An African Odyssey Part V A No Man's Land Between Morocco and Europe

Algeria and Morocco are often the final stations in the migrant's odyssey from Africa to Europe. Some get stuck in cities of the lost like "The Valley" in Algeria. The more resourceful make it to Tangier, where they face racism and the constant threat of arrest.


Editor's Note: This is the fifth installment of a multi-part series. You can read the first installments here.

Station 7: The Valley, Algeria , kilometer 4,965

They have traveled through Africa, to Libya, to Algeria, to wherever the rumor mill tells them there are jobs and places to hide out. They were economically useless at home, unimportant in society, but at least there was someone at home who was fond of them. Now they are just useless, superfluous and nothing but a meaningless nuisance to the people around them.

There are thousands who wait along the coast of Mauritania, on Morocco's borders and in the forests near Ceuta, waiting for money, waiting for that one chance every person should get at least once in his lifetime. They live in the villages they have built for themselves. "The Valley," located not far from the Algerian-Moroccan border town of Maghnia, is one of those villages.

The Valley is located five kilometers (about three miles) from Maghnia. The settlement lies in a canyon flanked by 20-meter (65-foot) cliffs. Most of the Valley's 160 residents are from Ghana, with the remainder from Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Congo, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. They live in cardboard huts. The cardboard is nailed to wooden slats, a sheet of corrugated metal serves as the roof, and anyone who has newspapers uses them to insulate the interior walls. It's not a nice life, but it is the way the migrants live -- sometimes for years. As many as 20 people live in each ten by five meter (sixteen by thirty feet) hut. To ward off the cold from the Algerian mountains, they build fires in their highly flammable homes -- indeed, the huts seem to be catching fire constantly. With nowhere to go and nowhere to return to, these people are doomed to live in the ghettos they have created. They are the ones who have been abandoned in the desert, deported, swindled by traffickers and left penniless to fend for themselves.

"The African odyssey will never be stopped"

The Valley has a soccer pitch, bumpy and full of potholes, but with two goals nonetheless. It has a president, a police force, a jail, soldiers, an administration, a justice minister and a minister of defense, bodyguards and a court -- and it has rules. The rules are simple: no stealing, no killing and no corruption.

"This is truly the perfect African country," says President N. Adam Progress. President Progress has a map of the world hanging in his hut and five mobile phones and two remote controls on his desk.

Progress, who wears the red, yellow and green reggae bracelet and sports Rastafarian dreads, left Ghana in 2001 and arrived in The Valley in 2003. He has been waiting for the opportunity to continue his journey ever since. Or perhaps he has stopped waiting.

"We stay here because we cannot go home. It would mean failure and defeat," says Progress, "but what we have here cannot go on forever. The Algerians would kill us if they could. And you Europeans give them the money to hunt us down. How can someone catch another person, abandon him in the Sahara Desert and let him die?"

The president of this shadow world also has a message for Europe: "The African odyssey will never be stopped. If you want to stop us, build a wall in the sea, and build it high into the sky!"

John Ampan's African truths:

Africans treat Europeans with respect. But you treat us as if we were automatically poor, filthy, stupid and dangerous. You haven't deserved to be treated the way we treat you: as superiors, as masters.


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