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Page last updated at 15:57 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 16:57 UK

Death shatters migration dream

By Rafael Estefania
BBC News, Hansala, Morocco

Sliman Agazzaf knew about the Spanish lifestyle through the tales of other migrants returning home for the summer holidays.

Muhammad Agazzaf
Life is good for me now. I have friends, I own a car and I have money to send back to my family in Hansala
Muhammad Agazzaf

Like many of the other youngsters in Hansala - a small mountain village in the Beni Mellal region, one of Morocco's poorest - he spent many evenings watching Spanish TV in the coffee shops in Tagzirt, the nearest town to Hansala.

But the main reason that encouraged Sliman to attempt the crossing was that two years previously, his older brother Muhammad had managed to reach Spain on board a "patera" - a flimsy boat used by immigrants.

Muhammad was living and working in Spain, enjoying the things Sliman was dreaming about.

But Sliman drowned, together with 36 other people, in the Atlantic Ocean while trying to cross to the Gibraltar Straits in 2003.

Muhammad became a legal worker in 2001 when the Spanish government offered work permits to more than 200,000 illegal immigrants who were on Spanish soil.

Muhammad says he always tried to discourage his brother from following his steps.

"I told him not to cross because it was too dangerous. I phoned him a few times, warning about the many risks, but he didn't listen," he says.

He knew only too well the risks involved in the crossing. He himself feared for his life several times during his journey.

map

"It took us around seven hours to cross, it was raining and the sea was very rough. We didn't have any food or water on board.

"When we reached the coast, five of us ran on towards the mountains where we hid for 15 days.

"We ate roots and anything else we could get hold of. We also begged for food and water in some of the mountain houses."

Settled

Despite the ordeal of his arrival, Muhammad was one of the "lucky ones".

A high percentage of the illegal immigrants who reach the Spanish coast are intercepted by the Spanish police and sent back to their countries of origin.

Rafael Quiroz and  Violeta Cuesta on Rota beach

"I found many good people during the time I was in hiding," says Muhammad.

"One night, five of us squatted in an empty mountain house to take cover from the torrential rain. In the morning, the owner came around and found us there.

"We thought that this was it, but instead of calling the police, he gave us some food and money for a bus ticket."

Muhammad's destination was Valencia, where a friend from Hansala was waiting for him.

Valencia's building sites were booming at the time and for someone with experience in the building trade, this was the place to be.

Despite the need for labour, no building companies were ready to risk employing a "sin papeles" (illegal worker) as the government controls became stricter.

Muhammad spent four months unemployed, living in a friend's house and struggling to survive.

In 2001, when the Spanish government offered an amnesty to illegal immigrants, Muhammad finally became a legal worker.

Today, he works in the building industry in Valencia.

"Life is good for me now," he told me. "I have friends, I own a car and I have money to send back to my family in Hansala."

When asked if he misses Hansala, he says: "I miss my family, but not the life in the mountains. It was very hard in winter with nothing for me to do there, but my family is the most important thing for me."

Behind the dream

Muhammad's voice becomes weak when he talks about his family.

The memory of Sliman dying at the sea still fills him with anguish. He found out watching the Spanish news.

Hussein and Kamal Aggazaf in Hansala
Hussein and Kamal remain in their village

"There was all this commotion about several corpses of Africans appearing on Rota beach. They said the names of the ones carrying ID and then I heard the name of my brother.

"I was in shock, I refused to believe it. One of the hardest things I have ever done was calling my father in Hansala to tell him that his son - my brother - was dead."

Muhammad goes back to Hansala every August for a month to spend time with his mother, his father and his younger brother, Kamal, 13, who has just finished school in Hansala.

When asked if he would also like to cross to Spain after seeing his older brother doing well there, he says:

"No, when I think about my other brother Sliman drowning, I feel very scared of the patera. I don't want to suffer the same fate."

His father Hussein nods in agreement.

"A son is like a beautifully decorated glass. You take care of it; you treasure it until one day it slips between your fingers and shatters to pieces, leaving you devastated."

According to Hussein, Sliman always dreamed of living in Spain.

"He used to say to me: 'In Spain people have nice clothes, good cars and they go on holidays. I want that life too.'"

But Kamal disagrees.

"I hope that in the future when I am 20 years old, I will be able to find a job here in Hansala," he says.



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