Advice To Sierra Leoneans

The Christmas season always sees a large influx of Sierra Leoneans living in the Diaspora coming home to be with their families, relatives, friends and loved ones. They come mostly from countries in Europe, Australia, USA and Canada. These holiday-makers come from more prosperous parts of the world where, if one is a citizen or, has a resident permit and has the freedom to work and employed, one is able to save enough money to afford a trip back home at the end of the year.

These people commonly known as JCs come home with the trappings of material success – money to spend, admirable clothes and envious things. They talk big and gloriously about the places where they live; comparing it to the squalor and poverty many of us live in. They make these places seem so attractive and heavenly that those of us who are poor, unemployed and have very little economic opportunity and hope for the future at home wish immediately that we were living in those countries our flashy JCs come from.

However, what these brothers and sisters, some of them who live in equally trying circumstances in Europe and America like the ordinary Sierra Leonean lives in and has borrowed money to buy his/her ticket and taken a loan to be loaded with cash to “pose” back home do not tell their admiring families, relatives and friends is that the economic situation in these countries are no longer what they were in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Tempted by the apparent success of the JCs they see, many poor Sierra Leoneans do all they can to either buy a ticket to get into Europe and America or take the riskier passage of going across the Sahara Desert to North African counties from where they hope to make the crossing across the Mediterranean sea into countries in Europe. Little do these risk takers who pay anything between $3, 000 to $5, 000 to find their way to Europe and America realize what awaits them if they make it to the other side.

Just like Sierra Leone which they are running away from, in Europe and America, and in many other countries in the world today, high unemployment and inflation are real time problems that governments and their citizens live with. These socio-economic challenges have been compounded by the huge number of people from the poorer parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa who are fleeing conflicts and poverty finding their way into Europe and America.

It is not easy these days for a foreigner to get his/her feet on the ground in Europe and America. Accordingly, many people state that they never hear from their relatives and friends abroad and that they do not send for them like others do. What many of us and our brothers and sisters who find their way either legally or illegally into Europe and America do not know is that the grass is not always greener and fresher on the other side.

Let us take first of all those who succeed to find work. The majority soon find out that finding a permanent job in Europe and America for an uneducated unskilled foreigner is very difficult. Therefore, the only option most times available is low paid temporary work. This means that to make ends meet – that is paying your rent which is a very big deal in the West, paying your utility bill which is another big deal – keeps you busy at least eighteen hours a day doing odd jobs. At the end of the day, you come hour tired and barely able to wake up the next morning to go on the “hustle”. If you are not lucky, this may last for quite a number of years.

At the same time, many people leave here with the hope of continuing their education while working. It is in Europe and America that you get to know the true meaning of two things cannot work. Forced to work many hours a day to make ends meet, many people have to put on hold their ambition of continuing their education. Even for those who have degrees and other professional qualifications from universities and colleges here, when they get to Europe and America they find out that the competition to get well paid jobs is so stiff that they are forced to settle for jobs far below their academic or professional qualification simply to be able to make ends meet.

Now let us look at the case of those who leave here illegally and find themselves in Europe and America without anybody to lean on a job to depend on. First of all, they are always moving from place to place because they cannot afford money to pay rent. Secondly, they are always broke, hungry, haggard-looking, cold and miserable because they cannot afford to live in conducive accommodation. Thirdly, they are always afraid of and on the run from immigration officials. Fourthly, for those who seek asylum, it may take many years for their papers to be processed with no certainty that at the end of the day their request would be granted. Employers who employ them whilst they are in this state of limbo pay them only enough for them to be able to live by the skin of their teeth.

The pathetic side of this story is that as long as economic conditions in many parts of the world remain deplorable, the desire to migrate to richer parts of the world would be hard to discourage.

There are two solutions to the problem. The first one is for the governments and peoples in poorer parts of the world to put together new policies, mechanisms and strategies for combating bad governance, corruption and low economic productivity which go together with poor educational facilities, lack of jobs and economic opportunities for the majority of their people. Governments have to have extensive programs for youth empowerment and employment. This will go a long way in solving the problem of frustration, hopelessness and illegal migration.

The second option is for young people to take a new look at themselves and what the possibilities and opportunities around them are and how they can meaningfully exploit these. What people from poorer parts of the world should understand is that those counties they admire and want to emigrate to were built by the hard work and sacrifices of their people.

Fact of the matter is that $3, 000 or $5, 000 is a lot of money in the poorer parts of the world that one who is enterprising can put to good use starting a business or an agricultural enterprise. This in the end can pay quicker and higher dividends that waiting for many years in Europe and America to climb of the ladder of success which is not certain at all; given that you are a foreigner; and at that an illegal foreigner.