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  1. Habib's story
  2. Desperate: A Journey To Know The Truth
  3. beautiful desperate

It was so cold. As Zahori emerged from the woods, he came across two parallel roads. He got on one of them and just started biking. He pedalled hard along the highway, searching for small roads he had mapped out on Google that could take him to the Irving Oil gas station in Woodstock where he hoped to catch the bus to Montreal. But these smaller roads were blanketed with snow, making travel on them impossible. He decided to just keep biking.

The driver told him how to reach the highway, clearly not meant for bicycles, particularly on a snowy cold day, and Zahori continued pedalling. He passed by one farmhouse where a family stood outside watching him.

Desperate: A Journey To Know The Truth

Six or seven dogs began to bark at him and give chase. Zahori managed to outpace them, but the effort exhausted him. He suspects they might have been tipped off by a family he noticed had been watching him from their porch. One officer approached Zahori and, without asking any questions, told him he was under arrest for crossing the border illegally. They searched him, emptied his pockets, looked in his bag and handcuffed his hands behind his back. We have to throw it away here. Zahori said he was later taken to a nearby immigration office where he answered more questions, was fingerprinted, signed a series of forms and was given a date for his refugee claim hearing.

Two months after that unforgettable day, Zahori was granted refugee status. Just recently, he learned that he will soon be granted permanent residency. His tale illustrates the risks some are willing to take in an attempt to find sanctuary in Canada. But late last year, they were denied asylum and faced deportation. On Christmas Eve, they walked three hours to cross the border from North Dakota to Manitoba and spent several more hours on the highway until they were picked up by a passing truck driver.

Iyal ended up losing all his fingers while Mohammed lost his fingers, his thumbs and several toes. According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, the number of refugee claims made at land border crossings — which includes legal and illegal crossings — has more than doubled since There were 3, refugee claims in , 4, in and 7, in Zahori never attempted to claim refugee status in the U. Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration lawyer, says he has heard anecdotally from people in precarious situations who fear that a Trump presidency will make it difficult for them to stay in the U.

It would seem much simpler for asylum seekers to present themselves at a port of entry or crossing at any Canada-U. The issue, however, is that under the Canada-U. Safe Third Country Agreement, which came into effect in , a person must make their refugee claim in the first safe country they arrive in.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council For Refugees, says Canada had been trying to broker the agreement for years to stem the flow of refugees from the U. Before the agreement was put in place, there was a system that allowed those seeking refugee status to present themselves at the border and be processed, Dench says. As a result, those who first arrive in the U. There are a few exceptions — for example, if the claimant has a family member in Canada.

Immigration lawyers and refugee advocates have opposed the agreement from the beginning, saying it forces those seeking refugee status to take dangerous risks. Since Trump signed his temporary refugee ban executive order, those calls to amend the agreement have intensified. A group of more than law professors have written a letter to Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen asking him to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement for up to three months, pending a review. The way you came in has little bearing on your eligibility. The person will be issued a conditional removal order, says Toronto-based refugee lawyer Raoul Boulakia.

The outside possibility of being allowed to stay is what ultimately spurs people to take great risks to get here.

Habib's story

We see it in a man whose greatest desire in this moment is just to be clean again, just to have his ugliness erased, just to be pure, just to be forgiven and restored to his precious friendship with the Lord, and is asking the only One capable to accomplish it. We see it in a man who would do anything to get back to unhindered relationship with the Lord again, except that he knows he cannot do anything. It is not within his power to right this wrong David knew something we dearly need to understand: God does not want we sinners to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and try harder.

He wants spiritual brokenness, the kind of brokenness He can use. He wants godly sorrow that leads to repentance 2 Cor. A man I respect had struggled deeply with a sinful lifestyle for some time. And out of that desperation, out of grief and the hurt of a fractured heart over sin, God longs to produce humility in us.

It is humility that allows us to recognize, as David did, who God is and who we are in comparison with him. It is humility that sets us up to come to grips with our sin. It is something that can draw us near to Him. It is not lovely in and of itself, it is not the end of the journey, it is not a cute hashtag to put on a picture of a dirty house. Standing alone, it is messy and sad. No, the beauty in spiritual brokenness is found in where it brings us. Doris and the children moved into a small apartment without plumbing or electricity and hung a portrait of the father above a broken couch.

Blessing, who was tall and slender, with large eyes and prominent cheekbones, helped her mother sell provisions. In the evenings, she took the money they had earned to another market, where everything is a few cents cheaper, to restock the shop. The migration of young women out of Benin City began in the nineteen-eighties, when Edo women—fed up with repression, domestic chores, and a lack of economic opportunities—travelled to Europe by airplane, with fake documents.

Lists of expensive assets—cars, furniture, generators—purchased with remittances from Europe were included in obituaries, and envious neighbors took note. Pentecostal ministers, preaching a gospel of prosperity, extolled the benefits of migration. Women were sending back word of well-compensated employment as hairdressers, dressmakers, housekeepers, nannies, and maids, but the actual nature of their work in Italy remained hidden, and so parents urged their daughters to take out loans to travel to Europe and lift the family out of poverty.

In time, sex workers became madams; from Italy, they employed recruiters, transporters, and document forgers in Nigeria. In , Nigeria passed its first law prohibiting human trafficking. But it was too late. The U. Nuns working for an organization called the Committee for the Support and Dignity of Women travel to local schools and markets, explaining to girls the brutality of the industry. But a nun told me that women in the market on Upper Sakpoba Road warn them off. Everybody is involved.

After she was abandoned in an oasis city in the Sahara, she made her way back to Nigeria. Today, she makes a living trafficking others. In Benin City, important agreements are often sealed with an oath, administered by a juju priest. The legal system can be dodged or corrupted, the thinking goes, but there is no escaping the consequences of violating a promise made before the old gods.

Many sex traffickers have used this tradition to guarantee the obedience of their victims.


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One afternoon, I met an elderly Edo juju priestess who maintains a special relationship with the god who lives in the Ogba River. In exchange for the madam covering travel expenses, the girl agrees to work for her until she has paid back the cost of the journey; the madam keeps her documents, and tells her that any attempt to flee will cause the juju, now inhabiting her body, to attack her. If you tell the truth, you will die. Last year, Italian police heard a madam, on a wiretapped call, tell an associate that one of her victims had broken her juju oath, and would die.

Before Blessing disappeared, she met with a Yoruba trafficker without telling her family, but she balked when she discovered that the woman wanted her to become a sex worker. Soon afterward, her friend Faith introduced her to an Igbo woman with European connections—she was elegant, well dressed, and kind.

The woman promised Blessing and Faith that she could take them to Italy; she would pay for their journey, and find them jobs, and then they would pay her back. Blessing dreamed of completing her education, of buying back the home her mother had lost. She climbed into a van, along with Faith, the woman, and several other girls. They began a perilous journey north. The fertile red soil of the tropics became drier, finer, and soon there were only withered shrubs in the sand.

After several days and a thousand miles, they reached Agadez, an old caravan city at the southern edge of the Sahara. In Agadez, locals pick dust out of their hair and eyes and ears and toenails, and sweep it out of their homes, but by the time they have finished it is as if they had never begun.

Everyone wears sandals; even in the winter, the temperature can approach a hundred degrees. Agadez has always been a transit point, a maze of mud-brick enclosures in which to eat and rest and exchange cargo before setting off for the next outpost. Traders stopped in Agadez while crossing the desert in miles-long caravans carrying salt, gold, ivory, and slaves. The Tuareg developed a reputation for guiding merchants through the desert, then robbing them. They have rebelled against the government several times, and, together with Toubou tribesmen, they have hoped to establish an independent Saharan state, spanning parts of Mali, Niger, Algeria, Chad, and Libya.

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Desperate: A Journey To Know The Truth

The Tuareg and the Toubou signed a territorial agreement in , but recently it has begun to fray. The two groups are currently engaged in bloody fighting across the border, in southern Libya. All manner of contraband passes through Agadez—counterfeit goods, hashish, cocaine, heroin. Stolen Libyan oil is sold by the roadside in liquor bottles. By , however, the value of the migration trade had surpassed that of any other business in the city. There was nothing to do but wait.

The compound was situated in a migrant ghetto, a shabby cluster of connection houses on the outskirts of the city. Niger belongs to the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS , a visa-free zone, so its western and southern borders are open to some three hundred and fifty million citizens of fourteen other countries. Most of the migrants had travelled more than a thousand miles by bus, and arrived in Agadez with the phone number of their connection man—usually a migrant turned businessman, of their same nationality or colonial heritage.

Nigerians, Gambians, Ghanaians, and Liberians stuck together, because they spoke English; Malians, Senegalese, and Guineans could do business with any connection man who spoke French. For those who arrived without contacts, recruiters at the bus station offered transport across the desert. Migrants gathered at A. Once a deal was struck, the recruiters drove the migrants to the ghettos on motorcycles, and the connection men paid them a small commission. Most women from Nigeria stayed inside the migrant ghettos.

The connection houses were hot and crowded, but the women were fed and protected until it was time to cross the desert. Other Nigerian girls, who were on their own, had to do sex work in order to feed themselves and to finance the next stage of the journey. In Agadez, sex workers typically earn around three dollars per client, much of which goes to local madams, in exchange for room and board. One Nigerian teen-ager told me that it took her eighteen months and hundreds of clients to earn enough money to leave.

Most Nigerian brothels in Agadez are in the Nasarawa slum, a sewage-filled neighborhood a short walk from the grand mosque, the tallest mud-brick structure in the world. One afternoon, a young woman from Lagos sat outside a brothel holding the infant son of her friend Adenike, a seventeen-year-old girl, who was with a client. Adenike followed, wiping her hands on her spandex shorts. She picked up her baby, but soon another client arrived, so she passed the infant to another Nigerian girl, who looked no older than thirteen and was also doing sex work, and led the man past a hanging blanket and into her room.

Each Monday, Tuareg and Toubou drivers went to the migrant ghettos, collected cash from the connection men, and loaded some five thousand sub-Saharans into the beds of Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, roughly thirty per vehicle. Some migrants brought small backpacks containing food and cell phones; others had nothing. One driver, a young Toubou named Oumar, told me that he had made the trip twenty-five times. Shortly before I arrived in Agadez, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, came to Niger on a tour of African countries, hoping to reduce the flow of migrants, and promising development funds in return.

After her visit, everything changed. Security forces raided the ghettos, and arrested their former patrons. Military and police officers were replaced at all desert checkpoints between Agadez and the Libyan border. Mohamed Anacko, a Tuareg leader who serves as the president of the Agadez Regional Council, which oversees more than two hundred and fifty thousand square miles of territory, saw the situation differently.

To address the crisis, Anacko called a Regional Council meeting and invited a dozen of the biggest smugglers in the Sahara—half were Tuareg, half Toubou, and all had fought in recent rebellions. More than four hundred smugglers had asked the council to represent them. Anacko promised to convey their grievances to the state, and to demand the release of their colleagues.

Take tourists? There are never any tourists! We cannot live! What do you want us to do? Alber sat down, fuming.

beautiful desperate

Across the table, a tall, handsome Toubou named Sidi stood up, furrowed his brow, and calmly argued that if the European Union really wanted to halt migration it should engage the smugglers, not pay off their government to arrest them. Another speaker reminded the group that they had rebelled in the past. Why should they stop smuggling without being offered other means to survive? The next day, I met with Alber at his home, a mud-brick building in a neighborhood that was the site of frequent raids. He welcomed me inside and offered water from a large communal bowl. The room was dark.

Three other men lounged on a couch, all of them heads of powerful smuggling families. Nobody knows the specifics of the law. Another smuggler, Ibrahim Moussa, spoke up. We go just as far as the border. You are always close to death. There was further trouble. A few days after that, an American aid worker was kidnapped and taken to Mali, and a notorious Toubou narco-trafficker was assassinated in public.

There was also talk of the fighting between the Tuareg and the Toubou in Libya spilling across the desert and taking root in Agadez. Nobody knew whether to attribute the gunfire at night to a drug war, a tribal conflict, a personal vendetta, a migration raid, or an Islamist attack. Every smuggler I met expressed concern that the crackdown in Agadez would leave local young men vulnerable to recruitment by jihadi groups. I will not, because I will be afraid of being arrested. The people want peace. It will be like Afghanistan.

They will have created this, and the Islamic State will have been right. The crackdown had another immediate effect: more dead migrants. To avoid checkpoints, smugglers were taking unfamiliar routes and abandoning their passengers when they spotted what appeared to be a military convoy on the horizon. During his trip north, the truck carrying him and twenty-seven other migrants had been attacked by bandits; a bullet had grazed his head, removing a tuft of hair.

The truck had turned over and the driver had run away, leaving the migrants behind. Everybody scattered, except for Monday and another Nigerian, named Destiny, who used to work at the Uwelu market. They remained at the site of the wreckage. He drank his piss. After that, he gave up. He died in front of us. Some steal food from locals and beg truckers to bring them to Libya; others are transported in military trucks back to Agadez, where they are deposited at the local U.

He had nearly died during his first attempt to cross the Sahara; now his money was gone, his smuggler was in jail, and he was looking for a way to try again. The crackdown had also trapped the sex workers in the Nasarawa slum. She had just earned enough money to cross the desert when the route closed. After the raids, it became impossible to pick up migrants at the connection houses and drive them into the desert. But there were other methods. He got through the checkpoint at a narrow pass without any trouble. Huge trucks routinely transport workers and supplies from Agadez to gold and uranium mines in the desert.

The workers, sometimes more than a hundred per truck, sit on top and cling to ropes. The men climbed down. Oumar and the other smugglers put them in their vehicles and set off toward Libya, leaving behind an enormous cloud of dust. Oumar stopped and let air out of his tires, for better traction in the soft sand. Everybody died, including the driver, and Oumar buried them under a thin layer of sand. On each trip, Oumar sees more desiccated corpses, covered and uncovered by the shifting sands. Since the crackdown, the guards there have almost doubled their prices. Oumar paid, and continued roughly a hundred and fifty miles to Madama, the last checkpoint before the Libyan border.

There, the soldiers now charge what he used to pay for the entire journey. At the Libyan border, a black line of asphalt marks the beginning of a long, smooth highway heading north. But any relief belies the lawlessness and the cruelty to come. Last fall, at a checkpoint, a migrant from Sierra Leone named Abdul looked on as a Libyan man harassed a teen-age girl from Nigeria. The girl was still alive, but the driver took a six-hour detour into the desert, to a sprawling migrant graveyard, where small rocks arranged in circles marked each of the hundreds of bodies in it.