Mamadou Diallo, from Guinea, had always dreamt of going to Europe. After spending years trying to get a visa, he finally went last year. But the conditions he saw other migrants living in were so bad, he went back home. He told his story to BBC News Online.
Mamadou's friends told him he was crazy to go back home
I have always wanted to go to Europe because lots of people from my village have gone and now their families have lots of money and have built huge villas.
Many of my friends had gone and I felt that I was going nowhere, staying in Africa, fixing fridges and air-conditioning.
As soon as I started work in 1989, I started saving up to pay to go to Europe.
Sometimes, I saved up rather than send money to my family.
By 1991, I had $2,200, which I paid someone for a visa to go to Italy.
He said that he had some contacts in the Italian embassy and could get a visa without any trouble.
I didn't have any choice about where I went, I was just desperate to leave Africa.
But it turned out that it was a con. I lost all my money and had to start saving up from scratch.
Then in 1998, I met someone who said he could get me a US visa for $5,500, including the plane ticket.
This time, there were about 10 of us - none of us got the visas.
We went to the police, who caught the man and I managed to get $1,800 back.
After that, I decided that I would never again try to buy a visa - I still wanted to go but only if I got the papers legitimately.
But then in 2001, a close friend of mine, who I really trusted, met a man from Benin in France. He said he could get me a visa, again with no problem.
I was convinced that it would work this time and I went to Benin to meet him.
I even resigned from my job because I was so sure that I would finally have my visa.
I told a friend of mine and he too wanted a visa. Each one cost $3,600.
I borrowed the money from my family.
I was staying in a hotel in Benin and my money was starting to run out.
Every day, Pascale came up with a new excuse for the delay.
After spending 25 days in Cotonou, I had no money left, so I had to go back home.
I would prefer to stay at home and be poor than be rich and live in those conditions
He promised to send me my passport with the visa but I never heard from him again.
The conmen always say that they know someone at the embassy. But there is a whole network of people, who all have to be paid, and that is why it costs so much.
However sometimes it is true - I know some people who have obtained visas after paying for them.
Life was really tough for me after I had given up my job. I couldn't get another one and just did odd jobs for two years.
Europe at last
Then in 2003, a French friend of one of my relatives sent me a letter of invitation and I got a tourist visa without any trouble - and without paying any bribes.
I was so happy to get my visa - after all these years of trying and all the money I've wasted.
With all the money I've wasted trying to buy a visa, I could have stayed in Africa and done something
I flew to France and met a friend from Guinea. He was staying in a single tiny room with his pregnant wife.
They cooked, ate and slept in that room, which had a stove, fridge and a sofa bed, where they slept.
I wanted to stay with them but there was no way I could.
And I couldn't live like that, so I went to Italy where I knew some more people.
I had a Schengen visa so there was no trouble going to Italy but what I saw there was even worse.
Even a prison would be better - 16 people sharing a single grotty room, with just three beds.
I didn't even want to sit down on the bed and the smell of all those people was terrible.
I would prefer to stay at home and be poor than be rich and live in those conditions.
I was so determined to go that I never would have believed someone who told me that going to Europe would be that hard
And when the Africans in Europe come home, they never tell the rest of us what life is really like there, they just flash their money around, wearing nice clothes and building huge mansions.
I have always heard that Europe is a place where money grows on trees.
But since I saw what life for the migrants in Europe is really like, I've decided to stay here and work.
With all the money I've wasted trying to buy a visa, I could have stayed in Africa and done something.
But when I came back, people didn't believe they were seeing me - they told me I was crazy.
I told them what life was like in Europe but no-one believed me.
Before I went, I was the same - I was so determined to go that I never would have believed someone who told me that going to Europe would be that hard.
But now I know the truth and I am determined to make some money here in Africa.
While doing volunteer work to help unemployed people find jobs, I spoke to a woman from Kenya who held two medical degrees from an African university. Her qualifications were not recognized by the Canadian medical establishment. She had left a privileged life in her home country to come here where she could find work maybe as a cashier in a shop, or a housekeeper taking care of somebody else's children. Her training, knowledge and expertise are lost to both her old country and her new country, and she is living in poverty. It is too bad.
Mike Toner, Ottawa, Canada
What I want to know is what is being done to stop the con-men from running their cons? I guess there is no money in stopping them - these victims are just treated like everyone's garbage it seems.
Janet Bratton, United States
There are other stories, for example, of a couple who lived a reasonable existence in London, working as bus drivers, and retiring at around age 40 to a mansion in Jamaica. Who wouldn't want to work for 20 years and retire to riches? Other citizens of London have only to look forward to life, after even more years of work, in a grotty flat. I still envy immigrants from poorer countries their ability to work in England and to retire to a fantastic standard of living. No one will let me work in London, even at a menial job, because I come from a developed country and do not fit the requisites for employment and residence in London. And I would so much love to live in Britain, even in a nasty flat.
Paula, Los Angeles, USA
Being part African and European, I have worked and lived in miserable conditions in the United States with illegal and legal foreigners alike. Europeans, Africans, Asians, all cramped into a two bedroom apartment in the land of opportunity, to work back breaking jobs, all for the sake of saving and flashing the rewards in our home country or to come by basic living expenses. I think it's unfair to judge a country, much less an entire continent, by the lifestyle we choose to follow. Sacrificing comfort and rigorous living conditions saves hard earned money.
It is unfortunate many people from Africa think the grass is greener on the other side, and that's because those who return from the other side claim it so and don't mention what they had to go threw before flashing the new shoes and clothes at home. Those who do try to express they're suffering, are unfortunately not taken seriously, or are overlooked - all eyes are on the shoes.
Adam Kidane, Ethiopia/Czech/USA
The African man believes everything in Europe is milk and honey. So they always dream of going there to have a better life. What fools them most is the colour of the skin of the people in Europe - they feel that people in Europe are not suffering, but they are suffering just like we Africans. Africans should love their continent and try to build it well like the Europeans and Americans.
David Fatormah, Monrovia, Liberia
I couldn't agree enough with Mamadou! I have been living in the UK for nearly three years now. As a student from a very poor family, life is really tough. Outside lecture times, I spend most of my time working to make ends meet. But I know I'm privileged to be a student here. I have friends who are here to work like donkeys; 84 hrs a week for several consecutive weeks. It's hard to believe how they do it!? When I ask them why, the answer is unanimous: "my family needs the money for this or that purpose".
The sickening thing is that nobody believes when you tell them how you get the money. They think you are lying to deter them from coming here. Mamadou puts it best; they think "money grows on trees".
Thank you BBC for placing this man's story on your website. I've sent it to my little sister as she wants to come here when she is seriously better off in Nigeria with an expensive way of life. But she still thinks the grass is greener here. She is a graduate from a good University, has a car and people to do things for here at very little cost. She has lots of money in the local currency. I keep saying stay in Lagos my sister because you're much better off
Emmanuel Ben Edigbe, Birmingham, UK
I appreciate the terrible experiences that you went through, but it's not all of us Africans that are experiencing such horrors. Some of us have come to Europe to hone our skills in IT, Accountancy, Engineering and Healthcare and we are enjoying a very high standard of living. I am a Media professional and because of a despotic government in Zimbabwe I felt I should leave and enhance my education in the UK. You are likely to succeed if you are determined regardless of where you are in the world. Education is the key. Some of us have refused to be victims and through study have secured our destiny.
Zvina Mutandiro, London , UK
I agree with Mamadou for refusing to live like an animal in Europe, better to be poor in Africa and have your self respect and dignity. African men and women have subjected themselves and others to life of misery and life long desperations in Europe. It is now time Black African started to build our continent, trade more with our neighbours and stop wars, elect competent and honest leaders, stop crimes so that investments can come in and flourish. What many people in Africa also do not know now, is that there are many Africans now in Europe with severe mental illness, growing at an alarming rate due to desperation and poor living conditions. It is 1,000 times better to have your sanity in Africa than go mad in Europe.
Mary Akossa, London
I did my post graduate study in Western Europe and had also a chance to visit some Western European countries (UK, Ireland, The Netherlands and Spain). I decided from the very beginning that as soon as I finished my studies I should come home (which I did). I witnessed how immigrants are living in these Western European countries. I tried to share my thoughts/experience with friends, relatives and none of them believed me. Recently I witnessed my sister-in-law spending a fortune trying to get a visa to one of these Western countries. She was one of those people who truly believed that I was telling lies. Well done Mamadou!
Ibsa Gobena, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
I come from Kenya, but currently live and study in Oslo. It is true that a lot of the African economic refuges in Europe never tell their people back home the truth about Europe. For the unskilled the menial jobs are numerous and offer better income in Europe, but their living conditions can be pathetic. Seeing is believing.
Tom Anyamba, Oslo, Norway
If I understand correctly, this man wasted well over $10,000 in attempts to buy a visa. I am a European, I have a reasonable job, and there is no way I could have managed to raise that amount of money beyond the normal cost of living... why do people want to come here when they could build a good future in their own country with that amount of money? Is the dream really that much shinier than reality?
Ellen de Veere, Amsterdam, the Netherlands