Hassan began his irregular journey from Somalia in 2003. Many of his friends and neighbors had already departed with the aim of reaching Europe. Those who had made it only spoke of the good life they were having. They never spoke of any difficulties.
Hassan had heard about the difficulties that come with an irregular journey, but he decided to try his luck anyway. His family did not support his decision to embark on the journey and tried to discourage him. But Hassan’s mind was already made up. His focus was locked on the destination and the new standard of life it represented.
“I had this idea that the living standards in Europe were high and that you would receive everything for free,” he says. “I took a chance, as I was not aware of what I would encounter on my journey. I thought that if I could only reach Europe, I would have a terrific and easygoing life, “ he adds.
Having departed Somalia, Hassan arrived in Ethiopia where he illegally obtained an Ethiopian passport which enabled him to travel to Sudan. In Sudan he made his first contact with smugglers. The smugglers informed him that the journey to Libya would only take a few hours and would be incident free. Instead, the journey took five days.
Watch Hassan recount his journey to Libya.
Once in Libya, Hassan, together with other migrants, was put on a boat bound for Italy. The smuggler had given the coordinates of their destination to one of the migrants who had claimed to know how to steer the boat. After four days at sea, their food supplies were diminished and their gas tank was empty. The boat was merely drifting at sea. They were stranded.
“Nothing was as people had expected,” Hassan says. “Things changed from hour to hour. The waves were high and the circumstances were difficult. Anxiety increased. People were prepared to die,” he adds.
Luckily, Hassan and his fellow passengers ended up being rescued by a Maltese vessel that took them to Malta.
Watch Hassan describe his journey at sea.
Much to his disappointment, upon arrival Hassan and the other migrants were detained and taken to a refugee camp. Hassan ended up staying there for 45 days.
“They tagged numbers on us like livestock, everyone had a number, “ Hassan says. “At the camp we were received as if we were under arrest, we were supervised by military and police.”
The reception in Malta dampened Hassan’s spirits. He longed for the day of his release. Eventually that day came, and he was told he was free to leave. What he did not know was that it would only be the beginning of another difficult journey filled with unanticipated setbacks.
“When we were released, life became even more difficult,” Hassan says. “We were told we had our freedom and could move around freely. However we were not provided with accommodations and we could not get work.”
After much effort, Hassan found work. It was tough and the conditions were terrible. By the end of a day’s work he earned only a meager salary.
“The expectation of Europe, of people with freedom, of bank accounts and collecting money from walls had disappeared,” recalls Hassan.
Eventually, out of pressure and his unrelenting need to find the Europe he had hoped for, Hassan left Malta.
“Malta didn’t turn out to be Europe. But we still wanted Europe,” he says.
Leaving Malta proved to be the beginning of another long struggle. Hassan travelled from one country to the next in search of a better life. He first flew to Switzerland, then travelled by train to Norway where he applied for asylum. After eight months, his asylum case was rejected and he moved on to Sweden from where he flew to Ireland, with the aim of getting into the UK. When Hassan reached Ireland he was detained and sent back to Malta.
Back in Malta, Hassan was disappointed but still hopeful. He got on a job and saved up some money. He believed that his lack of a resident permit was the reason for his misfortunes, and all he needed to do was endure the current circumstances.
“I believed that not holding a residence permit was getting in the way of my reaching the easygoing, free life where you would drown in money and receive everything for free,” Hassan says.
Watch Hassan talk about his struggles in Europe.
Eventually, Hassan received a residence permit valid for one year. He immediately set out to try and get to the UK, yet again. He travelled back to Ireland, this time prepared with all the necessary paperwork, and successfully got through.
From Ireland, Hassan travelled to the city of Glasgow in Scotland and applied for asylum. After four weeks, he was granted a residence permit.
Today Hassan works as a taxi driver in London.
“The picture I had of Europe before no longer exists,” says Hassan. “The picture of Europe, where everything is free and easy. That picture no longer exists.”
Reflecting back on his journey, Hassan feels it was not entirely worth the struggle and all the lost time. He spent years trying to get legal documents, and after that he struggled to get employment. When he was sent from one country to another, he felt alone with nobody to call on for financial assistance.
“Life is difficult even when you have a residence permit, nothing comes for free” Hassan says. “When I came to Europe I wasn’t valued because I wasn’t knowledgeable. I ran away from my own country where I was troubled, and now I am troubled in Europe.”
Watch Hassan describe his current life in Europe.