Against the odds, Hamed Kouyate has achieved his childhood dream of escaping African poverty and reaching the wealthy heart of Europe. But like many fellow migrants who endured a clandestine odyssey marked by toil and terror, the teenager now questions whether he’s just gambled his life on a cruel illusion.
“Europe has no gold or diamonds for me. I’ve had to sleep rough and go without food for days since arriving in France. Nothing has been as I thought it would be,” the 18-year-old says as he walks along the riverbank in the Parisian suburb of Creil, three years of travel and more than 5,000 meandering miles (8,000 kilometers) from his Ivory Coast home. “I regret leaving Africa. I would not recommend this route even to my worst enemy.”
The “migrants” enter through the soft underbelly of Europe, via Italy, Greece or Serbia, and then, once inside the passport area, try to make their way to the richer countries of the north. Rather than turn them back, however, the Europeans re-settle them among the indigenous population.
European Union leaders have agreed to relocate 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other EU countries over the next two years, in an effort to share the burden of a growing migrant crisis. EU President Donald Tusk said the agreement was reached after an overnight summit early Friday, to show “solidarity with frontline countries.”
French President Francois Hollande said the EU will also resettle 20,000 refugees, “essentially from Syria and Iraq, who at this moment are in camps and who will be reinstalled in Europe.” The migrant crisis has caused tensions among EU countries.
The AP has been tracking some of them:
Since January, The Associated Press has followed a 45-member group of West Africans as they traveled by foot and cramped smugglers’ vehicles from Greece to Hungary via the Balkans. The route, accessed from a Turkey clogged with refugees fleeing Islamic State barbarism, is already the second-most popular way to gain illegal entry to the 28-nation European Union and its two biggest destinations: Germany and France. Unprecedented waves of Asian, Arab and African migrants are taking the slow, grueling route in preference to a sea crossing from North Africa, the quicker but reckless path to Italy. Thousands making that journey have drowned in the Mediterranean over the past year.
That trauma was all supposed to be worth it, the travelers kept telling themselves with each brutal setback. By April they finally reached Hungary, from which they could travel by jitney cabs and public transport links within the largely passport-free EU to Germany and France. The vast majority of the West Africans reached their destinations by May, having paid a series of Asian and African smugglers more than 5,000 euros ($5,500) to cover every link in the chain from Turkey to the EU’s eastern frontier.
While Germany has proven to be comparatively generous to arrivals, France is posing a tougher test. Neither permits the asylum-seekers to work while their cases are under review, but Germany gives the newcomers often high-quality housing in bucolic suburban settings along with monthly payments in the low three figures. Kouyate, by contrast, says he has received a single 40 euro ($45) payment in France, where he has bounced from sofa to bedsit to park bench and back again.
This will not end well for anybody.