African routes through the desert
For sub-Saharan migrants land journeys to reach Libya are particularly harsh and dangerous, especially since they include the desert crossing. There are two main desert routes to Libya from Sub-Saharan Africa: one through Niger, the other through Sudan. The Nigerien city of Agadez, on the western side, and the Sudanese capital Khartoum, on the eastern one, are the main starting points for these journeys through the desert. Migrants often cross-corroborate their accounts, describing taking the same desert tracks, similar ways of crossing borders, as well as using the same strategies for finding the passeurs, brokers and intermediaries that facilitate the irregular border crossings.
The western routes
For migrants coming from West African countries, especially Nigeria and Ghana, but also Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Togo, the main route to the Libyan coast goes through Niger (see Figure 1.1). From Niamey or, for Nigerians Zinder, migrants travel to Agadez which acts as a major hub where migrants can obtain the services of the intermediaries needed to continue the journey. Many migrants interviewed mention two main routes through the desert: one through the mountains close to the Algerian border via Arlit, which usually taken on foot, and a second route via the oasis of Dirkou, usually taken by car. The first route is cheaper, about
US $120, but more difficult and dangerous than the second route. One migrant interviewed explained the difference between the two routes,
When we arrived in Agadez, the passeur brought us by car to his house, gave us food, we could wash ourselves, then he said: “If you want to continue the journey there are two routes: if you have money you can go by car, if you don’t have it, there is another route, which can be made only by foot, you must walk through the mountains, where you can die.” I didn’t want to go there, so I took the first route. (Interview with migrants n.4)
The journey via Arlit is undertaken by migrants with less money to invest in the journey (see Figure 1.2). Part of the journey is made by walking, with the help of guides who, according to the interviewees, sometimes leave migrants alone in the desert, exposing them to the risk of falling prey to robbers and bandits,
We reached a place and the driver told us that we should have stopped there. They put us into the hands of a person, the local name is ghide, who should have accompanied us by foot and showed the route. We followed him, and went through the mountains. The guide travelled with us for about two days and then he vanished, so we had to continue on our own. We followed the footsteps of others, we saw other people who had walked and had died on the way. While we were walking we saw some robbers, they took out weapons and asked everyone to lie down. They took all our clothes, all our money, all
our food. They also checked if we had hidden money in the water. You lose everything ... because they know that sometimes people hide their money even in the anus, they give you something to drink and you eject everything, you know? You lose everything. It’s the guide who brings you to this ... he has links with the robbers (Interview with migrants n.11).
This route leads to Ghat, the entry point to Libya. The migrants then travel onwards to Sabha, an important southern Libyan hub, from where they can get to Tripoli.
The second route consists of two main parts: the first one goes from Agadez to Dirkou, travelling inside big trucks carrying up to 300 people; the second one goes from Dirkou to Qatrun in Libya, with the means of transport usually being pick-up trucks carrying 30-50 people. In this case, the journey can last around one week, but can take even longer, because often the pick-up trucks struggle with the desert terrain, particularly the sand dunes,
Our journey lasted three weeks, because there are points in the desert where the truck cannot pass, because the dunes are high, so you have to get out and push the car. There was too much sand, in one day you might need to do it twenty times. And then when the car gets going again, it cannot stop, because otherwise it locks again ... so you must run in order to get in (Interview with migrants n.4).