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Day 99: Ceuta to Gibraltar

Michael Palin - SaharaThe place is newly opened and is clean, orderly and antiseptic; an institution in which no-one has anything wrong with them, like a hospital in which all the patients are well or a jail in which everyone is free. It's full of Africans but unlike any African village I've ever seen.

Despite an educational programme, offering language tuition and some job training, most of the inmates stand around or pace the compound with an air of displaced restlessness.

The director is a decent man, who takes some pride in the fact that fifty-nine of them have been found work in the previous six months, but most of those I talk to dispute that. A Nigerian in a Cardinals baseball shirt has been here five months. His journey sounds like ours in reverse. Up through Mali and Senegal and Western Sahara to Morocco. As Moroccan government policy is to send all immigrants back, I ask him how he got through.

'On a Zodiac (a small rubber dinghy) across the sea.' He adds bitterly, 'I thought they were taking me to Europe.'

Another Nigerian has come across the desert, 1000 miles or more. He nods bleakly and repeats the word 'desert' as if at some infinitely painful memory.

He made it to Ceuta as a stowaway on a ship from Morocco. It cost money, though not as much as the $1500 a Mauritanian paid to make the same journey. The stories tumble out, and the resentment too.

'Ten months! Ten months we have been here!' shouts a woman with hair in braids. She has left her children behind in Sierra Leone.

'Help us! Tell the world!' shouts a young man as we leave.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 99
  • Country/sea: Spain
  • Place: Ceuta
  • Book page no: 253

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