News: FoB Rallies the Community Against the 'Back Way Journey'
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
As Deaths Mount on Back Way to Europe, a Community Rallies to Protect Its Young
Using the Power of Music to Spread the Word
By My Basse Staff
The spate of young deaths on the back road to European shores have left Gambian civic groups, not least Friends of Basse, asking what is there to be done.
At the group’s “No to Back Way to Europe” fundraising event on March 1 with the Kora performer Jaliba Kuyateh and his Kumareh Band in Basse Koba Kunda, the message to those in attendance, particularly the youth, was: It’s not worth risking your life to Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
Don’t do it.
Jaliba Kuyateh: The Kumareh Sound Helping to Spread the Word
“We understand the burning desire for economic success many of these young men and women have,” the group said in a recent memo to its members on its global mailing list. “But it is safe to say that the risks outweigh the benefits in this case,” the memo added.
The Message Is In the Music
Estimates put the concert’s total attendance at over 600, with people drawn from near and far. From Bansang alone, 20 people came under the auspices of the Bansang Yiriwa Kafo to join in the community efforts with a like-minded organization.
The Crowd Dances the Night Away
The patrons showed up in various colorful outfits and they were met at the entrance by eight young ushers, who volunteered on behalf of the Basse-based Phoenix football club. Ibrahim Janko Sanneh, the chairman of the Bansang Yiriwa Kafo's local chapter and the head of the delegation, told My Basse that the concert was “fantastic” and it helped advance the discussion on the dangers of getting to Europe through the back way. “We are very concerned about the back-way journey,” he said, reflecting on his hometown's own share of the crisis. The back way has "more negatives than positives," he added.
Sanneh, a retired school teacher and a former Daily Observer reporter in The Gambia, said he liked that the concert was geared towards building greater awareness about the dangers of the back-way journey. “We all agreed that it was one of the best Jaliba functions we ever attended,” he said. “It was not because of the music, but because of the message that came out of it.”
FoB Fundraiser Alh. Saibo Drammeh (l) and Bansang Yiriwa Kafo Rep. Ibrahim Janko Sanneh
For Mamadou Sidibeh, a. k. a. Mamsi, a Basse youth enthusiast and one of the concert attendants, the Jaliba show had good intentions: "The Jaliba Kuyateh show and the idea behind it is a brilliant idea," he said. "But it came late because it could have saved many from dying or from facing this life-threatening trip."
Sidibeh said it was important to replicate the Jaliba show so that the message will be drilled down in the hearts and minds of the people that poverty shouldn't lead one to abandon his or her home for the horrors of the back way.
"Many of my friends went through the back way," Sidibeh said, adding that some eventually made it to Europe but at a great price. He said his friends always tell him that it is OK to search for greener pastures but to always do it the legal way "because the suffering, maltreatment, violence, dangers" one encounters on the back way do not worth the risk. "Even if you stay in your country without doing nothing, it's better," he said.
Stemming the Tide
The fundraiser made two important gains, according to FoB Public Relations Officer Abubakarr Krubally. He said the concert was able to raise the profile of Friends of Basse. “A lot more people knew what FoB was all about,” he said, adding that the concert had even prompted some people to join the organization and pay up their membership dues.
And he also said the concert’s theme on the perils of the back-way travel had resonated well with the people. “The message has been well received,” Krubally, who wasn’t able to attend the event due to work commitments in Banjul, said of the feedback in the community. He said the back way problem is widespread, affecting every part of the community. This, he said, had prompted many other local groups to engage in constant sensitization campaigns to dissuade the youth from embarking on these roundabout journeys. “And to have FoB add its voice to the awareness of this issue is really important,” he said.
Precise numbers on how many Gambians have died during these treacherous trips are hard to come by, but over the years the number of fatalities has continued to mount. In the Upper River Region alone, many families have had to merely mourn and not be accorded the chance to give fitting burials to their loved ones, who had either perished in boat wrecks in the high seas or died in depraved conditions in Libya and other transit countries.
“Let’s stop going to Europe through the back way,” FoB’s Fundraising Officer Alhaji Saibo Drammeh exhorted the youth in the Mandinka language during a brief speech introducing the organization to the crowd. He said lest he be misunderstood, he wasn’t telling the folks not to go to Europe. “I myself have been living in Europe for 27 years,” Drammeh said. The message of the concert, he said, was to urge the youth not to use the back road to Europe. “It is self-destructive and suicidal,” he said.
Alh. Saibo Drammeh: "Let's Stop Going to Europe Through the Back Way."
According to the FoB memo, the Basse area has lost many of its young to the high seas of the Mediterranean. But the organization, the memo stated, is resolved to finding ways and means of stemming this tragedy by coming up with other options for the young: “Friends of Basse is now working with youth groups, educational institutions and other non-profit organizations to come up with better alternatives to the state of affairs of our young in our community.”
***With additional reporting by Kawsu Sillah in Basse