much. In the desert, you can't waste energy, you can't talk too much. There is no humanity in the desert.

On the last day, there were only two survivors left out of the original 15. I did not talk about it with the other man, we were too exhausted and worried. We were looking for a town where we could stop to get at least something to eat. The smugglers finally stopped us in Libya, they beat us up and sent us to prison, but at least we had a little bit of bread and water.

I don't know why I survived while 13 others died. Those who die are the unlucky ones, the survivors are the lucky ones, that's all."