About Refugees, By Refugees
Pictures taken in:
Photo and interview by:
Mouhamed Yaye Traore
“What is good about being here is that one, is that you will have opportunity to get an good job. So you can sustain yourself and take care of your siblings in Africa,” says WW Koffi (pseud, 45), a political refugee from Biafra (a secessionist state existing from 1967 to 1970 during the Nigerian Civil War). The memory of his “desperate journey” to Italy is upsetting: “Especially in the night when I came back from work, I start to reason my life, it make me sad.” But after working to learn new skills and master Italian, he feels happy to be in Europe and send money home to his family. “You have to have the ability to face the challenge that come to you so that you can have your children move forward,” WW Koffi says. Ultimately, he dreams that the issue of Biafran independence from Nigeria will be raised at the UN, and that he’ll be able to return home and provide his children with an easier life: “We are fighting for our children… We want to relieve them from the bondage.”
No, I didn’t mean that estate.
Estate, what does that mean?
I live in one apartment.
Ok can you describe the condition?
Yes, they are apartment in the middle of the city and the environment that is very ok, we have every house equipment inside.
OK, who do you live with?
I live with my friend.
So, how do you spend your time here? Yes…
My time, when I come back, I have to prepare my food and eat and then rest for a while, I go to sleep. In the morning and I wake up, I pray and I take my bath, prepare my food. Then when time of my work approach, I have to leave.
OK, so you work?
Which kind of work do you do?
ow are some of the things who bring to you and what is some of the things who bring you joy?
What bring me joy in Europe: one, I feel free, no disturbance. They have security, the cost of living here is very okay. Then there they have it constantly life, good environment, hospitality everything is it perfect.
OK, and how was life been since you arrived here in Europe?
Well. Since I came here my life is okay. Why, because, one, when you sick can see a good hospital to take care of yourself. Then the atmosphere of this place is okay because you can go out and come back anytime you like that without any disturbance, without any robbery without any fearing with that in it was.
OK, what is being good about what is being good about being here, what is good about?
What is good about being here is that one, is that you will have opportunity to get an good job. So you can sustain yourself and take care of your siblings in Africa then and the job here they work by the hour. It is not like Africa, you work for morning to night without good money but, here, they work by hour maybe your hour will be five hours, your hour would be eight hours. It’s depend on the job you got and then moreover, uh, when they work maybe they can work like six months. Their job will finish, you have to rest, and able to come back to you and you start it. And if you have life contract here and they are married, then you do proper for you children, or you are here with you wife, they will pay with you, they pay you, they pay your children, pay your wife, members of your family and since you are working here you have a wife will take care of you. We get from government, here first is, if you have kids here, that’s more that government give you for those kids. And when they went to school police are always come to check to know how there are feeling so living in Europe is far better than Africa.
OK, and what is difficult to live in here for you?
What is difficult to live here- one and if you don’t have documents, big job problems for you, because our job here is based on documents write contracts for you come. Then they can send money to you in your account, if you don’t have documents that you are required, it is very difficult for you to survive.
Can you describe how a living here has made you feel?
Well, living here, have made to feel, one at least when I’m not feeling fine I’m able to go to the hospital . They care of me. When somebody finds trouble to me, I call police to him instead of fighting or cursing.
So your feeling, I want to hear how you feel- can you one word your feeling?
Well, my feeling here is that I’m happy here. Why, because, I know the little money that I get here, yeah. If I go to Africa and use it to do something reasonable for my family.
How does being away from your family, how does being away from the rest of your family make you feel?
It make me feel sad. Makes me sad because I’m here in Europe I have not seen my children face to face. We are only calling to my phone. I’m sad I’m not feeling happy (not audible) but there’s not any other option (not audible)
You ever have imagined that you will have been able to handle this situation?
Well is by grace of God is not easy for me, but whenever I remember, I left them over there, even if I’m eating, that food, I will not be able to enjoy it again. Why because I know I left my family over there. I am here so I have to bear it to make sure (not audible)
Do you think that you develop the ability to deal with those challenges? Or do you think you always had those skills, strength, mechanism, resilience. OK, I repeat do you think that you develop the ability to deal with this challenge?
Well, for me, I know it’s a challenge to me, but I have to face it. Why because if I didn’t face it, you are going to feel the pain that I’m feeling now. I mean, they are children. They are kids. They have you as the father of their family. You have to have the ability to face the challenge that come to you so that you can have your children move forward.
OK, so now I’m going to ask you some question and about your maybe your past sorry, can you tell me the reason why you leave your country?
Yeah, we are fighting for our independence, in the process of it to break off from Nigeria. The way Nigeria is doing us, we don’t like it. Biafra have to fight a war with Nigeria, nineteen ninety six, Nineteen sixty seven. The civil war in 1967 and the war end in 1970, just three years war. And that’s why we are fighting it, we are Biafran we are not Nigerian. But British, like us together, because when British come to Africa, they come to Nigeria. they go to northern part. Northern part don’t have resources because they land is too hot. Then Yoruba, the west part there have little, they have like sea that there can (not audible), eastern parts, we have oil. Any resources they use to run their country is from our place. Now, when they come to government, they not give us the position that we want. Now, whatever they want to do, they are choosing to not do, they are the people that are executive power through the British. So now we’re fighting to break, okay, and we’re now fighting to break down those people who set out to kill the many, many people that you cannot fight with, we are still are fighting today. That’s why I leave the country.
Can you describe and how did that make you feel at the time?
It make me feel bad. Why? Because how can a graduate when you go to university, from primary school to university, you spend your time studying everything, that you come out from university as a graduate: you become a taxi driver, you become a car driver? Why Hausa who didn’t never attempted school, don’t know anything just a military school. It doesn’t teach anything because of there are many. They take position. Then you would be under them. That cannot happen. But Britain are using them because they know when we break, It cannot get anything from that our resources again.
How was the journey in Europe?
My journey to Europe?
Yes how it was?
Oh, it is very difficult. It was a desperate journey.
Is there an experience that was particularly difficult?
Yeah, because when you enter when the enter moto from from Nigeria to cross the border to Niger, you are going to pass a place calls Sahara Desert. That Sahara Desert is a very hard place because it has no location. Where you are going? So is only by the grace of God, we use compass to go when they are compass, mistakenly direct you to other place, those people are going to die. A lot of people have gone away. Then coming to Libya is a problem because the way they are treating people there is not good because Gadhafi died. And again, have to leave the country because going back to Nigeria is very difficult because we are fighting for our independence. Then when you cross the sea to Europe among the many people have died in the Mediterranean Sea, because the river is too high. Sometimes maybe five boat come. Five boat, they can’t push five boat maybe only one or two but, then the other rest die more than 100 people on one boat just die.
And how did that make you feel that way?
It make me feel bad when I remember it because I have some friends who died in the Mediterranean Sea. I feel bad.
When you think about all those things?
Especially in the night when i came back from work, I start to reason my life, it make me sad.
Does does the situation, you faced effect you today?
Does this situation with all those problems, crossing water, to come here, in Libya? Those all those problems uh uh, effected you?
Well, what I discovered is that the to cross that water to come this place is very very difficult. Why because whenever I remembers my some of my friends, I’m not seeing it anymore because of their died. It makes me it makes me lose control by whatever I’m oing something especially when I’m walking. I remember all those things. Make me sad. Sometimes I may be lazy to do the job, but when I keep it off from my mind it will be fast but not always. If you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle this situation? I did, because I always like music. When I put music makes me feel happy. Mostly praises, praise song, I like. Like, sing a song is to worship God and the hymns and they whenever. I want to forget and forget it again, a bit like blues music. It’s the only music that I like.
How were you able to survive?
When I came here, I still with the situation. And Italian government are giving us food (not audible). They taking care of us very well. I’m happy for them and appreciate their kindness to us. Get us to the hospital to treat us when we are sick. They give us house. When we go to commission, and God help you, you get, you have a very good judge and they consider your story. They give you document. I am able to travel. If they find it by a judge who doesn’t consider this situation of things, he gives you negative. Then 3 times, they will ask you to leave the camp. they ask you to leave the camp, you don’t have job, you don’t have anything you going to suffer like job- suffer very very very very hard like you were in Africa.
Have you create any kind of strength, strategy? Have you created any kind of strategy?
To survive that?
Yeah, because I attended Italian school, then I attended so many work to learn so many work. I studied well from like first time I attended school to learn muratore (bricklayer) properly after that. Uh, I still attended another school again to learn how to do bread, how to learn how to cook. And I go back to school again to learn how to do ponteggio (scaffolding)- the rod they are putting before they start to do anything in the house. .
Where do you find strength and support? Where do you find?
Well, before when I came here I’m doing sports.
I mean, where where do you find strength and support?
Okay, okay now I understand. Well, I find strength to do all this is because I know I left people in Africa and if I cannot be able to put my interest or needs I not help them because no one will come out and give you money. You must put your strength to survive.
Uh, before the event that let you flee home occurred what was your dream?
What my dream is that when those people if they kill us because we are fighting, then I struggling to feeling the pain because no one to take care of them or at least for not them to kill me, I have to go exile.
Yeah, I mean, I hear what happened is is very sad but what before all those things happened, before your people decide to to take their independence, what was your dream?
My dream was when I grow up then finish my university, because I drop out from university. A little situation I have to drop out before this because of this. Now what I’m doing it because I believe if I graduate from school, then I’m kind of able to work, have a good job and make our country a great country. That’s my intention, I have to study so that I build the people that will be speaking in government and make the country good. For instance, in Italy many people are speaking in government because they study. They make everything they are doing here work perfectly so everything by law. But my country, that country called Nigeria is lawless country, that is not what is supposed to be.
And OK, when you were leaving your home, what was your dream for the future?
My dream for future is that….
When you are leaving your country?
Yeah, when I left country, I say instead of them to put me in jail, to die or to kill me because I’m fighting, I have to go exile and again. I must try hard to survive so that my children. That’s why I left.
OK, and, uh, we are going to finish it, remain two question, OK, before leaving your home home country, what do you describe as your strengths?
I describe that my strength is that I must survive this journey because my people said people that go to his home doesn’t wake until here it is home, so why I say this is that instead of me to die, why I’m fighting for the survival of my family is whether I go outside and then stay there? They use wisdom and they follow them. Because if you watch YouTube now or if you just type. And Biafra we will see the content of everything. Now we’re using diplomatic to follow Nigeria to open the whole truth, what they are doing make us to fight, because in 1960, in 1967, when they’re are fighting the war, they cover a lot of things. So that the world will not know what they do. The killed our people. Six thousand six million children didn’t stop them. They died. Now they cover it. And the state say that only one million or two million. But there is one man in Portugal, a white man, during that war, he drove helicopter from Portugal to… He’s a missionary in Biafraland who will help them and bringing food to them. When the man start to tell people what is going on there, they’re very sad. But now, whatever we do is on the air, because we have so many accessories. Something can happen, you can use your phone to video it and send it to your Whatsapp or send it to Youtube that everybody will know what is going on. But before it’s not like that, only megaphone. So there cover many things. So that cost us so much. Even they went to want to ECOWAS, ECOWAS said that you people kill this people because of the attempt a few people have to compensate them (not audible) That’s why we are fighting.
Have you maintain those strengths, before you leave your country, strength, have you maintained them?
Yeah, we are fighting to make sure that things are going to well, because if you watch our leader, he studied at London. When he came back to Nigeria, he is the leader of this very group. He was an educated man and his father is a prince. He said, I don’t need money, I don’t need anything from you. I’m a prince. My father is a king. Nigerian soldiers make his father died and his mother. Now when the man comes to Nigeria, they jailed man. The man, they give the man bail conditions, himself with millions, and other things and after that the same soldiers to come kill the man. They kill almost five people and the man escape, and come back to Europe and when he comes to Europe, he move to Israel. After some time in Israel have to come back to London because he has a studentships here. Now, all those things is happening. You know that the fight is not fight for our children. We are fighting for our children, but we didn’t fight it, they’re going to be in same bondage and we don’t want that. We want to relieve them from the bondage.
Do you, uh, do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of this experience?
Yes. When you have a family, and you see your son feeling hungry and then you have some food in your house and that food is small, instead of you to eat that food as a reasonable father, give it to your son to eat, after you yourself feeling hungry? Why would I say this is that we didn’t do this in generations to come, in Biafraland we see suffering as we are suffering because better we sacrifice ourself. Even today, make sure that you survive because our forefathers, their fight and because of this very thing.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future now?
My dream in the future now is that as to have bring the matter to UN and the other places. Now they have such an interview, we go many places to the inquiry and they see the line. And So even to some those missionaries who come to Africa during the Civil War, most of them are alive. So they have invited them and they explain exactly what happens if in the picture that they take during the war. So the evidence is now. So I believe they give us our public. I left Europe and go to my home. No place like home. It’s Happy.
So your dream, too, is to have these independent?
Yes, if I have independent, no need for me to come and suffer myself in Europe, noooo.
Is there anything you would like to add that may help people in Europe better understand the life of the refugees here?
Well, what I have to add for people in Europe that first of all, when you come, I know have to learn the language. Why? Because you can’t compare to somebody without hearing them your language, because not everybody, not everybody… we have our own language too. You that come to somebody land must try to hear the language so that can help you to mix up with people. Because if you’re not hearing the language is very difficult for you to get anything to do with the masses.
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.