This letter was found in the bed of a 15-year-old boy. He had left for Tripoli when his father discovered the letter and framed it as a memory. The boy made it to Europe and got asylum as an unaccompanied minor.
Like this shop, many Gambian businesses bear the names of the countries where money was made to open them. Signs of international connections are ubiquitous in coastal Gambia. However, most people don’t have the opportunity to tap into the capital flows international connections generate. Instead they seek to go abroad to make money for building a better life.
The song of the Gambian dancehall singer Sparklyn Black outlines constraints that youths are facing in the country, and why the youths are embarking on the risky journey:
Excerpts from essays where Gambians describe why they want to leave home
I am a (30) year old Gambian young man. […] I used to have a good job in my home country years back, but my main reason of venturing in to this real hardship was caused by the closure of my work place in a hotel in Gambia. After the closured of that hotel, i started searching for another better job to continue a better living. I searched hunting for a job for almost 2 years and as a matter of fact i was also the bread winner of my family. I am from an extended family with many sisters and brothers and used to sponsor them on their educational perspective as a basic concern in my life.
I was in my country hearing too many rumours about chinese job opportunities from the visa dealers in gambia and during that time i was frustrated been unemployed for quiet a long time. I mediated so deeply, thinking about so many negative things but at the end i was convinced that China has the second largest economy, there were many job opportunities. That was the way i happens to fall on this track, investing all the money i saved and still it was not enough.
Many young men and women in the Gambia want to leave their country to make money elsewhere. It became nearly impossible to get a visa for Europe or the US. Some go to Asia.
In the summer of 2014, Gambian brokers, so-called “visa-dealers”, took advantage of the fact that China had become the first economic power in the world – a topic recurrently raised in conversations with the Gambian migrants. China still had rather slack visa policies. The brokers took care of the different steps of the journey. Very often, these brokers were people who had been to China themselves, benefiting from the contacts they had established.
I am a 25 year old boy from Gambia do petti trading. I got the information about China. They toll me China is good Job. They toll me per week you can received 1500 US dollars and their living is easily their. Within one year you can help your familiy build house and you can help many people in your village.
Migration is a common topic in Senegalese and Gambian music. This song by Youssou N’Dour is entiteld “Dem”, which means “Leaving”.
I am 27 year old Gambian young man who was working with the Gambia government for 5 years as police officer […] The came a time one day, my immediate boss was arrested and was detained. Then I also git arrested for questioning concerning about his case. Later on bail by a friend and my that friend asked me to leave the country before they will take me to jail.
During that time i also used to hear from friends that China is fill of opportunitie.
I was a student but I dropped out of school […] Things were very difficult over there for me because I am an orphan. I have no family member. I even sleept at the garage so the little money that I gather for 4 years is the one that I spent to make my journey to China. This hard life is going to be better out there.
Many young men talked about friends or acquintances having come to China before and having proceeded to Hong Kong or Taiwan where they apparently found jobs on construction sites. As most of the men didn’t have decent perspectives in the Gambia, these “success stories” strongly triggered their imagination and the will to go abroad. Even when arriving in China, and realising that things might not be as promised, the stories of others being succesful kept hunting their minds and influencing their decisions.
Gambians are free to leave their country, but emigration may be seen as a politically subversive. This article by a cadet inspector in the Gambian Air Force is one of many messages from people of authority discouraging people from emigrating. Note that “Sheikh Prof. Alhaji Dr Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, out of his generosity and concern for humanity” charted a flight to airlift Gambians en route to Europe from Libya back home.