About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee David against a wooden door

David Sesay

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Sinawi Medine

David Sesay (22) used to dream of playing football for Sierra Leone. Everything changed though when at just 15 he left home, crossing the Sahara. It took him a week. He had neither food nor water. “The desert was too big. You don’t know where to go,” he says. “I see people in the desert dying.” He recalls thinking “How do I survive this trouble?” He is now in France but the stress of that journey remains: “I think all over again.” He says that he opes by playing football. He says the bad side of life in Europe is the immigration system. He doesn’t have refugee status and struggles without state financial benefits. “Where is the humanity? Migrants all over the streets of Paris.” David says western intervention led to the “tsunami” of migrants. “Because you disturbed their home, they need to come here. But when they came here, you don’t do nothing for them.” His experience has changed him and his dreams. “Let me forget about football,” he says. “I need to go to the real deal to save my people.”

Trigger Warning: Kidnapping; violence

full interview

Yes, I do. I do appreciate.

Can you, can you please,
Um, my name is David. Thank you, sir.

Thank you, David. Thank you very much for the time you give me for this interview, also. I will start my questions.
Yeah very good.

What kind of house you live and with whom do you live?
Well, I live, um, in a normal house, you know you know, the African houses?

Yeah, here in Europe?
In Europe? I live with Baba, Hubert.

Can you describe me what it looks like, because the people they don’t know, yes me I know, but these people they don’t know. Can you describe the condition you live and the people with who you live with, please?
Well, actually, the life I live with Baba, it is pretty good for the meantime right now. I don’t know for the future as it’s hospitality is very great to me. And we know that people I saw live in the house about to get responsibility. I hope we will continue in the future.

Okay, uh, how do you spend your time- at the job you work or something?
Um, for a moment, no work, but I used to go play football with some French people in Tourrettes sur Loup and Baba pick me with his colleagues. Sometimes we go. I like I’ve one and I’ve one one more week. I won’t come a week and let me see. Okay. His name is ,um, Francois, I read about the football because I love football.

So you play football?
Yeah, yes, yeah, I do play football. Play.

Your time is about football?
Yes. No as for myself because I want to do more. I want to do differently. But our football games, I like to continue my studies. If I have the chance, an opportunity and I will try it.

Well, what are the, what are the some of things can make you joy, in generally?
You mean the things I need to make me…

Yeah yeah things to make you happy.
I really, okay, like something, yeah of course, I need I want to follow my education because I have the choice. I will be happy because I need more ideas, because what I see I wonder why implement it back to my, fleeing back to Africa and I want to take the positive side of Europe to implement it to my people because I do know my African people and I want to pass the good idea I received from Europe to get into Africa. So that’s one of my thing. In the future I don’t know, I want to become a politician to change the narrative of my people of Africa. Yes.

Yeah. How is your life been since you arrived in Europe?
Well, it’s quite difficult at this time, because when I arrived in Europe, you see most of constraint. Yes, because first I went to arrive in Italy, in Trapani. Yes. And it’s a difficult job because I was…

What was difficult?
Well, at first, because when I arrived in Italy, I went to Trapani from Trapani I came to Crotone and by I think around Napoli because I don’t understand because I don’t stay in Italy for so long because of some reasons. Let me talk this short, because I was kidnapped in Italy, actually, because of a mafia guy. So I was kept by a man, by the mafia because they want to force me to do business with them, which I will not be able to do with them. So they decide to kidnap me. So it’s fortunate I escaped. So I find my way to France so.

When happened this?
Because I arrive in France in April. This was supposed to….

It happen in Trapani?
Yes, in Italy, so I just….

Can you, can you tell us more about why and when and where they try to kidnap you ?
The first time when he came we don’t understand entirely, quite astounded, because all that we saw at that moment to keep us busy because we as migrants, we are plenty. So we decide to play football. We have a field around, a football pitch around. So I usually we used to go there and play football to encourage, forget about stress, you know, but unfortunately, we have this guy come around by the name of Lopez. We don’t know where he’s from. And he came, like want to interview me until he tells me whatever. How are the situation in Libya we see? So we explain to explain a lot. He say “you speak French, tu parles français? I say no, I only speak English. So where are you from? I say “From Africa. West Africa.” Sierra Leone. So then he has maybe think English speak French speaking country, I say no. I say we speak English. I sorry no problem. So at the first day, he came with some offer us to drink, joky. I love you guys. You have come to Italy sometimes.
So, so very appreciate at that time. But I don’t know what the motive was. A few days later, the same guy sorry, the same guy come again and try to come with something will not acceptable to us. It’s like, “Look, you guys now you are in Italy”. He said “We have a deal for you, you have a business. I wants you to do business with us”. Like, oh, so what are the business about? So “This is the deal for you guys because this will make you rich and forget about football, encourage more than the big player in the world.” I said “Like how, I don’t understand. What is your motive is because we don’t know about any business. Look, I don’t know about business, about a business in Italy, actually. So I said no, I was like that. So I thought that was conversation.
So we went back to the to where we were staying in Trapani, in Corotona. So later they came back with “You come politely now.” I say “Well, let me tell you, easy.” They say the business is not anything harmful. So you need to transport is like you say, it is a bag any week or any week in the month. You need to transport this bag from this city, this town to this town. I say How I’m going to transport to where, I don’t know, because I only know this town for the meantime, for the time being. I just arrived. I don’t know any people in this town. I don’t know too much people. All, you know, my people and my friend in the camp. So how can we do this.So does have the problem.
So going on, the man came around again and I said, “Well this deal, you should do it. You will make you rich and you help your people at home in Africa.” So I would say this is something like power because we don’t know how that. I don’t know what is that. Said you to take this bag. And so, no, we don’t know. We can’t do business like that. Don’t know how to do this business. I never do it before, you know. And by the way, I’m a student. I went to, student, as I want to pursue my education. I want a better life. But I don’t know about this business you’re talking about. So they better, another week, about three days time because when it passes, it passes so decisively. We call the police so he say us. Okay no problem. Don’t involve the police? OK, we just want to help you guys or something like that.

What did you feel at this time, what feeling you had when this guy he propose you for this and when he want to kidnap you or so?
Yeah, he’s a kidnapper.

What was your fear?
I fear, because where we call, we talk about said we will involve the police so he gets scared. So two days later, at that time, it was sunny. When you get to the same field because you used to play in the evening by 7 to about 8 o’clock. So unfortunately you don’t see two, three van, black van with tinted glass. Those parked in front of us, so you don’t see, with gun like this, the guy inside, it the same, the same, the same Lopez came outside. Said this is the boy. And this this is about the three of us. So those take us to the van. So I think to us, I don’t know where we are. We don’t know. So that’s the problem. So I when we got out. So I said, this is we should do it because…

In general, when you left and live in Europe?
Well. I’ve live in Europe, it’s quite difficult sometimes actually. You have the better side- you have a better side and a bad side actually.

Can you give me the better side? And?
Well the better side, you like one, like that Hubert guy joined, I’m sorry, he is one of the better side you understand. It’s like I’m talking like I said before, these hospitalities is very great with and François before she leave in Vence sometimes he take good responsibility feeding, clothing so that I have money to go and actually give me money so I can take bus, buy bus tickets. I want to go for appointments and try a lot. The bad side of it is about the system of immigration, all about the migrant with underaged. Sometimes it is not good up he is not happy. We are not happy about that because we didn’t treat some of these not go down well. Honestly. That man I’m talking about myself what I experience in front of that. Like is hope to hear and I don’t receive any money from OFPRA. I asked them for my card. I say I don’t I don’t have authority to have any money for myself. But now you have I have a permit to stay for the time being. Well, right now you don’t if you refuse to give me my money. They say I should write, I write them down, I go out to two years, going to three years and I don’t receive anything from them.

What make you feel inside, and how you handle it?
Well, first, all praise be to God Almighty, you see, because I have patience as nothing come easy, but it is hard. I try to live this kind of situation. And when you think about France and say is one of the one of the best humanity country, I don’t understand what I mean by that humanitarian, but I don’t see the humanitarian towards me. If I went like a black when I went to the supermarket,eh, I took something because I hungry. I say OK and a man came here saying I steal something. But you refused to give me my money hope to help to nine months. I didn’t expect them to live. Where is the humanity? Migrants all over the streets of Paris. Nowhere to go. No shelter when you somehow when winter come and kill some of people. So many migrants out in the streets that are poor. I see young children. When I went to Paris, I see young children. When man can stand indifference in the streets. You single mother got no place to go. So I don’t see the humanity. You are violating the human rights of the people. What about young children? They are the future of tomorrow. You should take care of them too. Understand? I came out. I arrive in France at the age of 15 years. I still no have any good help from these people. Well, a different? I don’t say different people are weaker. No but, I’m talking about the system. The system of immigration is not good. Honestly, it’s not good, then it all changes. Also, we are human. It’s very hard to live. We don’t have nobody to assist here, especially in Europe. So I don’t want to appear to them to look into this matter and try to settle because we are the future of tomorrow.

What do you feel living far from your family?
It quite be boring because, yes, actually. You see, you know, in Africa, we use to our families. We use it. We go with our family. Yes. When you have your family around you is boring. It’s difficult to leave. Yes. You don’t have nobody to help you, especially this time of this, especially in this period. Yes. You don’t have nobody to help you. It’s very difficult. But you have a family around. You have courage. With courage. OK, this is time. OK, I’m sure you have a teamwork, but, you know, I have nobody, so it’s difficult to leave.

Yeah just because as you explain me before, you don’t have any, you don’t have any document, for long time you didn’t get any assistance from OFPRA?
Yeah, it’s not.

And that where do you get the courage to handle the situation?
The courage is, the courage one coming from God Almighty. I always praise God because he’s the one. If I’m alive today, it is our prayers, you understand, because we have a difficult time from the desert to the seaside is more difficult. So I praise God Almighty for my courage he give, he give me because no one in the outside is going, the guy is good for us is Hubert Jourdan with Francois, because the financial help they did to me is I can’t explain it because like I said before, I want to go anywhere, I have to transport, and bus tickets, feeding. No problem.

And do you think that develop the ability to deal with this challenge _or you you had this before.
I don’t understand what you’re saying.

You think you develop to handle these challenges?
Yes. Any challenges is another step forward, isn’t it? He does have to deal with the things that come towards you. And that make you a man.

Yeah let me, tell me about this one?
Well, you see the challenge is an everyday challenge. You need to face it. It’s any new day is a new challenge. When you want to make it to life, you need to face a lot of challenges. It’s not easy. We need to face it. So many challenges come, I will cope with it because I only know that that’s God anything just God. And challenges came from God and God will solve it for me. I’m a Muslim. I believe in it. So I, so I, that’s my belief. Everything belongs to the creator. Yes, you tell him to make me strong, more determined to pursue my goal.

So from your experience from your past, you learn some, there is something you learn it comes out of the moment for a long time?
Yeah, it does. When I was, like when I was in the street because I was in the street when I lived, I was in Auxerre, Dijon, so I was in the street alone just…

Uh, and uh the Covid 19…
Mm hmm.

Uh, is that affected your daily life or your emotions?
Yeah, sure, it affects my daily life because without… when the Covid-19 was not around, I used to go outside play because as soon as Covid-19 came there is no football activity because I mean, I go to Tourette sur Loup, I play with different people, different French people, different for all kinds of ways, I feel happy because I see a lot of people around me. When the Covid-19 come, uh, I feel boring because no, no movement, social distance, you know. And so…

It makes more difficult?
Is more difficult, yes.

Oh okay. Sorry, I will bring you back.

And for sure, as we said before, if you don’t want to answer any questions you are absolutely welcome and then you can answer it – make me a sign and I can pass my question. And, um, I will take you back home… Why did you leave your country? Can describe what happened?
Well, it’s a long story, actually. It’s a long story. It’s a difficult time for me personally because I live with my grandmother, understand. Is uh, is a society – is a society problem, yes. Is a great problem, words cannot express, cannot able to express, because for my security, yes.

At that time what you feel when you had this problem? Do you want to explain me about your personal feeling, what was you – what you feel at that time?
I was feeling discouraged, I feel discouraged up to now. Sometime when I facing difficulties in Europe, I ask myself, what’s wrong with the world?

How was the journey to Europe? Is there, uh, is there any experience that was a particularly difficult that you could uh…
Is a difficult time. It’s difficult.

There is some moments that you can remember this time or sometimes?
Yes, like uhhh, I would like um… I like to, like I remember when I was in the desert, I stayed there for one week without more food or water.

Can you explain like or describe the situation?
Is like… The situation, the situation from Agadez to Gadron because from Agadez to Libya is the Sahara Desert, it’s very difficult. These, that’s my first experience is the first time in my life when I was in school, I read about the Sahara Desert. But when I was in the jungle, I see the real Sahara desert.

What you feel where you are inside the desert?
I, I thought, Oh my God, what is this? I think, I, I, I, I feel disappointment really because the way life goes on in the desert, I see people in the desert dying without no water, no food to eat, the desert was too big. You don’t know where to go. When we were, uh, when I was in the desert for one week, really with this I call Tamar, Tamaro because they plant it in the desert between Libya and Niger towards the south. There are a lot of Tamar. So when we went, uh, we survived through the Tamar, yes, only Tamar.

It takes how many days uh in the desert?
One week.

One week? Yeah, I will ask you some question. Uh… Is this one week, is the journey one week, most of the time, your mind, uh, what you think at this time, more time you was been busy by what your mind? Because I, I think personally also I, I cross the desert and so, uh, is there time, there is sometimes we can be go away in our heads, so can you – if you remember.
I remember, when the, there was another time I remember when I was in the desert and I think I said, I think to myself, what brought me here? How do I survive this, this… How do I survive this trouble? Because the trouble is just tragic, because you went to, you went to a place we’ve never been before. We meet a different situation because the desert is a different life, actually. I never live in the desert before. I, I was discouraged because when I think about my survival – how do I survive – sometimes I pray to God if I don’t make it… Oh God, forgive me for my mistakes, because it’s difficult actually.

That’s the situation you face.
Yes, I face a lot because I was facing… I face, like, at one time was, we, I was, we uhh, were going towards one town, we met a bunch of – I don’t want to call them – touareg people. I don’t, yeah, it’s difficult. Attack, fight, so we need to bend down low in the desert, we lay down flat because we don’t want the bullet to hit us. It’s difficult.

And, there also is, there is sometime at this moment when you are in Europe, actually when we live today, sometimes is come your mind?
Yes, sometimes. Because when I receive some stress, sometimes I think all over again. Sometimes my mind, my head is hurting.

Does it affect you, your daily life?
Yes, sometimes it’s affecting. Because sometimes, I, I, I feel no speak to nobody. I sit alone and sometimes I use the bike, I ride a bike towards Pont du Loup I go and sit alone. I tend to have a new fresh air because sometimes when I look over again, I say, the world is not fair. Yes, because why, why we are still continue suffering, when there’s a lot of opportunity? Five percent of the people only enjoy the opportunity of the, of the entire world and the rest of the people suffering. I look upon my situation, I look upon other people’s situation. Look at what’s happening in the other, in the Arab country, in Syria and Libya, beautiful country in Libya since what was going on. So we look about how many people died and the seaside Mediterranean Sea. Difficult.

Uh, before have you imagine it? All the situation you faced you can handle it? Before have you been in, uhh, an imagination or you know a little bit about it or you develop what you are, what you happen you can face?
We can face. Yes, I develop it, yes I develop it, anything I face I can deal with it because I know that that’s part of life. Yes.

You handle it.
Yes, I handle it. Sometimes I pray. Yes, because I pray to God to bring solution. And it’s, uh, sometimes I pray midnight. So that’s way I handle some of the situation. But it’s hard and it’s difficult actually.

Before you leave your home or even when you were in your home country, what was your dream?
Actually my dream, because I, my dream to play good football and represent my country, but as time, as I left my country facing this journey, my dream change. Yes, I want to become a politician that can change the entire African, the narrative of Africa, because we look today what is going on, the suffering going on in Europe is starting to begin with our leader in Africa, yes.

So, your dream now is to be to school?
Go school yes. My dream now is to pursue my cause and to become a good politician for my people and a good leader.

You mean you feel, uh, responsible for your people?

You feel, you feel you have a responsibility.
Yes, I feel –

You took that as your duty?
Yes, it’s my duty. Yeah, I need, is my duty, is my responsibility, I cannot run away from it because what I see now, as we the young people, we need to stand for our continent, actually.

So this, this duty, how you feel it? Or because of you cross the desert –
Yes, when I cross the…

– and the Mediterranean and also you live the life of Europe, does this make you strong, to, to be a politician and make change in your, uh…
Yes, when I live in Europe and see some of the things going on there now, then, uh, when I was in the desert towards, because I went to, I went to Guinea, I went to Mali, I went to Burkina Faso, I went to Niger and I went to Libya. I see all these country. I see how people live. I see in the streets, actually. I went to, and I arrived in Europe, I see again. So I think it is time to change my cause. Let me forget about football. I need to go to real deal, deal to save my people.

Uh, really appreciate your, uh, your answer to this question, and uh, thank you, thank you very much for your time you gives me.
Yeah, you’re welcome.

Uh, and lastly, if there is anything you’d like to add that may help people in Europe is to the life of refugees, you know?
Well my addiction towards that, um, a lot are here because to have the people willfully…

Or to make them understand the life of refugees today for Europe and?
Like, yeah, the message I would send to them? Yes, well, the message I would like to send to them. They let them realize also the refugee, they are human, they need respect. They are not fleeing because they want to flee. There is a problem, there is a reason behind any situation, there is a reason behind there. Like you can see in Libya, where there was a stable country before, not now. Go and see. I never see the Libyan people protesting in the streets. But this is the first time, where in our lifetime I watched Al-Jazeera, people protest in Libya about corruption. I thought, oh, my God, Good Libya. I never see Libyan protests, for food, housing, but now there is the time. They are in the streets now. Protesting about good leadership. Understand. Let this message go to the West, the Westerner. Let them stop to do illegal things in different countries. Like go eliminate a whole leader with no reason. There are about seventy five million people starving in Libya, Syria, Yemen and different, different sides of the world. So if you have difficulties, where do you want them to go? They will come to Europe because you create the problem for them. They need to stop. When we came here, you have the far, the far right movement, you had the left side movement, some of them are not even migrants, but you’re still, your people still go went to Africa, I went to Middle East, and disturb. And when you disturb a good home, and destroy a good home, where, where do you want the people to live? They will come to Europe, find a good home. The way they came here… I know their difficulties, some of them live in the streets begging. I see a lot of children, young children still begging. It’s not good, it’s not fair. They need to give respect to humanity.

So I want this message to make them clearly, said they need to take good responsibility of this, because when you see Europe, see a German stable, if the world is stable, no war, no killing, I don’t think people are migrate for unnecessary thing, saying I just want to go, I go. If there’s no war, there’s no asylum. We, we don’t have a problem if the West people or the westerners stop to intervene in African politics, in West uh, in the Arabian politics. There will not be any refugee in the world. Trust me, they need to stop. Because now people are coming like tsunami, because you disturb they home, they need to come here. But when they came here, you don’t do nothing for them, you leave them in the streets. You go to Italy, you see a lot of them in the streets. You go everywhere in Europe. You are violating the rights of the people.

I, I at one times, I listen to one of Africa, one of Africa greatest, great Presidents. He was called Paul Kagame, he was interviewed by a lady I don’t know his brother, he talk about human rights. Does the president come? I said, what are you talking about woman, look about Europe? You’re violating the rights of the human. You are, there is a refugee everywhere. You don’t talk about it, they want to talk about Africa, about human rights. See the asylum and refugee in the streets. You don’t talk about it. They still want to talk about Africa, you just want to talk about another country in the Middle East. Why are you violating the human rights of the people? They need to stop. They need to stop this brainwashing. Think about it. ‘There’s no human rights in Africa, there is no human rights in other countries.’ There is human rights. Yeah, they need to stop and go on, on illegal invasion, in other, in other sovereign states. It’s not fair. The problem of Africa should solve by Africa. The problem of Middle East should solve by the Middle East. That will be peace. Accept it.

Yes, if you are a Christian, I’m a Muslim, I need to accept you because you are human. I can’t judge you. God creates, we are all equal in the sight of God Almighty. So the West people, they need to stop this. If you don’t want to see many migrants or many asylum seekers in Europe, you need to stop invading another man’s country. Because some of the people I spoke with, some refugee, some asylum seeker, some of them are not happy. Like I spoke with one, um, from Syria – sorry, this one guy, it was from Syria. He said, David, let me tell you, I was living a peaceful life in my country. You see, when I came in Europe, when I came to Europe, sorry, when I came to Europe, there’s another life. Yeah, I need to start new fresh. He said, I have my sister, I have my mother, I have my brother, I have my siblings, I need to take care of them. When I was in Syria, I take, I take responsibility, I don’t think about Europe. So now when I’m in France, I live in the streets, no one cares.

Talking about human rights, human rights, human rights, human rights, where is the human rights? Where is the humanity? Six – eight months to nine months, you don’t give me money to eat. How do you expect me to live? If I went to the supermarket and steal something, there is the news all over the world, eh a migrant, asylum seeker from a different country went to rob, he rob a supermarket. Everywhere! We cannot hear anything like this: the Government refused to give a migrant about his money, about six months ago – a nine months ago. You can’t hear it in the, in the media. There’s a migrant, there’s a thousand of migrants here that don’t receive anything from the government. They are starving. But I complain about that, when I went to Ofpra, they said I should write. I went to Amnesty International, I write the letter, I forward it. They turned me down. But, he, he accept me, he accept me to stay. So why now you don’t give me my money to, to survive? So I should stay like this, nothing to do. When I went to the, when I went to go to the town, I don’t bus ticket, how you expect me to live? When I go, Controller came, Oi where’s your ticket? He give me fine. How do you pass without money. Nothing to eat. How do you expect me to live? I can show you my recepisse. I on the, on the 16, I will go to renew it . Up to now, I don’t have money, if I don’t bless these people. Right now, I am in different situation, because I need to put, I need to wash, I need to take good care of my body, you know? So I will be homeless in Europe. When I’m in Africa, I’m not homeless. I have place to stay.

But that’s why I want to become a good politician for my people. To change the narrative of Africa. Because not, by the first place, we don’t need to travel this country. Struggle upon struggle. We came to Europe, another struggle. But if you can see them, some of them went to Africa, we treat them like a king, like a queen. But when we came here, they treat you like trash. Yeah. When I’m in Africa, I see how Africa treats white people. We don’t call them refugee, we don’t call them any sort of names, we don’t call them asylum seekers, we don’t call them anything. We see them as human. They have their company, there are men in Africa every year with less tax. Everywhere. With those Africa, those go about daily life, don’t care, but when we came here, this is, where this gave me the perspective, the good determination for my people. If I don’t come to Europe, I will not understand anything is going on in the world, but when I travel, I do understand. So we need to do something.

We need to do something. As a, I am a young man, I want to stand for my people and we need the time to stand for my people. Any day, any minute, any hour, I determined for my people. And I’m determined to change the narrative. Not war, we can’t fight. We don’t need fight in Africa. We are peaceful, loving people. We don’t need any invasion. For those who want to take control of our resources, because if Libya avoid, these are, we don’t have any for interfere in Libya, or, domestic problem. There will not be any migrants from Africa in this way because Libya is the gateway to Europe, for all of Africa.

At one time when I was in my country and one of my friends tried to pass to Libya, at that time when Kadhafi was alive, you know what Kaddafi did when they catch him in the water, then the guard, the security apprehend him in the water because he tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea. So they took him to a Reception center. They asked him where he’s from, he said from Sierra Leone, my country. So, he asked the people, where are you from? So what Kadhafi did, the security did, they give them each of the migrants, two thousand five hundred dollar, they put him on a private plane. He said, go back to our country and do business. About 10 to 15, almost hundred of them there. He saved life. He think we want, we want, he said what? What are you going to do to Europe? Hey, want to pass this water? Okay, have this money, go and deposit it in an account. And that man he had like a telecommunication, telecommunications, and he sent uh like, Europe (not audible) , so you have to sell yourself. So now you have your business. You see, show me a leader like that, to save the life of Africa. Let Africa problem be solved by Africa.

Yeah, okay so, we have a lot of job of…
Yes, because they need to create jobs for the people. Yeah, so create jobs for the youth. Because, let me say 90 percent of Africa population, they are, they are youth. They are from one to 25 to 30 or 35 years of age.

Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Yes, you’re welcome, you’re welcome.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.