I have a cousin who walked across the Sahara desert to get to Europe. In another age and with another skin he might have been a celebrated explorer: a Mungo Park or a Mary Kingsley or even a David Livingstone. In the 21st century he was just another black immigrant trying to make it over the fence.
There was swashbuckling danger – treachery in the sand dunes – and comrades buried just before they sighted the straits of Gibraltar. It was a yarn worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson – an epic befitting of Homer – but the Italian immigration officer who deported him had no interest in the tale. He was sent back to Nigeria – flying over the desert he had crossed on foot – a journey of weeks reduced to hours.
When I met my cousin he was planning to do the trip again. He was neatly dressed; in possession of a mobile phone and polished leather shoes. He was not an African who could be used for any charity appeals. His cheeks and clothing were too prosperous to elicit pity. My cousin was not fleeing from a war or persecution. Neither was he a displaced person nor was he starving. There are many who flee to Europe for these reasons but these were not my cousin’s problems.
He wished to live in Europe simply because he wanted a better life. Just as migrants from northern England migrate to London in search of a better life. Just as migrants from London move to Australia. Just as migrants from Poland move to England. And so on and so forth – in an endless cycle of human aspiration.