Suleiman Alhag, who hailed from a conflict-ridden remote village in western Darfur, only ever viewed Khartoum as a stepping stone in a longer journey.
He only stayed in Khartoum long enough to arrange travelling to Europe by sea and prepare himself for the hardship and potentially risky journey, which he knew had killed many Sudanese. “I will not stay in this country,” Suleiman says. “I have decided to go despite the risks.”
Suleiman was among many who dreamed of reaching Europe and America at any cost, driven by the danger that haunted everyday life in Darfur, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to leave.
Using a tourist visa, he travelled by air to Turkey, his gateway to enter Europe illegally. In Turkey, he met a friend who had been living on the Greek border for several months.
“Many Sudanese live in Turkey and some have asylum papers and help other Sudanese migrate to Europe,” says Suleiman. “You are given an amount of money to continue your journey, and as soon as you reach your destination country and get residency papers and a job, then you have to pay the money back.”
Suleiman, who was in his twenties, found contacts to assist him on his trip to Greece. He says he crossed the sea with 15 other migrants who each paid an extortionate price for the dangerous eight-hour crossing.
I do not regret my decision despite everything I went through during my trip, including hunger and cold.
Suleiman spent two years in Athens before he could move on. “I didn’t have enough money to travel to Italy, so I had to save more,” he says. “Of course I had to support my family back home: most of my money went to them.”
Suleiman found marginal jobs, such as cleaning restaurants and hotels in areas of Athens where checks on illegal immigrants are rare. When he had saved enough, he resumed his trip, hiding under a truck which was ferried to Italy by sea. “The trip to Italy took two full days. Then I had to wait in Italy for another day, until the ship was unloaded.”
As soon as the truck crossed the border to France, Suleiman jumped off.
Within eight years, Suleiman managed to get asylum papers and settle down legally in Angers, a city in western France, where he now has a good standard of living. “Europe attracted me with its values of justice and equality, its respect for ethnic diversity and tolerance,” he says.
“I do not regret my decision despite everything I went through during my trip, including hunger and cold. I miss my village in western Sudan and I miss my mother and daughter, but I will not be able to visit them unless there is peace in Darfur.”