At just 16 years old, Agustin Prince began his journey to “somewhere”, far from Pouma, a small Cameroonian city located in the west of the African country. Prince, who is now 23 years old and has been in Spain for five years, crumbles the memories of what were the “most difficult days” of his existence in an intimate story, Prince’s trip (Books of Bad Company)an autobiographical book that he has written and launched with the support of the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR). “My story is just one example of what all of us who leave our countries experience. We had no choice, we did not choose to risk our lives, to suffer like this. And I… I at least managed to survive ”, she recounts in an interview with this newspaper shortly before the launch of her first title, which is presented this Wednesday.
Not knowing what his fate would be, Prince fled the internal armed conflict between the Anglophone and French-speaking regions of Cameroon, which exploded in 2016 after the imposition of French as the official language by the central government, and which, according to data issued by Human Rights Watch in its latest global report, has left as a balance more than 712,000 internally displaced. Some figures to which are added more than 340,000 displaced people due to the harassment of the terrorist group Boko Haram which, although it is mainly based in Nigeria, also has a presence and perpetuates attacks in neighboring countries such as Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
If I could have stayed in any of the transit countries, I would have. But you can’t live there, not even God can live there
One day, when he and his mother were visiting a neighbor, a group of armed men arrived. “They started beating her and insulting her, I didn’t understand what was happening, they spoke to her in English and we are from a French-speaking area. I wanted to defend her from her, but they broke a glass bottle in my hand, ”she says while showing a thick scar that runs through her left wrist. “I only remember my mother telling me to run away, to save myself. I fell unconscious. When I woke up I was far from home and started walking towards Bamenda, a city that connects Cameroon with Nigeria.”
In the course of a year, Prince moved from Cameroon to Nigeria, then to Niger, Algeria, Morocco and arrived in Tarifa after sailing for just over eight hours in a boat. “Upon arrival in Nigeria I was quickly met by a group of about 30 people who were also fleeing the violence. A few guided us, but all that had a cost. We were forced to pay about 500 euros for each place they took us to, ”she specifies. But she clarifies that going back to her country was not an option. “In the country it is believed that if you leave it is to help your family, returning without having achieved anything is considered a dishonor, for this reason many prefer to die trying rather than return without having achieved anything. I know it very well, I have to contribute to improving the life of my family, ”she says.
This young Cameroonian recounts that in each of the cities he reached on his journey, he had to beg and steal food to survive. He even, he claims, was “sold into slavery” when those who guided him on his way to Algeria sold him to another mafia group that forced him to carry out construction work to pay for the next route. “We started at five in the morning and the day ended at 10 at night. We had only one meal, very little, and we never saw a single coin for that work. They told us we were in debt. We couldn’t run away, because everyone knew each other”. This ordeal lasted for four months until the network considered his debt settled and transferred him to Morocco. “I didn’t know I was going to Spain, if I could have stayed in any of the transit countries, I would have. But you cannot live there, not even God can live there, ”he specifies.
The women, even if they have the money to pay, later they don’t let them continue with the route, because they prostitute them, they rape them. All of them end up pregnant during the trip.
“Before, it was very difficult for me to talk about this, I felt very ashamed,” he outlines with a timid smile. For this reason, after nearly three years in psycho-emotional therapy, he has decided to once again delve into the memories that cause him pain.
“I don’t want my history to repeat itself. I have seen many of the people who traveled with me die. Some say that the most dangerous thing is to cross the sea in a boat, but in reality our lives are at risk in each new place, ”she reflects. And he continues alluding to his experience in Algeria: “The migratory routes are in the hands of people traffickers. When you arrive in a new country they lock you up in cells, they only leave you free during the day to go to work. They frisked your whole body so you can’t save any money. In these places, there is even sexual abuse, not only against women, but also against men. And you can’t do anything because a gun is pointed at your head. You are defenseless, ”she recalls and maintains a long silence.
Prince wistfully reminisces about the people he met along the way. “I became good friends with a girl, she is still in Algeria. She couldn’t get out. The women, even if they have the money to pay, later they don’t let them continue with the route, because they prostitute them, they rape them. All of them end up pregnant during the trip, ”he laments. “I saw a boy with whom she was talking die. That happened on the way from Niger to Algeria. They put 30 people in a car that was for five. They placed us one on top of the other in the trunk and then abandoned us in the desert.”
The International Organization for Migration has documented the deaths of more than 50,000 people throughout the world during migratory trips between 2014 and 2022. Although the real figure, according to estimates, is much higher. Africa is, according to the agency, the second deadliest region for people on the move. While Europe ranks as the deadliest destination, because “more than half of these deaths have occurred within or en route to a European country.”
“I tell this story to heal, to prevent more young people from risking their lives,” he says. His dream is that the Rosine Foundation, which he started with a Congolese friend a year ago, grows. Despite the fact that for now they are trying to support her with everything they have left over from her salary, Prince has a very clear objective: to help incorporate people who are deported to Cameroon through emotional support. “I want to create a space where we can support each other. I do it for my mother, that’s why the foundation bears her name, I want her to be proud of me, ”he ends.
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