In the Nlonkak neighborhood of Cameroon’s capital Younde, the “Cameroon Centre Band” is playing songs encouraging young people from rural areas to come to the capital to enjoy better living conditions.
Band owner, 35-year-old Paul Biya Milingui, went even further afield in search of a better life. In 2011, he attempted to travel to Europe. His journey took him through Nigeria, Benin and Niger to Algeria. Traffickers forced him and other refugees to cross the desert on foot, Milingui said.
“We carried bags with our clothes and water containers. At some point, they became very heavy, we had to abandon them,” he told DW.
“Some people died in the desert. We could not just abandon their corpses. We covered them with sand and continued our journey,” he added.
Paul’s journey finally came to an end in Algeria. His money was stolen and it took him four years doing casual work before he had raised enough funds to return home.
Now back in Yaounde he still thinks about trying the journey again to find a better life in Europe.
2016 the deadliest year for migrants on the Mediterranean
There are plenty of other young Cameroonians who think the same. It’s because of them that Sylvie Nantcha and her colleagues have come to the country.
43-year-old Nantcha was born in Cameroon. She came to the German town of Freiburg 25 years ago as a student. She rose to become the town’s first councilor of African descent. Married with three children, she is also the president of The African Network of Germany (TANG), an umbrella organization of people of African descent living in Germany.
Sylvie Nantcha presenting the project Lost Dreams in Cameroon
“Every year, we have a lot of African people who try to come to Europe, crossing the desert and the sea and who die on their way to Europe,” Nantcha told DW. “I feel so very, very sad.”
In 2016, some 5 000 migrants drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean. On average, 14 people died every day following their dream to come to Europe. The United Nations called 2016 the deadliest year for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
After reading so many stories about Africans dying on the way to Europe, Sylvie Nantcha and her colleagues at TANG decided that it was time to act.
They launched “Lost Dreams,” a multimedia project aimed at increasing awareness among Africans of the dangers of embarking on the journey to Europe as illegal migrants.
Sylvie Nantcha and her team conducted interviews with more than 100 migrants, asking them to share their experiences from the journey and to describe the hardships they faced after arrival.
“They told me when they started the journey, they thought it would take them maybe just two weeks, but they were one year, or two or three years on their way to Europe. They thought the journey would not be very expensive, but at the end they had spent more than €10 000 ($10 600). They had been given wrong information, like ‘if you arrive in Italy or in Spain, you would get a job’ and now they had arrived and not been given a job,” she said.
The TANG team hopes to persuade more Cameroonians to stay at home
The project consists of various short films that contain extracts from the interviews. TANG targets five African countries: Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Finding legal ways to come to Europe
The group is currently touring Cameroon, Niger and Mali to present their project to local audiences.
“We don’t want to have many migrants dying every year, crossing the desert or the sea. We want them to go to an embassy and get a visa and take a flight to come to Europe if they want to come to Europe. They also have to know that Europe is not an Eldorado, it is not paradise,” Nantcha said.
“It is not easy to convince them, but we have to start a dialogue with them, to see how we can give them an alternative or give them the information that they need a visa to come to Europe,” she told DW.
23-year-old Nemacho Janin has listened to the messages. However, she is still thinking of going to Europe, because of the widespread poverty at home.
“Every one of us has his or her destiny. We were not created to live in Cameroon. All Cameroonians were not born to live here,” she said.
A mother’s message
Paul Milingui’s mother Gertrude also listened to the messages of the team from Germany. She thinks it’s important to tell young Cameroonians how dangerous it can be to try and get to Europe. She says she never had peace of mind for a moment during the four years her son was away.
“To all of you, my brothers and children, listen to this advice. Work harder in your country. You will not lack something to eat or drink. There are people who will visit you when you are sick, but if you are in a foreign land or country, I do not think that even your neighbor will care about your wellbeing,” she said.
Gertrude’s biggest hope is that her son will listen to these words, and those of TANG, and finally abandon his dream of making it to Europe.