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Bags and Belongings

Bags and Belongings: Leaving Tools of My Trade to Seek a Better Future

As part of our “Bags and Belongings” series, Sharif, a 21-year-old electrician from Gambia now living in Italy, describes what he took with him on one of the deadliest migration routes in the world, what he left behind and how the journey changed him.

Written by Francesco Conte Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
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Sharif wanted to bring the books he used as a skilled electrician in Gambia, but had to leave them behind. All he was able to bring with him were clothes and a spare pair of shoes.Francesco Conte

For our Bags and Belongings series, Refugees Deeply earlier this year asked Syrians scattered around the globe what they packed in their bags and what they left behind when they fled. In this next part of the series, we spoke to people displaced from other troubled parts of the globe – from Myanmar to Gambia – about their prized possessions and how the meaning of home has changed for them since they fled.

In this interview, Sharif, a 21-year-old electrician from Gambia, describes the complex mix of reasons why he left his country, including lack of economic opportunity and political persecution. Like many others who have left sub-Saharan Africa, his route shifted as he encountered dangers and obstacles along the way. After reaching Libya, where like many migrants he experienced torture and abuse, he took his chances on the perilous sea journey to Italy, on one of the busiest and deadliest migration routes in the world.

Sharif survived one of the world’s deadliest migration routes, making it to Italy via North Africa, but he was beaten in Libya and still suffers pain as a result. (Francesco Conte)

I was afraid I would not get work in Libya. But he [the smuggler] was telling me, “Come to Libya and you will find work.”

All I took with me were two shirts, two pairs of trousers and an extra pair of shoes. You are traveling to find a better future.

I was trying to bring my books as an electrician. I am skilled in it. I was working with electrical installations in houses for six years. So those books and installation programs, I did not bring any of it. I left it all behind. They were the only things I wanted to bring with me.

I left my country because there was a dictator in our country, the former president [Yahya] Jammeh. Now he has left. But that is why I left my country, because there was a problem between me and the government.

I left my country in June 2012. The journey was very difficult. First, I went through Senegal to Mali, and then Niger. From Niger, I went to Libya and finally Tripoli.

I spent three months in Senegal working, and also in Mali, selling water in the street. In Niger there was no work, so I had to use the money I saved up in Mali to pay people to smuggle us into Libya.

I did not intend to come [to Italy]. My intention was to work hard [in the region], but people were pressuring me to go to Libya and saying that I would make money there. So I went to Libya.

In Libya, they said, “Why do you want to work so hard here? They have money there [in Europe]. Go to Italy.” The smugglers encouraged us. I heard that several times, but I said, “No. I am earning money here. I want to live here.”

The time I spent in Libya was hard. There are a lot of Arab [Libyan] people making money out of this journey. My leg is still hurting me. I was beaten by an Arab [Libyan] guy. They beat you on your joints because the pain will remain with you.

This story is featured in the “Shadow to Light” installation at San Francisco Design Week through a partnership between Airbnb Design and News Deeply.

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