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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Billy's journey: Europe at last
In the second part of his account Mamadou Saliou "Billy" Diallo recounts how he smuggled himself into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and finally made it to Italy.

Our guide in Tangier advised us to buy lots of black clothes and said that at midnight a taxi would pick the three of us up, along with seven others to take us to the forest near the border with Ceuta.

The conditions there are terrible - there's no water, so you can't even wash yourself after you go the toilet. Diseases spread really quickly.

Every night, people try to climb over the twin barbed wire fence which separates Morocco from Ceuta. Many of them are caught.

After two weeks, a Moroccan man showed us a tunnel which had been dug underneath the fence.

We tried to get through, but when we were just 200m from the tunnel, we heard the sound of heavy boots running towards us - we had been sold out.

The police started beating us with their rifle butts - one knocked my front tooth out and I fell down unconscious.

That was when I reached the point of no return - I was determined to reach Europe or die trying. After everything I had gone through, I didn't care any more.

Disappointment in Italy

A week passed before our next chance came. The guide who had been with us since Casablanca took us to the coast and showed us an inflatable raft.

Billy's journey started in Senegal and ended more than five months later in Italy.

We all got in and lay on the floor, while he rowed, staying close to the shore, where the shade of trees would stop us being picked out by the searchlights.

I was the only one there who knew how to swim.

We arrived on Spanish territory two hours later. Luckily, we avoided the police and made it to the Calamocarro Red Cross camp in Ceuta.

I was a refugee from Rwanda and asked for political asylum. If I had said I was from Guinea or Senegal, they would have sent me back home.

That night I slept on a clean and comfortable mattress for the first time in four months - it was now March 2000.

After three weeks, I was given a residence permit and put on a boat to the Spanish mainland.

I couldn't believe that after everything I had gone through to reach Europe, this was what the life of an immigrant was like
It was only when I landed at Armilla that I really felt I had reached my goal - especially when I saw the policemen wearing Spanish uniforms.

It was an amazing feeling. I was completely overcome but was still too weak to dance.

I worked in the fields in Armilla for a month to earn enough to buy a train ticket to Italy, where I was planning to join one of my cousins.

Although I had my residence permit, I never had complete faith in it. When the inspectors asked me for my ticket on the train, I thought they were the police and was terrified of being sent back home.

I didn't speak Spanish and nervously pulled out my wallet to show them my residence permit but they laughed and pulled out my ticket instead, which they stamped.

I was devastated when I got to my final destination, Brescia, six months after I had left Dakar. The phone number my cousin had given was no longer in use.

Finally legal

At the station, I met two Senegalese men who took me to a hostel. There were 15 immigrants living in a single room and there was no room for me.

In the end, I found some space on the floor of the cellar, even if it was filthy.

I was desperate to see my wife Idiatou again - she had been through so much, bringing up our three children on her own
I couldn't believe that after everything I had gone through to reach Europe, this was what the life of an immigrant was like.

I spent a year living on that filthy floor and selling African trinkets, lighters and bracelets.

Then, a friend who had managed to do well as a businessman, gave me his work permit. We looked quite similar and I was able to get a job in a factory making agricultural tools.

Last year, the Italian government announced that they would give residence and work permits to illegal immigrants who had a job.

I got my papers in May 2003 and immediately thought of my family back home.

Now that I was legal, I was free to go and see them for the first time in four years.

No regrets

I was desperate to see Idiatou again - she had been through so much, bringing up our three children on her own.

I went through hell to reach Italy and would never have left if I had known what the journey really entailed
Our youngest daughter Aissatou was just one when I left and she thought that one of my cousins who was living with them was her dad, not me.

I was able to go back home last December and it was truly amazing to see my family again.

Life is tough in Brescia - I'm still sharing a single room with 11 others - but it's better than what I went through on my journey.

Although I don't earn that much, I am able to send enough money home every month to look after my wife, children, mum, dad and other relatives who are living at home.

I have also bought a plot of land, where I hope to build my own house when I earn enough money.

My children are going to a good private school, so they already have a better start in life than I had.

I went through hell to reach Italy and would never have left if I had known what the journey really entailed.

But I don't regret it now because I can look after my family far better than when I was working as a nurse in Dakar.

If I had to do it again, I would have waited until I had enough money to buy a plane ticket to Europe and got a visa somehow.

After getting my papers, my first object was to see my family again. Now that I have done that, I hope to get a job as a nurse and earn enough to bring my wife over to join me.

Your comments:

In this part of the world - Africa, a man works so hard and earns so little
Fidelis Idonije, Lagos

The adventure of Billy is a familiar one. The difference here is that Billy's experience got reported. There are more horrendous tales about youths from Africa trying to escape grim of economic hardship. In this part of the world - Africa, a man works so hard and earns so little. Haba! Let Africans leave the shores of their land in a more dignified way.
Fidelis Idonije, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria

I was a laboratory technician for several years in Cameroon and with that hard earned education I could only make $90 a month. I decided to come over here to the US where I make 25 times that amount. Even if I had to go through what Billy went through to make that money I would. It is good training Billy and you are now ready to face the world and all its challenges.
Joseph Fai, Kansas city USA

I'm from Brescia, Italy, the town where Billy finally landed. The story about how he managed to get here is enlightening and lets one see reality from the other side of the camera shutter. It's not uncommon to meet African immigrants trying to sell lighters in our city centre, but I can bet very few people are aware of what terrible stories are behind those who finally made it - and those who didn't. Lawmakers, police forces, all have their own solutions in mind to tackle this problem, but until a decent standard of living is granted to African countries, it simply has no real solution. Well done, Billy.
Cesare Baffi, Brescia, Italy

If the distribution of wealth throughout the world was spread a little more evenly, people like Billy wouldn't have to give up life in a homeland that they love
Arica Aylesworth, Boston

The Western world complains about the high influx of those from Third world nations seeking to live and work inside our borders. However, it is the Western world that hoards the riches leaving Third world citizens in failing economies with no other option than to risk everything to immigrate so they can afford the basic necessities of life for themselves and their families. If the distribution of wealth throughout the world was spread a little more evenly, people like Billy wouldn't have to give up life in a homeland that they love just for the sake of their family's survival.
Arica Aylesworth, Boston, USA

I think the story shows the suffering of people in Africa due to misruling, corrupt African's leaders. It's time to remove these corruptors.
Omar, Djibouti

Billy, I am the daughter of Jamaicans who immigrated to America for a better life. In one generation of living that better life my parents have divorced, my brother joined a gang that sold drugs, my sister was a teenage mom, and my oldest brother is ashamed of his family's heritage. Money does not equal a better life. A little with contentment is greater. Do not give away what you cannot get back. Sorry for your journey.
Asantewaa, Park Forest, IL, USA

I salute Billy to have such courage to seek a better life for himself and family
Eula Nervais, Orange

Billy's story is one of hope and survival and more importantly bravery. His story made me laugh it made me cry and it left me something to think about, the plight of immigrants seeking a better life in a country completely foreign to them. I salute Billy to have such courage to seek a better life for himself and family. Viva Billy!
Eula Nervais, Orange, New Jersey

What an inspirational story of a man who had all the courage in the world to risk his life just to get a better job so that he could provide a better life for his family. Compare that to people in the West who sit at home and demand benefits... It's sad! Good luck to you Billy, you deserve every bit of success you get.
David Hilton, Hudds, UK

What, really, is the 'better life?' One where you don't see or interact with your family for years at a time? One where you share living space with 15 strangers? One where you make a mediocre living not fully utilizing your skills/training? Is your life the sum total of what you can send back home? Does the 'better life' exclude you, the individual? These are questions would be émigrés must ask themselves. Personally, if I didn't have the correct credentials/papers, I would never have travelled to the US. Now I'm here, I've see that life is more than mere dollars and cents. I'm going back!
EB, Nigeria/US

Africans, let us wake up and let our African leaders know this
Victoria Kihumo, Arusha

This is sad, amazing and heart-breaking. While reading this tale, I was almost in tears. Our African leaders should be able to understand what the young generation is going through. They should create new jobs for young people like Billy. Jobs that have incentives. Yes, life is a struggle but our African leaders need to know that. How come our white brothers and sisters and their leaders understand what is happening to us and give asylum, jobs, training etc in their respective countries. Why can't our African leaders do the same to improve our life standards? Africans, let us wake up and let our African leaders know this.
Victoria Kihumo, Arusha, Tanzania

As I child of immigrants from the West Indies to England in the early sixties I am amazed at your journey as my parents' was easy . Billy you are a hero to your children and your amazing will and determination will be seen in your children's success. Let's hope they won't also have to leave their country to achieve their worth. God Bless you and yours and good luck!
Colleen Morris, New York City, USA

This story amazes me. Not least because of the courage that Billy has shown to build a better life for himself and his family, but because he spent 17 years working as a nurse in a major hospital. These are skills that you should be able to take anywhere in the world. Why was Billy not able to take these skills to the west. With the NHS here in England crying out for nurses and medical staff, Billy and thousands like him should be able to apply for work permits to come and work in the hospitals of Britain. Good luck Billy... you deserve it.
Mark TB, London, England

Billy's episode is emotionally touching and made me wonder about how serious the world is about human rights
Michael Kalainkay, Wageningen
Billy's episode is emotionally touching and made me wonder about how serious the world is about human rights. The reason is that Africa is rich by virtue of its resources but why the mass exodus? The answer is that the developed world is collaborating in looting Africa. This is why they conceal the secrets of foreign bank accounts of African leaders.
Michael Kalainkay, Wageningen, Netherlands

I have been blessed to travel many countries in the comfort of an airplane, from Africa to Europe and America; I've heard of people crossing borders but it never crossed my mind of the hardship these people are going through until now. In my eyes Bill is a warrior and a Hero. Here is a story I'll narrate to my 2 boys when they get the age to understand. Bill, may Allah bless you and your family with wealth, health, and peace. This is a story we should forward to the African so called leaders.
Emile Wilson Kuissu, Boston, USA

It is true that life itself is a risk, but for Billy to go through such hazards and dangers, it is not worth it. Thank God that he made it to Italy at last, but can he advise any children to go through such an experience? Let us learn to trust in God with whom nothing shall be impossible.
Igboba Philip E, Ibadan, Nigeria

It is a pity that most African leaders make life impossible for their citizens through greed and selfishness, making it impossible for people to live a decent life. Hence they are forced to travel to Europe under horrifying circumstances and when they reach there life is not easy either. Well, I have a message to the African leaders - You should learn that leadership is a service to others and hence you must strive to develop Africa so that we don't lose many people who are trying to forge decent lives in Europe. We Africans can do it on our own since we have the capacity to do so. Another message is for the Governments and people of Europe. Although there are many immigrants coming to Europe they are still human beings with human needs. If there is a way to help them at least get the basic needs, food and water, shelter, clothing and perhaps easier possibilities to work it would be a wonderful way of extending kindness to these illegal immigrants.
Stella Onyinkwa, Eldoret, Kenya

The problem of people fleeing to find a better life is the driving force behind much of our history
D Jordan, Vienna
Thank you for a very well told account of one man's life as he seeks opportunity for a better life. The problem of people fleeing to find a better life is as old as man and is the driving force behind much of our history. Currently, there are about 34 million people worldwide fleeing from their homes toward their dream of a better life. Most of them are fleeing the lack of opportunity in their own countries. That said, a huge number of these folks never find the better life they seek. As your story told, many die in the effort. Many more get to their destination only to find that the dream is just that, a dream. The story of the migrant is no less tragic than it is an old, old story.
D Jordan, Vienna, Austria

I have never read anything like this; it's horrific. I am speechless. As I read through this, it brought tears to my eyes and really broke my heart. I think this is a story that needs to be broadcast in every television station across Africa and let the leaders see what they are causing to our young people. This story needs to be shared in every school across Africa; let everyone know the truth so that the would-be Billy's must make a decision if it is worth risking their lives. Thank God for the happy ending and I hope Billy realises all of his dreams.
Emmanuel Bilikha, Houston, Texas, USA

Billy had nine lives to have gone through all that without being killed. I think we should embark on teachings that would discourage such surely dangerous trips. I don't think it's called for; we should sit down and build our region. All that glitters is not gold.
Fola Oyalade, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Billy's story is an interpretation of human inspiration
Sal Crivello, London

Billy's story is an interpretation of human inspiration. With belief, determination, and willingness this man shares the story of the power of one (person) and the effect it can and will have on those he touches. Not just his own family but those of us fortunate enough to read his story from the comfort of our homes. As for me, I bless Billy and his entire family and may this be the beginning of great things to come for his children and his children's children. Thank you for sharing your story Billy.
Sal Crivello, London, UK

Billy is amazing; his journey to the West is one of inspiration. His story puts in prospective what counts and how blessed some people are just because of the country they are born in. I salute Billy for his efforts and hope that he is able to bring his family to Italy.
Ricardo Salazar, Lima, Peru

It takes men and women of zeal, great determination and selfless sacrifices to make it to Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal etc. What are they doing today? Why can't we do the same for and in our own countries?
Nzefili C Osugo, Lagos, Nigeria

This is a sad, sad story that reflects badly on Africa as a whole. Men and women are daily led to take these kinds of desperate and risky moves in search of a better life. Whilst our greedy leaders fight tooth and nail to stay in power whilst causing us misery to no end!
KT Mandisodza, Harare, Zimbabwe

I have always found it absurd when people still migrate at Billy's age and under such dangerous circumstances and risk to life. The situation in Africa is really desperate and calls for redress. This story really held me spellbound like a thriller... what are the odds of survival? I tell you, its not worth the gamble. We have to salvage our countries!
Aza Emmanuel, Abuja, Nigeria.

Something is seriously wrong in a world that breeds so much desperation in a man. Peace, liberty, humanity are achievable goals that citizens wrongly leave in the responsibility of politicians.
Drigh, Riyadh, KSA

I understand Billy's motives. But as someone who often comes across dead bodies in my region, I wish that immigrants like Billy - who clearly have a lot of faith and energy - would stay in their homeland and use their will and strength to build a society where they and their family can live with dignity. A lot of good and strong people's lives are wasted, people that Africa needs if the continent wants to progress. (Just a naive thought.)
Michael Bach, Cadiz ,Spain

Billy's nightmarish adventure has at last shed light at the end of the tunnel. In the depth of observation, one can see that African countries were conditioned by their colonialists to be what they are at present. Billy's problems were a bi-product of the suffering that is experienced all over Africa. It is high time now that Europeans look back to their ex colonies and help them to recover.
Said Al-Mugheiry, Muscat, Oman

What a sad story! And what a shame that a hard-working man like this cannot earn enough as a nurse in his own country. If we lived in a fairer world it wouldn't be necessary for a man like Billy to leave his family and travel so far from his home to make a decent living for them all.
Nicky McAllister, Bristol, UK

This had more suspense than any book I have ever read. I almost jumped to the conclusion, but with patience read through all of Billy's journey with him. The mental pictures were unbearable, but it is through struggles that one can truly claim success. I am happy that he has found better life and I hope that wherever he is, millions of miles away, he will continue to strive for excellence and continue to provide for and care for his family even though he is very far from them. Billy, great men achieved their success while their companion slept. So keep on being strong and victorious.
Gavin Bennett, Montego Bay, Jamaica

If it were not for the greed of our leaders in Africa, Billy would not have taken such a risk to get to Europe. Many have died in the process of doing the same thing but we thank God for Billy's life. To our leaders in Africa: please save us this stress.
Aiku Adegboyega, Port Harcourt, Nigeria


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